machine. Another steely tentacle directed the powder from the basin
along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me
by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little
thread of green smoke rose vertically into the quiet air.
As I looked,
the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended,
telescopic fashion, a tentacle that had been a moment before a mere
blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.
In another second it had lifted a bar of white aluminium into sight,
untarnished as yet, and shining dazzlingly, and deposited it in a
growing stack of bars that stood at the side of the pit. Between
sunset and starlight this dexterous machine must have made more than a
hundred such bars out of the crude clay, and the mound of bluish dust
rose steadily until it topped the side of the pit.
The contrast between the swift and complex movements of these
contrivances and the inert panting clumsiness of their masters was
acute, and for days I had to tell myself repeatedly that these latter
were indeed the living of the two things.
The curate had possession of the slit when the first men were
brought to the pit. I was sitting below, huddled up, listening with
all my ears. He made a sudden movement backward, and I, fearful that
we were observed, crouched in a spasm of terror. He came sliding down
the rubbish and crept beside me in the darkness, inarticulate,
gesticulating, and for a moment I shared his panic. His gesture
suggested a resignation of the slit, and after a little while my
curiosity gave me courage, and I rose up, stepped across him, and
clambered up to it. At first I could see no reason for his frantic
behaviour. The twilight had now come, the stars were little and
faint, but the pit was illuminated by the flickering green fire that
came from the aluminium-making. The whole picture was a flickering
scheme of green gleams and shifting rusty black shadows, strangely
trying to the eyes. Over and through it all went the bats, heeding it
not at all. The sprawling Martians were no longer to be seen, the
mound of blue-green powder had risen to cover them from sight, and a
fighting-machine, with its legs contracted, crumpled, and abbreviated,
stood across the corner of the pit. And then, amid the clangour of
the machinery, came a drifting suspicion of human voices, that I
entertained at first only to dismiss.
I crouched, watching this fighting-machine closely, satisfying
myself now for the first time that the hood did indeed contain a
Martian. As the green flames lifted I could see the oily gleam of
his integument and the brightness of his eyes. And suddenly I heard
a yell, and saw a long tentacle reaching over the shoulder of the
machine to the little cage that hunched upon its back. Then
something - something struggling violently - was lifted high against the
sky, a black, vague enigma against the starlight; and as this black
object came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was a
man. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy,
middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before, he must have been
walking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see his
staring eyes and gleams of light on his studs and watch chain. He
vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. And
then began a shrieking and a sustained and cheerful hooting from the
I slid down the rubbish, struggled to my feet, clapped my hands
over my ears, and bolted into the scullery. The curate, who had been
crouching silently with his arms over his head, looked up as I passed,
cried out quite loudly at my desertion of him, and came running after
That night, as we lurked in the scullery, balanced between our
horror and the terrible fascination this peeping had, although I felt
an urgent need of action I tried in vain to conceive some plan of
escape; but afterwards, during the second day, I was able to consider
our position with great clearness. The curate, I found, was quite
incapable of discussion; this new and culminating atrocity had robbed
him of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he had
already sunk to the level of an animal. But as the saying goes, I
gripped myself with both hands. It grew upon my mind, once I could
face the facts, that terrible as our position was, there was as yet
no justification for absolute despair. Our chief chance lay in the
possibility of the Martians making the pit nothing more than a
temporary encampment. Or even if they kept it permanently, they might
not consider it necessary to guard it, and a chance of escape might be
afforded us. I also weighed very carefully the possibility of our
digging a way out in a direction away from the pit, but the chances of
our emerging within sight of some sentinel fighting-machine seemed at
first too great. And I should have had to do all the digging myself.
The curate would certainly have failed me.
