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Chapter 8 Dead London

  • After I had parted from the artilleryman, I went down the hill, and by th_igh Street across the bridge to Fulham. The red weed was tumultuous at tha_ime, and nearly choked the bridge roadway; but its fronds were alread_hitened in patches by the spreading disease that presently removed it s_wiftly.
  • At the corner of the lane that runs to Putney Bridge station I found a ma_ying. He was as black as a sweep with the black dust, alive, but helplessl_nd speechlessly drunk. I could get nothing from him but curses and furiou_unges at my head. I think I should have stayed by him but for the bruta_xpression of his face.
  • There was black dust along the roadway from the bridge onwards, and it gre_hicker in Fulham. The streets were horribly quiet. I got food—sour, hard, an_ouldy, but quite eatable—in a baker's shop here. Some way towards Walha_reen the streets became clear of powder, and I passed a white terrace o_ouses on fire; the noise of the burning was an absolute relief. Going o_owards Brompton, the streets were quiet again.
  • Here I came once more upon the black powder in the streets and upon dea_odies. I saw altogether about a dozen in the length of the Fulham Road. The_ad been dead many days, so that I hurried quickly past them. The black powde_overed them over, and softened their outlines. One or two had been disturbe_y dogs.
  • Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like a Sunday in the City,
  • with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blinds drawn, th_esertion, and the stillness. In some places plunderers had been at work, bu_arely at other than the provision and wine shops. A jeweller's window ha_een broken open in one place, but apparently the thief had been disturbed,
  • and a number of gold chains and a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I di_ot trouble to touch them. Farther on was a tattered woman in a heap on _oorstep; the hand that hung over her knee was gashed and bled down her rust_rown dress, and a smashed magnum of champagne formed a pool across th_avement. She seemed asleep, but she was dead.
  • The farther I penetrated into London, the profounder grew the stillness. Bu_t was not so much the stillness of death—it was the stillness of suspense, o_xpectation. At any time the destruction that had already singed th_orthwestern borders of the metropolis, and had annihilated Ealing an_ilburn, might strike among these houses and leave them smoking ruins. It wa_ city condemned and derelict…
  • In South Kensington the streets were clear of dead and of black powder. It wa_ear South Kensington that I first heard the howling. It crept almos_mperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing alternation of two notes,
  • "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," keeping on perpetually. When I passed streets tha_an northward it grew in volume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden an_ut it off again. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped,
  • staring towards Kensington Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote wailing.
  • It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear an_olitude.
  • "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," wailed that superhuman note—great waves of soun_weeping down the broad, sunlit roadway, between the tall buildings on eac_ide. I turned northwards, marvelling, towards the iron gates of Hyde Park. _ad half a mind to break into the Natural History Museum and find my way up t_he summits of the towers, in order to see across the park. But I decided t_eep to the ground, where quick hiding was possible, and so went on up th_xhibition Road. All the large mansions on each side of the road were empt_nd still, and my footsteps echoed against the sides of the houses. At th_op, near the park gate, I came upon a strange sight—a bus overturned, and th_keleton of a horse picked clean. I puzzled over this for a time, and the_ent on to the bridge over the Serpentine. The voice grew stronger an_tronger, though I could see nothing above the housetops on the north side o_he park, save a haze of smoke to the northwest.
  • "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," cried the voice, coming, as it seemed to me, fro_he district about Regent's Park. The desolating cry worked upon my mind. Th_ood that had sustained me passed. The wailing took possession of me. I foun_ was intensely weary, footsore, and now again hungry and thirsty.
  • It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in this city of the dead?
  • Why was I alone when all London was lying in state, and in its black shroud? _elt intolerably lonely. My mind ran on old friends that I had forgotten fo_ears. I thought of the poisons in the chemists' shops, of the liquors th_ine merchants stored; I recalled the two sodden creatures of despair, who s_ar as I knew, shared the city with myself…
  • I came into Oxford Street by the Marble Arch, and here again were black powde_nd several bodies, and an evil, ominous smell from the gratings of th_ellars of some of the houses. I grew very thirsty after the heat of my lon_alk. With infinite trouble I managed to break into a public-house and ge_ood and drink. I was weary after eating, and went into the parlour behind th_ar, and slept on a black horsehair sofa I found there.
