Had the Martians aimed only at destruction, they might on Monday hav_nnihilated the entire population of London, as it spread itself slowl_hrough the home counties. Not only along the road through Barnet, but als_hrough Edgware and Waltham Abbey, and along the roads eastward to Southen_nd Shoeburyness, and south of the Thames to Deal and Broadstairs, poured th_ame frantic rout. If one could have hung that June morning in a balloon i_he blazing blue above London every northward and eastward road running out o_he tangled maze of streets would have seemed stippled black with th_treaming fugitives, each dot a human agony of terror and physical distress. _ave set forth at length in the last chapter my brother's account of the roa_hrough Chipping Barnet, in order that my readers may realise how tha_warming of black dots appeared to one of those concerned. Never before in th_istory of the world had such a mass of human beings moved and suffere_ogether. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest armies Asia ha_ver seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was n_isciplined march; it was a stampede—a stampede gigantic and terrible—withou_rder and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned,
driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilisation, of th_assacre of mankind.
Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of streets fa_nd wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens— alread_erelict—spread out like a huge map, and in the southward BLOTTED. Ove_aling, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen ha_lung ink upon the chart. Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew an_pread, shooting out ramifications this way and that, now banking itsel_gainst rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-foun_alley, exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.
And beyond, over the blue hills that rise southward of the river, th_littering Martians went to and fro, calmly and methodically spreading thei_oison cloud over this patch of country and then over that, laying it agai_ith their steam jets when it had served its purpose, and taking possession o_he conquered country. They do not seem to have aimed at extermination so muc_s at complete demoralisation and the destruction of any opposition. The_xploded any stores of powder they came upon, cut every telegraph, and wrecke_he railways here and there. They were hamstringing mankind. They seemed in n_urry to extend the field of their operations, and did not come beyond th_entral part of London all that day. It is possible that a very considerabl_umber of people in London stuck to their houses through Monday morning.
Certain it is that many died at home suffocated by the Black Smoke.
Until about midday the Pool of London was an astonishing scene. Steamboats an_hipping of all sorts lay there, tempted by the enormous sums of money offere_y fugitives, and it is said that many who swam out to these vessels wer_hrust off with boathooks and drowned. About one o'clock in the afternoon th_hinning remnant of a cloud of the black vapour appeared between the arches o_lackfriars Bridge. At that the Poopy became a scene of mad confusion,
fighting, and collision, and for some time a multitude of boats and barge_ammed in the northern arch of the Tower Bridge, and the sailors an_ightermen had to fight savagely against the people who swarmed upon them fro_he riverfront. People were actually clambering down the piers of the bridg_rom above.
When, an hour later, a Martian appeared beyond the Clock Tower and waded dow_he river, nothing but wreckage floated above Limehouse.
Of the falling of the fifth cylinder I have presently to tell. The sixth sta_ell at Wimbledon. My brother, keeping watch beside the women in the chaise i_ meadow, saw the green flash of it far beyond the hills. On Tuesday th_ittle party, still set upon getting across the sea, made its way through th_warming country towards Colchester. The news that the Martians were now i_ossession of the whole of London was confirmed. They had been seen a_ighgate, and even, it was said, at Neasden. But they did not come into m_rother's view until the morrow.
That day the scattered multitudes began to realise the urgent need o_rovisions. As they grew hungry the rights of property ceased to be regarded.
Farmers were out to defend their cattle-sheds, granaries, and ripening roo_rops with arms in their hands. A number of people now, like my brother, ha_heir faces eastward, and there were some desperate souls even going bac_owards London to get food. These were chiefly people from the norther_uburbs, whose knowledge of the Black Smoke came by hearsay. He heard tha_bout half the members of the government had gathered at Birmingham, and tha_normous quantities of high explosives were being prepared to be used i_utomatic mines across the Midland counties.
He was also told that the Midland Railway Company had replaced the desertion_f the first day's panic, had resumed traffic, and was running northwar_rains from St. Albans to relieve the congestion of the home counties. Ther_as also a placard in Chipping Ongar announcing that large stores of flou_ere available in the northern towns and that within twenty-four hours brea_ould be distributed among the starving people in the neighbourhood. But thi_ntelligence did not deter him from the plan of escape he had formed, and th_hree pressed eastward all day, and heard no more of the bread distributio_han this promise. Nor, as a matter of fact, did anyone else hear more of it.
That night fell the seventh star, falling upon Primrose Hill. It fell whil_iss Elphinstone was watching, for she took that duty alternately with m_rother. She saw it.
On Wednesday the three fugitives—they had passed the night in a field o_nripe wheat—reached Chelmsford, and there a body of the inhabitants, callin_tself the Committee of Public Supply, seized the pony as provisions, an_ould give nothing in exchange for it but the promise of a share in it th_ext day. Here there were rumours of Martians at Epping, and news of th_estruction of Waltham Abbey Powder Mills in a vain attempt to blow up one o_he invaders.
People were watching for Martians here from the church towers. My brother,
very luckily for him as it chanced, preferred to push on at once to the coas_ather than wait for food, although all three of them were very hungry. B_idday they passed through Tillingham, which, strangely enough, seemed to b_uite silent and deserted, save for a few furtive plunderers hunting for food.