It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I saw
the lad killed. It was the only occasion on which I actually saw the
Martians feed. After that experience I avoided the hole in the wall
for the better part of a day. I went into the scullery, removed the
door, and spent some hours digging with my hatchet as silently as
possible; but when I had made a hole about a couple of feet deep the
loose earth collapsed noisily, and I did not dare continue. I lost
heart, and lay down on the scullery floor for a long time, having no
spirit even to move. And after that I abandoned altogether the idea
of escaping by excavation.
It says much for the impression the Martians had made upon me that
at first I entertained little or no hope of our escape being brought
about by their overthrow through any human effort. But on the fourth
or fifth night I heard a sound like heavy guns.
It was very late in the night, and the moon was shining brightly.
The Martians had taken away the excavating-machine, and, save for a
fighting-machine that stood in the remoter bank of the pit and a
handling-machine that was buried out of my sight in a corner of the
pit immediately beneath my peephole, the place was deserted by them.
Except for the pale glow from the handling-machine and the bars and
patches of white moonlight the pit was in darkness, and, except for
the clinking of the handling-machine, quite still. That night was a
beautiful serenity; save for one planet, the moon seemed to have the
sky to herself. I heard a dog howling, and that familiar sound it was
that made me listen. Then I heard quite distinctly a booming exactly
like the sound of great guns. Six distinct reports I counted, and
after a long interval six again. And that was all.
THE DEATH OF THE CURATE
It was on the sixth day of our imprisonment that I peeped for the
last time, and presently found myself alone. Instead of keeping close
to me and trying to oust me from the slit, the curate had gone back
into the scullery. I was struck by a sudden thought. I went back
quickly and quietly into the scullery. In the darkness I heard the
curate drinking. I snatched in the darkness, and my fingers caught a
bottle of burgundy.
For a few minutes there was a tussle. The bottle struck the floor
and broke, and I desisted and rose. We stood panting and threatening
each other. In the end I planted myself between him and the food, and
told him of my determination to begin a discipline. I divided the
food in the pantry, into rations to last us ten days. I would not let
him eat any more that day. In the afternoon he made a feeble effort
to get at the food. I had been dozing, but in an instant I was awake.
All day and all night we sat face to face, I weary but resolute, and
he weeping and complaining of his immediate hunger. It was, I know, a
night and a day, but to me it seemed - it seems now - an interminable
length of time.
And so our widened incompatibility ended at last in open conflict.
For two vast days we struggled in undertones and wrestling contests.
There were times when I beat and kicked him madly, times when I
cajoled and persuaded him, and once I tried to bribe him with the last
bottle of burgundy, for there was a rain-water pump from which I could
get water. But neither force nor kindness availed; he was indeed
beyond reason. He would neither desist from his attacks on the food
nor from his noisy babbling to himself. The rudimentary precautions
to keep our imprisonment endurable he would not observe. Slowly I
began to realise the complete overthrow of his intelligence, to
perceive that my sole companion in this close and sickly darkness was
a man insane.
From certain vague memories I am inclined to think my own mind
wandered at times. I had strange and hideous dreams whenever I slept.
It sounds paradoxical, but I am inclined to think that the weakness
and insanity of the curate warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane
On the eighth day he began to talk aloud instead of whispering, and
nothing I could do would moderate his speech.
"It is just, O God!" he would say, over and over again. "It is
just. On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have
fallen short. There was poverty, sorrow; the poor were trodden in
the dust, and I held my peace. I preached acceptable folly - my God,
what folly! - when I should have stood up, though I died for it, and
called upon them to repent-repent! . . . Oppressors of the poor and
needy . . . ! The wine press of God!"
Then he would suddenly revert to the matter of the food I withheld
from him, praying, begging, weeping, at last threatening. He began to
raise his voice - I prayed him not to. He perceived a hold on me - he
threatened he would shout and bring the Martians upon us. For a time
that scared me; but any concession would have shortened our chance of
escape beyond estimating. I defied him, although I felt no assurance
that he might not do this thing. But that day, at any rate, he did
not. He talked with his voice rising slowly, through the greater part
of the eighth and ninth days - threats, entreaties, mingled with a
torrent of half-sane and always frothy repentance for his vacant sham
of God's service, such as made me pity him. Then he slept awhile, and
began again with renewed strength, so loudly that I must needs make
"Be still!" I implored.
