The war of the worlds, p.1

The War of the Worlds, page 1

 

The War of the Worlds


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The War of the Worlds


  The War of the Worlds

  by H. G. Wells [1898]

  But who shall dwell in these worlds if they be inhabited? . . . Are we or they Lords of the World? . . . And how are all things made for man?-- KEPLER (quoted in The Anatomy of Melancholy)

  BOOK ONE

  THE COMING OF THE MARTIANS

  CHAPTER ONE

  THE EVE OF THE WAR

  No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenthcentury that this world was being watched keenly and closely byintelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that asmen busied themselves about their various concerns they werescrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with amicroscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm andmultiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went toand fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in theirassurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that theinfusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought tothe older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought ofthem only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible orimprobable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits ofthose departed days. At most terrestrial men fancied there might beother men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready towelcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the gulf of space, mindsthat are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish,intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth withenvious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. Andearly in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.

  The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about thesun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat itreceives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world.It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than ourworld; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon itssurface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely oneseventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its coolingto the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and waterand all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.

  Yet so vain is man, and so blinded by his vanity, that no writer,up to the very end of the nineteenth century, expressed any idea thatintelligent life might have developed there far, or indeed at all,beyond its earthly level. Nor was it generally understood that sinceMars is older than our earth, with scarcely a quarter of thesuperficial area and remoter from the sun, it necessarily follows thatit is not only more distant from time's beginning but nearer its end.

  The secular cooling that must someday overtake our planet hasalready gone far indeed with our neighbour. Its physical condition isstill largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorialregion the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldestwinter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans haveshrunk until they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slowseasons change huge snowcaps gather and melt about either pole andperiodically inundate its temperate zones. That last stage ofexhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become apresent-day problem for the inhabitants of Mars. The immediatepressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged theirpowers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across space withinstruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of,they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward ofthem, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green withvegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent offertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broadstretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

  And we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, must be to themat least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us. Theintellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessantstruggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the beliefof the minds upon Mars. Their world is far gone in its cooling andthis world is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what theyregard as inferior animals. To carry warfare sunward is, indeed,their only escape from the destruction that, generation aftergeneration, creeps upon them.

  And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember whatruthless and utter destruction our own species has wrought, not onlyupon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon itsinferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness,were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination wagedby European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we suchapostles of mercy as to complain if the Martians warred in the samespirit?

  The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with amazingsubtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess ofours--and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nighperfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might haveseen the gathering trouble far back in the nineteenth century. Menlike Schiaparelli watched the red planet--it is odd, by-the-bye, thatfor countless centuries Mars has been the star of war--but failed tointerpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they mapped sowell. All that time the Martians must have been getting ready.

  During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on theilluminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory, then byPerrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English readers heardof it first in the issue of _Nature_ dated August 2. I am inclined tothink that this blaze may have been the casting of the huge gun, inthe vast pit sunk into their planet, from which their shots were firedat us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the siteof that outbreak during the next two oppositions.

  The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars approachedopposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the astronomical exchangepalpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak ofincandescent gas upon the planet. It had occurred towards midnight ofthe twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted,indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with anenormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had becomeinvisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossalpuff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of the planet, "asflaming gases rushed out of a gun."

  A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day therewas nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the _DailyTelegraph_, and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravestdangers that ever threatened the human race. I might not have heard ofthe eruption at all had I not met Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer,at Ottershaw. He was immensely excited at the news, and in the excessof his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in ascrutiny of the red planet.

  In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember thatvigil very distinctly: the black and silent observatory, the shadowedlantern throwing a feeble glow upon the floor in the corner, thesteady ticking of the clockwork of the telescope, the little slit inthe roof--an oblong profundity with the stardust streaked across it.Ogilvy moved about, invisible but audible. Looking through thetelescope, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planetswimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright andsmall and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes, and slightlyflattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so silverywarm--a pin's-head of light! It was as if it quivered, but really thiswas the telescope vibrating with the activity of the clockwork thatkept the planet in view.

  As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and toadvance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired. Fortymillions of miles it was from us--more than forty millions of miles ofvoid. Few people realise the immensity of vacancy in which the dustof the material universe swims.

  N
ear it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light,three telescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around it was theunfathomable darkness of empty space. You know how that blacknesslooks on a frosty starlight night. In a telescope it seems farprofounder. And invisible to me because it was so remote and small,flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredibledistance, drawing nearer every minute by so many thousands of miles,came the Thing they were sending us, the Thing that was to bring somuch struggle and calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed ofit then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerringmissile.

  That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from thedistant planet. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightestprojection of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight; andat that I told Ogilvy and he took my place. The night was warm and Iwas thirsty, and I went stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my wayin the darkness, to the little table where the siphon stood, whileOgilvy exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

  That night another invisible missile started on its way to theearth from Mars, just a second or so under twenty-four hours after thefirst one. I remember how I sat on the table there in the blackness,with patches of green and crimson swimming before my eyes. I wished Ihad a light to smoke by, little suspecting the meaning of the minutegleam I had seen and all that it would presently bring me. Ogilvywatched till one, and then gave it up; and we lit the lantern andwalked over to his house. Down below in the darkness were Ottershawand Chertsey and all their hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.

  He was full of speculation that night about the condition of Mars,and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its having inhabitants who weresignalling us. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in aheavy shower upon the planet, or that a huge volcanic explosion was inprogress. He pointed out to me how unlikely it was that organicevolution had taken the same direction in the two adjacent planets.

  "The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million toone," he said.

  Hundreds of observers saw the flame that night and the night afterabout midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, aflame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one onearth has attempted to explain. It may be the gases of the firingcaused the Martians inconvenience. Dense clouds of smoke or dust,visible through a powerful telescope on earth as little grey,fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the planet'satmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.

  Even the daily papers woke up to the disturbances at last, andpopular notes appeared here, there, and everywhere concerning thevolcanoes upon Mars. The seriocomic periodical _Punch_, I remember,made a happy use of it in the political cartoon. And, allunsuspected, those missiles the Martians had fired at us drewearthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through theempty gulf of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer.It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swiftfate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as theydid. I remember how jubilant Markham was at securing a new photographof the planet for the illustrated paper he edited in those days.People in these latter times scarcely realise the abundance andenterprise of our nineteenth-century papers. For my own part, I wasmuch occupied in learning to ride the bicycle, and busy upon a seriesof papers discussing the probable developments of moral ideas ascivilisation progressed.

  One night (the first missile then could scarcely have been10,000,000 miles away) I went for a walk with my wife. It wasstarlight and I explained the Signs of the Zodiac to her, and pointedout Mars, a bright dot of light creeping zenithward, towards which somany telescopes were pointed. It was a warm night. Coming home, aparty of excursionists from Chertsey or Isleworth passed us singingand playing music. There were lights in the upper windows of thehouses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in thedistance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling,softened almost into melody by the distance. My wife pointed out tome the brightness of the red, green, and yellow signal lights hangingin a framework against the sky. It seemed so safe and tranquil.

 
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