Near Tillingham they suddenly came in sight of the sea, and the most amazin_rowd of shipping of all sorts that it is possible to imagine.
For after the sailors could no longer come up the Thames, they came on to th_ssex coast, to Harwich and Walton and Clacton, and afterwards to Foulness an_hoebury, to bring off the people. They lay in a huge sickle-shaped curve tha_anished into mist at last towards the Naze. Close inshore was a multitude o_ishing smacks— English, Scotch, French, Dutch, and Swedish; steam launche_rom the Thames, yachts, electric boats; and beyond were ships of larg_urden, a multitude of filthy colliers, trim merchantmen, cattle ships,
passenger boats, petroleum tanks, ocean tramps, an old white transport even,
neat white and grey liners from Southampton and Hamburg; and along the blu_oast across the Blackwater my brother could make out dimly a dense swarm o_oats chaffering with the people on the beach, a swarm which also extended u_he Blackwater almost to Maldon.
About a couple of miles out lay an ironclad, very low in the water, almost, t_y brother's perception, like a water-logged ship. This was the ram THUNDE_HILD. It was the only warship in sight, but far away to the right over th_mooth surface of the sea—for that day there was a dead calm—lay a serpent o_lack smoke to mark the next ironclads of the Channel Fleet, which hovered i_n extended line, steam up and ready for action, across the Thames estuar_uring the course of the Martian conquest, vigilant and yet powerless t_revent it.
At the sight of the sea, Mrs. Elphinstone, in spite of the assurances of he_ister-in-law, gave way to panic. She had never been out of England before,
she would rather die than trust herself friendless in a foreign country, an_o forth. She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that the French and the Martian_ight prove very similar. She had been growing increasingly hysterical,
fearful, and depressed during the two days' journeyings. Her great idea was t_eturn to Stanmore. Things had been always well and safe at Stanmore. The_ould find George at Stanmore.
It was with the greatest difficulty they could get her down to the beach,
where presently my brother succeeded in attracting the attention of some me_n a paddle steamer from the Thames. They sent a boat and drove a bargain fo_hirty-six pounds for the three. The steamer was going, these men said, t_stend.
It was about two o'clock when my brother, having paid their fares at th_angway, found himself safely aboard the steamboat with his charges. There wa_ood aboard, albeit at exorbitant prices, and the three of them contrived t_at a meal on one of the seats forward.
There were already a couple of score of passengers aboard, some of whom ha_xpended their last money in securing a passage, but the captain lay off th_lackwater until five in the afternoon, picking up passengers until the seate_ecks were even dangerously crowded. He would probably have remained longe_ad it not been for the sound of guns that began about that hour in the south.
As if in answer, the ironclad seaward fired a small gun and hoisted a strin_f flags. A jet of smoke sprang out of her funnels.
Some of the passengers were of opinion that this firing came fro_hoeburyness, until it was noticed that it was growing louder. At the sam_ime, far away in the southeast the masts and upperworks of three ironclad_ose one after the other out of the sea, beneath clouds of black smoke. But m_rother's attention speedily reverted to the distant firing in the south. H_ancied he saw a column of smoke rising out of the distant grey haze.
The little steamer was already flapping her way eastward of the big crescen_f shipping, and the low Essex coast was growing blue and hazy, when a Martia_ppeared, small and faint in the remote distance, advancing along the mudd_oast from the direction of Foulness. At that the captain on the bridge swor_t the top of his voice with fear and anger at his own delay, and the paddle_eemed infected with his terror. Every soul aboard stood at the bulwarks or o_he seats of the steamer and stared at that distant shape, higher than th_rees or church towers inland, and advancing with a leisurely parody of _uman stride.
It was the first Martian my brother had seen, and he stood, more amazed tha_errified, watching this Titan advancing deliberately towards the shipping,
wading farther and farther into the water as the coast fell away. Then, fa_way beyond the Crouch, came another, striding over some stunted trees, an_hen yet another, still farther off, wading deeply through a shiny mudfla_hat seemed to hang halfway up between sea and sky. They were all stalkin_eaward, as if to intercept the escape of the multitudinous vessels that wer_rowded between Foulness and the Naze. In spite of the throbbing exertions o_he engines of the little paddle-boat, and the pouring foam that her wheel_lung behind her, she receded with terrifying slowness from this ominou_dvance.
Glancing northwestward, my brother saw the large crescent of shipping alread_rithing with the approaching terror; one ship passing behind another, anothe_oming round from broadside to end on, steamships whistling and giving of_olumes of steam, sails being let out, launches rushing hither and thither. H_as so fascinated by this and by the creeping danger away to the left that h_ad no eyes for anything seaward. And then a swift movement of the steamboat
(she had suddenly come round to avoid being run down) flung him headlong fro_he seat upon which he was standing. There was a shouting all about him, _rampling of feet, and a cheer that seemed to be answered faintly. Th_teamboat lurched and rolled him over upon his hands.
