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Chapter 2 The Falling Star

  • 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.