  • I awoke to find that dismal howling still in my ears, "Ulla, ulla, ulla,
  • ulla." It was now dusk, and after I had routed out some biscuits and a chees_n the bar—there was a meat safe, but it contained nothing but maggots—_andered on through the silent residential squares to Baker Street—Portma_quare is the only one I can name—and so came out at last upon Regent's Park.
  • And as I emerged from the top of Baker Street, I saw far away over the tree_n the clearness of the sunset the hood of the Martian giant from which thi_owling proceeded. I was not terrified. I came upon him as if it were a matte_f course. I watched him for some time, but he did not move. He appeared to b_tanding and yelling, for no reason that I could discover.
  • I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound of "Ulla, ulla,
  • ulla, ulla," confused my mind. Perhaps I was too tired to be very fearful.
  • Certainly I was more curious to know the reason of this monotonous crying tha_fraid. I turned back away from the park and struck into Park Road, intendin_o skirt the park, went along under the shelter of the terraces, and got _iew of this stationary, howling Martian from the direction of St. John'_ood. A couple of hundred yards out of Baker Street I heard a yelping chorus,
  • and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jaws comin_eadlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels in pursuit of him.
  • He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fres_ompetitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road, the wailing soun_f "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," reasserted itself.
  • I came upon the wrecked handling-machine halfway to St. John's Wood station.
  • At first I thought a house had fallen across the road. It was only as _lambered among the ruins that I saw, with a start, this mechanical Samso_ying, with its tentacles bent and smashed and twisted, among the ruins it ha_ade. The forepart was shattered. It seemed as if it had driven blindl_traight at the house, and had been overwhelmed in its overthrow. It seemed t_e then that this might have happened by a handling-machine escaping from th_uidance of its Martian. I could not clamber among the ruins to see it, an_he twilight was now so far advanced that the blood with which its seat wa_meared, and the gnawed gristle of the Martian that the dogs had left, wer_nvisible to me.
  • Wondering still more at all that I had seen, I pushed on towards Primros_ill. Far away, through a gap in the trees, I saw a second Martian, a_otionless as the first, standing in the park towards the Zoological Gardens,
  • and silent. A little beyond the ruins about the smashed handling-machine _ame upon the red weed again, and found the Regent's Canal, a spongy mass o_ark-red vegetation.
  • As I crossed the bridge, the sound of "Ulla, ulla, ulla, ulla," ceased. I_as, as it were, cut off. The silence came like a thunderclap.
  • The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the trees towards th_ark were growing black. All about me the red weed clambered among the ruins,
  • writhing to get above me in the dimness. Night, the mother of fear an_ystery, was coming upon me. But while that voice sounded the solitude, th_esolation, had been endurable; by virtue of it London had still seemed alive,
  • and the sense of life about me had upheld me. Then suddenly a change, th_assing of something—I knew not what—and then a stillness that could be felt.
  • Nothing but this gaunt quiet.
  • London about me gazed at me spectrally. The windows in the white houses wer_ike the eye sockets of skulls. About me my imagination found a thousan_oiseless enemies moving. Terror seized me, a horror of my temerity. In fron_f me the road became pitchy black as though it was tarred, and I saw _ontorted shape lying across the pathway. I could not bring myself to go on. _urned down St. John's Wood Road, and ran headlong from this unendurabl_tillness towards Kilburn. I hid from the night and the silence, until lon_fter midnight, in a cabmen's shelter in Harrow Road. But before the dawn m_ourage returned, and while the stars were still in the sky I turned once mor_owards Regent's Park. I missed my way among the streets, and presently sa_own a long avenue, in the half-light of the early dawn, the curve of Primros_ill. On the summit, towering up to the fading stars, was a third Martian,
  • erect and motionless like the others.
  • An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it. And I would sav_yself even the trouble of killing myself. I marched on recklessly toward_his Titan, and then, as I drew nearer and the light grew, I saw that _ultitude of black birds was circling and clustering about the hood. At tha_y heart gave a bound, and I began running along the road.
  • I hurried through the red weed that choked St. Edmund's Terrace (I wade_reast-high across a torrent of water that was rushing down from th_aterworks towards the Albert Road), and emerged upon the grass before th_ising of the sun. Great mounds had been heaped about the crest of the hill,
  • making a huge redoubt of it—it was the final and largest place the Martian_ad made—and from behind these heaps there rose a thin smoke against the sky.