He rose to his knees, for he had been sitting in the darkness near
"I have been still too long," he said, in a tone that must have
reached the pit, "and now I must bear my witness. Woe unto this
unfaithful city! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of
the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet - - "
"Shut up!" I said, rising to my feet, and in a terror lest the
Martians should hear us. "For God's sake - - "
"Nay," shouted the curate, at the top of his voice, standing
likewise and extending his arms. "Speak! The word of the Lord is
In three strides he was at the door leading into the kitchen.
"I must bear my witness! I go! It has already been too long
I put out my hand and felt the meat chopper hanging to the wall.
In a flash I was after him. I was fierce with fear. Before he was
halfway across the kitchen I had overtaken him. With one last touch
of humanity I turned the blade back and struck him with the butt. He
went headlong forward and lay stretched on the ground. I stumbled
over him and stood panting. He lay still.
Suddenly I heard a noise without, the run and smash of slipping
plaster, and the triangular aperture in the wall was darkened. I
looked up and saw the lower surface of a handling-machine coming
slowly across the hole. One of its gripping limbs curled amid the
debris; another limb appeared, feeling its way over the fallen beams.
I stood petrified, staring. Then I saw through a sort of glass plate
near the edge of the body the face, as we may call it, and the large
dark eyes of a Martian, peering, and then a long metallic snake of
tentacle came feeling slowly through the hole.
I turned by an effort, stumbled over the curate, and stopped at the
scullery door. The tentacle was now some way, two yards or more, in
the room, and twisting and turning, with queer sudden movements, this
way and that. For a while I stood fascinated by that slow, fitful
advance. Then, with a faint, hoarse cry, I forced myself across the
scullery. I trembled violently; I could scarcely stand upright. I
opened the door of the coal cellar, and stood there in the darkness
staring at the faintly lit doorway into the kitchen, and listening.
Had the Martian seen me? What was it doing now?
Something was moving to and fro there, very quietly; every now and
then it tapped against the wall, or started on its movements with a
faint metallic ringing, like the movements of keys on a split-ring.
Then a heavy body - I knew too well what - was dragged across the floor
of the kitchen towards the opening. Irresistibly attracted, I crept
to the door and peeped into the kitchen. In the triangle of bright
outer sunlight I saw the Martian, in its Briareus of a handling-machine,
scrutinizing the curate's head. I thought at once that it would infer
my presence from the mark of the blow I had given him.
I crept back to the coal cellar, shut the door, and began to cover
myself up as much as I could, and as noiselessly as possible in the
darkness, among the firewood and coal therein. Every now and then I
paused, rigid, to hear if the Martian had thrust its tentacles through
the opening again.
Then the faint metallic jingle returned. I traced it slowly
feeling over the kitchen. Presently I heard it nearer - in the
scullery, as I judged. I thought that its length might be
insufficient to reach me. I prayed copiously. It passed, scraping
faintly across the cellar door. An age of almost intolerable suspense
intervened; then I heard it fumbling at the latch! It had found the
door! The Martians understood doors!
It worried at the catch for a minute, perhaps, and then the door
In the darkness I could just see the thing - like an elephant's
trunk more than anything else - waving towards me and touching and
examining the wall, coals, wood and ceiling. It was like a black worm
swaying its blind head to and fro.
Once, even, it touched the heel of my boot. I was on the verge of
screaming; I bit my hand. For a time the tentacle was silent. I
could have fancied it had been withdrawn. Presently, with an abrupt
click, it gripped something - I thought it had me! - and seemed to go
out of the cellar again. For a minute I was not sure. Apparently it
had taken a lump of coal to examine.
