Then came the night of the first falling star. It was seen early in th_orning, rushing over Winchester eastward, a line of flame high in th_tmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it for an ordinary fallin_tar. Albin described it as leaving a greenish streak behind it that glowe_or some seconds. Denning, our greatest authority on meteorites, stated tha_he height of its first appearance was about ninety or one hundred miles. I_eemed to him that it fell to earth about one hundred miles east of him.
I was at home at that hour and writing in my study; and although my Frenc_indows face towards Ottershaw and the blind was up (for I loved in those day_o look up at the night sky), I saw nothing of it. Yet this strangest of al_hings that ever came to earth from outer space must have fallen while I wa_itting there, visible to me had I only looked up as it passed. Some of thos_ho saw its flight say it travelled with a hissing sound. I myself hear_othing of that. Many people in Berkshire, Surrey, and Middlesex must hav_een the fall of it, and, at most, have thought that another meteorite ha_escended. No one seems to have troubled to look for the fallen mass tha_ight.
But very early in the morning poor Ogilvy, who had seen the shooting star an_ho was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common betwee_orsell, Ottershaw, and Woking, rose early with the idea of finding it. Fin_t he did, soon after dawn, and not far from the sand pits. An enormous hol_ad been made by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel ha_een flung violently in every direction over the heath, forming heaps visibl_ mile and a half away. The heather was on fire eastward, and a thin blu_moke rose against the dawn.
The Thing itself lay almost entirely buried in sand, amidst the scattere_plinters of a fir tree it had shivered to fragments in its descent. Th_ncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over and it_utline softened by a thick scaly dun-coloured incrustation. It had a diamete_f about thirty yards. He approached the mass, surprised at the size and mor_o at the shape, since most meteorites are rounded more or less completely. I_as, however, still so hot from its flight through the air as to forbid hi_ear approach. A stirring noise within its cylinder he ascribed to the unequa_ooling of its surface; for at that time it had not occurred to him that i_ight be hollow.
He remained standing at the edge of the pit that the Thing had made fo_tself, staring at its strange appearance, astonished chiefly at its unusua_hape and colour, and dimly perceiving even then some evidence of design i_ts arrival. The early morning was wonderfully still, and the sun, jus_learing the pine trees towards Weybridge, was already warm. He did no_emember hearing any birds that morning, there was certainly no breez_tirring, and the only sounds were the faint movements from within the cinder_ylinder. He was all alone on the common.
Then suddenly he noticed with a start that some of the grey clinker, the ash_ncrustation that covered the meteorite, was falling off the circular edge o_he end. It was dropping off in flakes and raining down upon the sand. A larg_iece suddenly came off and fell with a sharp noise that brought his hear_nto his mouth.
For a minute he scarcely realised what this meant, and, although the heat wa_xcessive, he clambered down into the pit close to the bulk to see the Thin_ore clearly. He fancied even then that the cooling of the body might accoun_or this, but what disturbed that idea was the fact that the ash was fallin_nly from the end of the cylinder.
And then he perceived that, very slowly, the circular top of the cylinder wa_otating on its body. It was such a gradual movement that he discovered i_nly through noticing that a black mark that had been near him five minute_go was now at the other side of the circumference. Even then he scarcel_nderstood what this indicated, until he heard a muffled grating sound and sa_he black mark jerk forward an inch or so. Then the thing came upon him in _lash. The cylinder was artificial—hollow—with an end that screwed out!
Something within the cylinder was unscrewing the top!
“Good heavens!” said Ogilvy. “There’s a man in it—men in it! Half roasted t_eath! Trying to escape!”
At once, with a quick mental leap, he linked the Thing with the flash upo_ars.
The thought of the confined creature was so dreadful to him that he forgot th_eat and went forward to the cylinder to help turn. But luckily the dul_adiation arrested him before he could burn his hands on the still-glowin_etal. At that he stood irresolute for a moment, then turned, scrambled out o_he pit, and set off running wildly into Woking. The time then must have bee_omewhere about six o’clock. He met a waggoner and tried to make hi_nderstand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild—his hat ha_allen off in the pit— that the man simply drove on. He was equall_nsuccessful with the potman who was just unlocking the doors of the public-
house by Horsell Bridge. The fellow thought he was a lunatic at large and mad_n unsuccessful attempt to shut him into the taproom. That sobered him _ittle; and when he saw Henderson, the London journalist, in his garden, h_alled over the palings and made himself understood.
“Henderson,” he called, “you saw that shooting star last night?”
“Well?” said Henderson.
“It’s out on Horsell Common now.”
“Good Lord!” said Henderson. “Fallen meteorite! That’s good.”
“But it’s something more than a meteorite. It’s a cylinder—an artificia_ylinder, man! And there’s something inside.”
Henderson stood up with his spade in his hand.
“What’s that?” he said. He was deaf in one ear.
Ogilvy told him all that he had seen. Henderson was a minute or so taking i_n. Then he dropped his spade, snatched up his jacket, and came out into th_oad. The two men hurried back at once to the common, and found the cylinde_till lying in the same position. But now the sounds inside had ceased, and _hin circle of bright metal showed between the top and the body of th_ylinder. Air was either entering or escaping at the rim with a thin, sizzlin_ound.
They listened, rapped on the scaly burnt metal with a stick, and, meeting wit_o response, they both concluded the man or men inside must be insensible o_ead.
Of course the two were quite unable to do anything. They shouted consolatio_nd promises, and went off back to the town again to get help. One can imagin_hem, covered with sand, excited and disordered, running up the little stree_n the bright sunlight just as the shop folks were taking down their shutter_nd people were opening their bedroom windows. Henderson went into the railwa_tation at once, in order to telegraph the news to London. The newspape_rticles had prepared men’s minds for the reception of the idea.
By eight o’clock a number of boys and unemployed men had already started fo_he common to see the “dead men from Mars.” That was the form the story took.
I heard of it first from my newspaper boy about a quarter to nine when I wen_ut to get my DAILY CHRONICLE. I was naturally startled, and lost no time i_oing out and across the Ottershaw bridge to the sand pits.