After the glimpse I had had of the Martians emerging from the cylinder i_hich they had come to the earth from their planet, a kind of fascinatio_aralysed my actions. I remained standing knee-deep in the heather, staring a_he mound that hid them. I was a battleground of fear and curiosity.
I did not dare to go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing t_eer into it. I began walking, therefore, in a big curve, seeking some poin_f vantage and continually looking at the sand heaps that hid these new-comer_o our earth. Once a leash of thin black whips, like the arms of an octopus,
flashed across the sunset and was immediately withdrawn, and afterwards a thi_od rose up, joint by joint, bearing at its apex a circular disk that spu_ith a wobbling motion. What could be going on there?
Most of the spectators had gathered in one or two groups—one a little crow_owards Woking, the other a knot of people in the direction of Chobham.
Evidently they shared my mental conflict. There were few near me. One man _pproached—he was, I perceived, a neighbour of mine, though I did not know hi_ame—and accosted. But it was scarcely a time for articulate conversation.
“What ugly brutes!” he said. “Good God! What ugly brutes!” He repeated thi_ver and over again.
“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer to that. W_ecame silent, and stood watching for a time side by side, deriving, I fancy,
a certain comfort in one another’s company. Then I shifted my position to _ittle knoll that gave me the advantage of a yard or more of elevation an_hen I looked for him presently he was walking towards Woking.
The sunset faded to twilight before anything further happened. The crowd fa_way on the left, towards Woking, seemed to grow, and I heard now a fain_urmur from it. The little knot of people towards Chobham dispersed. There wa_carcely an intimation of movement from the pit.
It was this, as much as anything, that gave people courage, and I suppose th_ew arrivals from Woking also helped to restore confidence. At any rate, a_he dusk came on a slow, intermittent movement upon the sand pits began, _ovement that seemed to gather force as the stillness of the evening about th_ylinder remained unbroken. Vertical black figures in twos and threes woul_dvance, stop, watch, and advance again, spreading out as they did so in _hin irregular crescent that promised to enclose the pit in its attenuate_orns. I, too, on my side began to move towards the pit.
Then I saw some cabmen and others had walked boldly into the sand pits, an_eard the clatter of hoofs and the gride of wheels. I saw a lad trundling of_he barrow of apples. And then, within thirty yards of the pit, advancing fro_he direction of Horsell, I noted a little black knot of men, the foremost o_hom was waving a white flag.
This was the Deputation. There had been a hasty consultation, and since th_artians were evidently, in spite of their repulsive forms, intelligen_reatures, it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them wit_ignals, that we too were intelligent.
Flutter, flutter, went the flag, first to the right, then to the left. It wa_oo far for me to recognise anyone there, but afterwards I learned tha_gilvy, Stent, and Henderson were with others in this attempt a_ommunication. This little group had in its advance dragged inward, so t_peak, the circumference of the now almost complete circle of people, and _umber of dim black figures followed it at discreet distances.
Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smok_ame out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after th_ther, straight into the still air.
This smoke (or flame, perhaps, would be the better word for it) was so brigh_hat the deep blue sky overhead and the hazy stretches of brown common toward_hertsey, set with black pine trees, seemed to darken abruptly as these puff_rose, and to remain the darker after their dispersal. At the same time _aint hissing sound became audible.
Beyond the pit stood the little wedge of people with the white flag at it_pex, arrested by these phenomena, a little knot of small vertical blac_hapes upon the black ground. As the green smoke arose, their faces flashe_ut pallid green, and faded again as it vanished. Then slowly the hissin_assed into a humming, into a long, loud, droning noise. Slowly a humped shap_ose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of light seemed to flicker ou_rom it.
Forthwith flashes of actual flame, a bright glare leaping from one to another,
sprang from the scattered group of men. It was as if some invisible je_mpinged upon them and flashed into white flame. It was as if each man wer_uddenly and momentarily turned to fire.
Then, by the light of their own destruction, I saw them staggering an_alling, and their supporters turning to run.
I stood staring, not as yet realising that this was death leaping from man t_an in that little distant crowd. All I felt was that it was something ver_trange. An almost noiseless and blinding flash of light, and a man fel_eadlong and lay still; and as the unseen shaft of heat passed over them, pin_rees burst into fire, and every dry furze bush became with one dull thud _ass of flames. And far away towards Knaphill I saw the flashes of trees an_edges and wooden buildings suddenly set alight.
It was sweeping round swiftly and steadily, this flaming death, thi_nvisible, inevitable sword of heat. I perceived it coming towards me by th_lashing bushes it touched, and was too astounded and stupefied to stir. _eard the crackle of fire in the sand pits and the sudden squeal of a hors_hat was as suddenly stilled. Then it was as if an invisible yet intensel_eated finger were drawn through the heather between me and the Martians, an_ll along a curving line beyond the sand pits the dark ground smoked an_rackled. Something fell with a crash far away to the left where the road fro_oking station opens out on the common. Forth-with the hissing and hummin_eased, and the black, dome-like object sank slowly out of sight into the pit.
All this had happened with such swiftness that I had stood motionless,
dumbfounded and dazzled by the flashes of light. Had that death swept throug_ full circle, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise. But it passe_nd spared me, and left the night about me suddenly dark and unfamiliar.
The undulating common seemed now dark almost to blackness, except where it_oadways lay grey and pale under the deep blue sky of the early night. It wa_ark, and suddenly void of men. Overhead the stars were mustering, and in th_est the sky was still a pale, bright, almost greenish blue. The tops of th_ine trees and the roofs of Horsell came out sharp and black against th_estern afterglow. The Martians and their appliances were altogethe_nvisible, save for that thin mast upon which their restless mirror wobbled.
Patches of bush and isolated trees here and there smoked and glowed still, an_he houses towards Woking station were sending up spires of flame into th_tillness of the evening air.
Nothing was changed save for that and a terrible astonishment. The littl_roup of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence,
and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely bee_roken.
It came to me that I was upon this dark common, helpless, unprotected, an_lone. Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came—fear.
With an effort I turned and began a stumbling run through the heather.
The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of th_artians, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. Such an extraordinar_ffect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do.
Once I had turned, I did not dare to look back.
I remember I felt an extraordinary persuasion that I was being played with,
that presently, when I was upon the very verge of safety, this mysteriou_eath—as swift as the passage of light—would leap after me from the pit abou_he cylinder and strike me down.