  • Against the sky line an eager dog ran and disappeared. The thought that ha_lashed into my mind grew real, grew credible. I felt no fear, only a wild,
  • trembling exultation, as I ran up the hill towards the motionless monster. Ou_f the hood hung lank shreds of brown, at which the hungry birds pecked an_ore.
  • In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon it_rest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was,
  • with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material an_trange shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-
  • machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and a dozen of them star_nd silent and laid in a row, were the Martians—DEAD!—slain by th_utrefactive and disease bacteria against which their systems were unprepared;
  • slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man's devices ha_ailed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon thi_arth.
  • For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had no_error and disaster blinded our minds. These germs of disease have taken tol_f humanity since the beginning of things— taken toll of our prehuma_ncestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection o_ur kind we have developed resisting power; to no germs do we succumb withou_ struggle, and to many—those that cause putrefaction in dead matter, fo_nstance —our living frames are altogether immune. But there are no bacteri_n Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, ou_icroscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched the_hey were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting even as they went to and fro.
  • It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought hi_irthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still b_is were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men liv_or die in vain.
  • Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty altogether, in that grea_ulf they had made, overtaken by a death that must have seemed to them a_ncomprehensible as any death could be. To me also at that time this death wa_ncomprehensible. All I knew was that these things that had been alive and s_errible to men were dead. For a moment I believed that the destruction o_ennacherib had been repeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Deat_ad slain them in the night.
  • I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened gloriously, even as th_ising sun struck the world to fire about me with his rays. The pit was stil_n darkness; the mighty engines, so great and wonderful in their power an_omplexity, so unearthly in their tortuous forms, rose weird and vague an_trange out of the shadows towards the light. A multitude of dogs, I coul_ear, fought over the bodies that lay darkly in the depth of the pit, fa_elow me. Across the pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, la_he great flying-machine with which they had been experimenting upon ou_enser atmosphere when decay and death arrested them. Death had come not a da_oo soon. At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked up at the huge fighting-
  • machine that would fight no more for ever, at the tattered red shreds of fles_hat dripped down upon the overturned seats on the summit of Primrose Hill.
  • I turned and looked down the slope of the hill to where, enhaloed now i_irds, stood those other two Martians that I had seen overnight, just as deat_ad overtaken them. The one had died, even as it had been crying to it_ompanions; perhaps it was the last to die, and its voice had gone o_erpetually until the force of its machinery was exhausted. They glittere_ow, harmless tripod towers of shining metal, in the brightness of the risin_un.
  • All about the pit, and saved as by a miracle from everlasting destruction,
  • stretched the great Mother of Cities. Those who have only seen London veile_n her sombre robes of smoke can scarcely imagine the naked clearness an_eauty of the silent wilderness of houses.
  • Eastward, over the blackened ruins of the Albert Terrace and the splintere_pire of the church, the sun blazed dazzling in a clear sky, and here an_here some facet in the great wilderness of roofs caught the light and glare_ith a white intensity.
  • Northward were Kilburn and Hampsted, blue and crowded with houses; westwar_he great city was dimmed; and southward, beyond the Martians, the green wave_f Regent's Park, the Langham Hotel, the dome of the Albert Hall, the Imperia_nstitute, and the giant mansions of the Brompton Road came out clear an_ittle in the sunrise, the jagged ruins of Westminster rising hazily beyond.
  • Far away and blue were the Surrey hills, and the towers of the Crystal Palac_littered like two silver rods. The dome of St. Paul's was dark against th_unrise, and injured, I saw for the first time, by a huge gaping cavity on it_estern side.
  • And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses and factories and churches,
  • silent and abandoned; as I thought of the multitudinous hopes and efforts, th_nnumerable hosts of lives that had gone to build this human reef, and of th_wift and ruthless destruction that had hung over it all; when I realised tha_he shadow had been rolled back, and that men might still live in the streets,
  • and this dear vast dead city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt _ave of emotion that was near akin to tears.
  • The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. The survivors o_he people scattered over the country—leaderless, lawless, foodless, lik_heep without a shepherd—the thousands who had fled by sea, would begin t_eturn; the pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger, would beat again i_he empty streets and pour across the vacant squares. Whatever destruction wa_one, the hand of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, th_lackened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass o_he hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers an_inging with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought I extended my hand_owards the sky and began thanking God. In a year, thought I—in a year…
  • With overwhelming force came the thought of myself, of my wife, and the ol_ife of hope and tender helpfulness that had ceased for ever.