He sprang to his feet and saw to starboard, and not a hundred yards from thei_eeling, pitching boat, a vast iron bulk like the blade of a plough tearin_hrough the water, tossing it on either side in huge waves of foam that leape_owards the steamer, flinging her paddles helplessly in the air, and the_ucking her deck down almost to the waterline.
A douche of spray blinded my brother for a moment. When his eyes were clea_gain he saw the monster had passed and was rushing landward. Big iro_pperworks rose out of this headlong structure, and from that twin funnel_rojected and spat a smoking blast shot with fire. It was the torpedo ram,
THUNDER CHILD, steaming headlong, coming to the rescue of the threatene_hipping.
Keeping his footing on the heaving deck by clutching the bulwarks, my brothe_ooked past this charging leviathan at the Martians again, and he saw th_hree of them now close together, and standing so far out to sea that thei_ripod supports were almost entirely submerged. Thus sunken, and seen i_emote perspective, they appeared far less formidable than the huge iron bul_n whose wake the steamer was pitching so helplessly. It would seem they wer_egarding this new antagonist with astonishment. To their intelligence, it ma_e, the giant was even such another as themselves. The THUNDER CHILD fired n_un, but simply drove full speed towards them. It was probably her not firin_hat enabled her to get so near the enemy as she did. They did not know wha_o make of her. One shell, and they would have sent her to the botto_orthwith with the Heat-Ray.
She was steaming at such a pace that in a minute she seemed halfway betwee_he steamboat and the Martians—a diminishing black bulk against the recedin_orizontal expanse of the Essex coast.
Suddenly the foremost Martian lowered his tube and discharged a canister o_he black gas at the ironclad. It hit her larboard side and glanced off in a_nky jet that rolled away to seaward, an unfolding torrent of Black Smoke,
from which the ironclad drove clear. To the watchers from the steamer, low i_he water and with the sun in their eyes, it seemed as though she were alread_mong the Martians.
They saw the gaunt figures separating and rising out of the water as the_etreated shoreward, and one of them raised the camera-like generator of th_eat-Ray. He held it pointing obliquely downward, and a bank of steam spran_rom the water at its touch. It must have driven through the iron of th_hip's side like a white-hot iron rod through paper.
A flicker of flame went up through the rising steam, and then the Martia_eeled and staggered. In another moment he was cut down, and a great body o_ater and steam shot high in the air. The guns of the THUNDER CHILD sounde_hrough the reek, going off one after the other, and one shot splashed th_ater high close by the steamer, ricocheted towards the other flying ships t_he north, and smashed a smack to matchwood.
But no one heeded that very much. At the sight of the Martian's collapse th_aptain on the bridge yelled inarticulately, and all the crowding passenger_n the steamer's stern shouted together. And then they yelled again. For,
surging out beyond the white tumult, drove something long and black, th_lames streaming from its middle parts, its ventilators and funnels spoutin_ire.
She was alive still; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and her engine_orking. She headed straight for a second Martian, and was within a hundre_ards of him when the Heat-Ray came to bear. Then with a violent thud, _linding flash, her decks, her funnels, leaped upward. The Martian staggere_ith the violence of her explosion, and in another moment the flamin_reckage, still driving forward with the impetus of its pace, had struck hi_nd crumpled him up like a thing of cardboard. My brother shoute_nvoluntarily. A boiling tumult of steam hid everything again.
"Two!," yelled the captain.
Everyone was shouting. The whole steamer from end to end rang with franti_heering that was taken up first by one and then by all in the crowdin_ultitude of ships and boats that was driving out to sea.
The steam hung upon the water for many minutes, hiding the third Martian an_he coast altogether. And all this time the boat was paddling steadily out t_ea and away from the fight; and when at last the confusion cleared, th_rifting bank of black vapour intervened, and nothing of the THUNDER CHIL_ould be made out, nor could the third Martian be seen. But the ironclads t_eaward were now quite close and standing in towards shore past the steamboat.
The little vessel continued to beat its way seaward, and the ironclads recede_lowly towards the coast, which was hidden still by a marbled bank of vapour,
part steam, part black gas, eddying and combining in the strangest way. Th_leet of refugees was scattering to the northeast; several smacks were sailin_etween the ironclads and the steamboat. After a time, and before they reache_he sinking cloud bank, the warships turned northward, and then abruptly wen_bout and passed into the thickening haze of evening southward. The coast gre_aint, and at last indistinguishable amid the low banks of clouds that wer_athering about the sinking sun.
Then suddenly out of the golden haze of the sunset came the vibration of guns,
and a form of black shadows moving. Everyone struggled to the rail of th_teamer and peered into the blinding furnace of the west, but nothing was t_e distinguished clearly. A mass of smoke rose slanting and barred the face o_he sun. The steamboat throbbed on its way through an interminable suspense.
The sun sank into grey clouds, the sky flushed and darkened, the evening sta_rembled into sight. It was deep twilight when the captain cried out an_ointed. My brother strained his eyes. Something rushed up into the sky out o_he greyness—rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminou_learness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, an_ery large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, an_anished again into the grey mystery of the night. And as it flew it raine_own darkness upon the land.