I seized the opportunity of slightly shifting my position, which
had become cramped, and then listened. I whispered passionate prayers
Then I heard the slow, deliberate sound creeping towards me again.
Slowly, slowly it drew near, scratching against the walls and tapping
While I was still doubtful, it rapped smartly against the cellar
door and closed it. I heard it go into the pantry, and the biscuit-tins
rattled and a bottle smashed, and then came a heavy bump against
the cellar door. Then silence that passed into an infinity of
Had it gone?
At last I decided that it had.
It came into the scullery no more; but I lay all the tenth day in
the close darkness, buried among coals and firewood, not daring even
to crawl out for the drink for which I craved. It was the eleventh day
before I ventured so far from my security.
My first act before I went into the pantry was to fasten the door
between the kitchen and the scullery. But the pantry was empty; every
scrap of food had gone. Apparently, the Martian had taken it all on
the previous day. At that discovery I despaired for the first time. I
took no food, or no drink either, on the eleventh or the twelfth day.
At first my mouth and throat were parched, and my strength ebbed
sensibly. I sat about in the darkness of the scullery, in a state of
despondent wretchedness. My mind ran on eating. I thought I had
become deaf, for the noises of movement I had been accustomed to hear
from the pit had ceased absolutely. I did not feel strong enough to
crawl noiselessly to the peephole, or I would have gone there.
On the twelfth day my throat was so painful that, taking the chance
of alarming the Martians, I attacked the creaking rain-water pump that
stood by the sink, and got a couple of glassfuls of blackened and
tainted rain water. I was greatly refreshed by this, and emboldened
by the fact that no enquiring tentacle followed the noise of my
During these days, in a rambling, inconclusive way, I thought much
of the curate and of the manner of his death.
On the thirteenth day I drank some more water, and dozed and
thought disjointedly of eating and of vague impossible plans of
escape. Whenever I dozed I dreamt of horrible phantasms, of the death
of the curate, or of sumptuous dinners; but, asleep or awake, I felt a
keen pain that urged me to drink again and again. The light that came
into the scullery was no longer grey, but red. To my disordered
imagination it seemed the colour of blood.
On the fourteenth day I went into the kitchen, and I was surprised
to find that the fronds of the red weed had grown right across
the hole in the wall, turning the half-light of the place into a
It was early on the fifteenth day that I heard a curious, familiar
sequence of sounds in the kitchen, and, listening, identified it as
the snuffing and scratching of a dog. Going into the kitchen, I saw a
dog's nose peering in through a break among the ruddy fronds. This
greatly surprised me. At the scent of me he barked shortly.
I thought if I could induce him to come into the place quietly I
should be able, perhaps, to kill and eat him; and in any case, it
would be advisable to kill him, lest his actions attracted the
attention of the Martians.
I crept forward, saying "Good dog!" very softly; but he suddenly
withdrew his head and disappeared.
I listened - I was not deaf - but certainly the pit was still. I
heard a sound like the flutter of a bird's wings, and a hoarse
croaking, but that was all.
For a long while I lay close to the peephole, but not daring to
move aside the red plants that obscured it. Once or twice I heard a
faint pitter-patter like the feet of the dog going hither and thither
on the sand far below me, and there were more birdlike sounds, but
that was all. At length, encouraged by the silence, I looked out.
Except in the corner, where a multitude of crows hopped and fought
over the skeletons of the dead the Martians had consumed, there was
not a living thing in the pit.
I stared about me, scarcely believing my eyes. All the machinery
had gone. Save for the big mound of greyish-blue powder in one
corner, certain bars of aluminium in another, the black birds, and the
skeletons of the killed, the place was merely an empty circular pit in
Slowly I thrust myself out through the red weed, and stood upon the
mound of rubble. I could see in any direction save behind me, to the
north, and neither Martians nor sign of Martians were to be seen. The
pit dropped sheerly from my feet, but a little way along the rubbish
afforded a practicable slope to the summit of the ruins. My chance of
escape had come. I began to tremble.
