For my own part, I remember nothing of my flight except the stress o_lundering against trees and stumbling through the heather. All about m_athered the invisible terrors of the Martians; that pitiless sword of hea_eemed whirling to and fro, flourishing overhead before it descended and smot_e out of life. I came into the road between the crossroads and Horsell, an_an along this to the crossroads.
At last I could go no further; I was exhausted with the violence of my emotio_nd of my flight, and I staggered and fell by the wayside. That was near th_ridge that crosses the canal by the gasworks. I fell and lay still.
I must have remained there some time.
I sat up, strangely perplexed. For a moment, perhaps, I could not clearl_nderstand how I came there. My terror had fallen from me like a garment. M_at had gone, and my collar had burst away from its fastener. A few minute_efore, there had only been three real things before me—the immensity of th_ight and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the nea_pproach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point o_iew altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of min_o the other. I was immediately the self of every day again—a decent, ordinar_itizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flames,
were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter thing_ndeed happened? I could not credit it.
I rose and walked unsteadily up the steep incline of the bridge. My mind wa_lank wonder. My muscles and nerves seemed drained of their strength. I dar_ay I staggered drunkenly. A head rose over the arch, and the figure of _orkman carrying a basket appeared. Beside him ran a little boy. He passed me,
wishing me good night. I was minded to speak to him, but did not. I answere_is greeting with a meaningless mumble and went on over the bridge.
Over the Maybury arch a train, a billowing tumult of white, firelit smoke, an_ long caterpillar of lighted windows, went flying south— clatter, clatter,
clap, rap, and it had gone. A dim group of people talked in the gate of one o_he houses in the pretty little row of gables that was called Orienta_errace. It was all so real and so familiar. And that behind me! It wa_rantic, fantastic! Such things, I told myself, could not be.
Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods. I do not know how far my experienc_s common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment fro_yself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, fro_omewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stres_nd tragedy of it all. This feeling was very strong upon me that night. Her_as another side to my dream.
But the trouble was the blank incongruity of this serenity and the swift deat_lying yonder, not two miles away. There was a noise of business from th_asworks, and the electric lamps were all alight. I stopped at the group o_eople.
“What news from the common?” said I.
There were two men and a woman at the gate.
“Eh?” said one of the men, turning.
“What news from the common?” I said.
“’Ain’t yer just BEEN there?” asked the men.
“People seem fair silly about the common,” said the woman over the gate.
“What’s it all abart?”
“Haven’t you heard of the men from Mars?” said I; “the creatures from Mars?”
“Quite enough,” said the woman over the gate. “Thenks”; and all three of the_aughed.
I felt foolish and angry. I tried and found I could not tell them what I ha_een. They laughed again at my broken sentences.
“You’ll hear more yet,” I said, and went on to my home.
I startled my wife at the doorway, so haggard was I. I went into the dinin_oom, sat down, drank some wine, and so soon as I could collect mysel_ufficiently I told her the things I had seen. The dinner, which was a col_ne, had already been served, and remained neglected on the table while I tol_y story.
“There is one thing,” I said, to allay the fears I had aroused; “they are th_ost sluggish things I ever saw crawl. They may keep the pit and kill peopl_ho come near them, but they cannot get out of it. … But the horror of them!”
“Don’t, dear!” said my wife, knitting her brows and putting her hand on mine.
“Poor Ogilvy!” I said. “To think he may be lying dead there!”
My wife at least did not find my experience incredible. When I saw how deadl_hite her face was, I ceased abruptly.
“They may come here,” she said again and again.
I pressed her to take wine, and tried to reassure her.
“They can scarcely move,” I said.
I began to comfort her and myself by repeating all that Ogilvy had told me o_he impossibility of the Martians establishing themselves on the earth. I_articular I laid stress on the gravitational difficulty. On the surface o_he earth the force of gravity is three times what it is on the surface o_ars. A Martian, therefore, would weigh three times more than on Mars, albei_is muscular strength would be the same. His own body would be a cope of lea_o him. That, indeed, was the general opinion. Both THE TIMES and the DAIL_ELEGRAPH, for instance, insisted on it the next morning, and both overlooked,
just as I did, two obvious modifying influences.
The atmosphere of the earth, we now know, contains far more oxygen or far les_rgon (whichever way one likes to put it) than does Mars. The invigoratin_nfluences of this excess of oxygen upon the Martians indisputably did much t_ounterbalance the increased weight of their bodies. And, in the second place,
we all overlooked the fact that such mechanical intelligence as the Martia_ossessed was quite able to dispense with muscular exertion at a pinch.
But I did not consider these points at the time, and so my reasoning was dea_gainst the chances of the invaders. With wine and food, the confidence of m_wn table, and the necessity of reassuring my wife, I grew by insensibl_egrees courageous and secure.
“They have done a foolish thing,” said I, fingering my wineglass. “They ar_angerous because, no doubt, they are mad with terror. Perhaps they expecte_o find no living things—certainly no intelligent living things.”
“A shell in the pit” said I, “if the worst comes to the worst will kill the_ll.”
The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive powers i_ state of erethism. I remember that dinner table with extraordinary vividnes_ven now. My dear wife’s sweet anxious face peering at me from under the pin_amp shade, the white cloth with its silver and glass table furniture—for i_hose days even philosophical writers had many little luxuries—the crimson-
purple wine in my glass, are photographically distinct. At the end of it _at, tempering nuts with a cigarette, regretting Ogilvy’s rashness, an_enouncing the shortsighted timidity of the Martians.
So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest,
and discussed the arrival of that shipful of pitiless sailors in want o_nimal food. “We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear.”
I did not know it, but that was the last civilised dinner I was to eat fo_ery many strange and terrible days.