I hesitated for some time, and then, in a gust of desperate
resolution, and with a heart that throbbed violently, I scrambled to
the top of the mound in which I had been buried so long.
I looked about again. To the northward, too, no Martian was
When I had last seen this part of Sheen in the daylight it had been
a straggling street of comfortable white and red houses, interspersed
with abundant shady trees. Now I stood on a mound of smashed
brickwork, clay, and gravel, over which spread a multitude of red
cactus-shaped plants, knee-high, without a solitary terrestrial growth
to dispute their footing. The trees near me were dead and brown, but
further a network of red thread scaled the still living stems.
The neighbouring houses had all been wrecked, but none had been
burned; their walls stood, sometimes to the second story, with smashed
windows and shattered doors. The red weed grew tumultuously in their
roofless rooms. Below me was the great pit, with the crows struggling
for its refuse. A number of other birds hopped about among the ruins.
Far away I saw a gaunt cat slink crouchingly along a wall, but traces
of men there were none.
The day seemed, by contrast with my recent confinement, dazzlingly
bright, the sky a glowing blue. A gentle breeze kept the red weed
that covered every scrap of unoccupied ground gently swaying. And oh!
the sweetness of the air!
THE WORK OF FIFTEEN DAYS
For some time I stood tottering on the mound regardless of my
safety. Within that noisome den from which I had emerged I had
thought with a narrow intensity only of our immediate security. I had
not realised what had been happening to the world, had not anticipated
this startling vision of unfamiliar things. I had expected to see
Sheen in ruins - I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of
For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of
men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I
felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly
confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations
of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew
quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of
dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an
animal among the animals, under the Martian heel. With us it would be
as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire
of man had passed away.
But so soon as this strangeness had been realised it passed, and my
dominant motive became the hunger of my long and dismal fast. In the
direction away from the pit I saw, beyond a red-covered wall, a patch
of garden ground unburied. This gave me a hint, and I went knee-deep,
and sometimes neck-deep, in the red weed. The density of the
weed gave me a reassuring sense of hiding. The wall was some six feet
high, and when I attempted to clamber it I found I could not lift my
feet to the crest. So I went along by the side of it, and came to a
corner and a rockwork that enabled me to get to the top, and tumble
into the garden I coveted. Here I found some young onions, a couple
of gladiolus bulbs, and a quantity of immature carrots, all of which I
secured, and, scrambling over a ruined wall, went on my way through
scarlet and crimson trees towards Kew - it was like walking through an
avenue of gigantic blood drops - possessed with two ideas: to get more
food, and to limp, as soon and as far as my strength permitted, out of
this accursed unearthly region of the pit.
Some way farther, in a grassy place, was a group of mushrooms which
also I devoured, and then I came upon a brown sheet of flowing shallow
water, where meadows used to be. These fragments of nourishment served
only to whet my hunger. At first I was surprised at this flood in a
hot, dry summer, but afterwards I discovered that it was caused by the
tropical exuberance of the red weed. Directly this extraordinary
growth encountered water it straightway became gigantic and of
unparalleled fecundity. Its seeds were simply poured down into the
water of the Wey and Thames, and its swiftly growing and Titanic water
fronds speedily choked both those rivers.
At Putney, as I afterwards saw, the bridge was almost lost in a
tangle of this weed, and at Richmond, too, the Thames water poured in
a broad and shallow stream across the meadows of Hampton and
Twickenham. As the water spread the weed followed them, until the
ruined villas of the Thames valley were for a time lost in this red
swamp, whose margin I explored, and much of the desolation the
Martians had caused was concealed.
In the end the red weed succumbed almost as quickly as it had
spread. A cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the action of
certain bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by the action of
natural selection, all terrestrial plants have acquired a resisting
power against bacterial diseases - they never succumb without a severe