ON HORSELL COMMON
I found a little crowd of perhaps twenty people sur-
rounding the huge hole in which the cylinder lay. I have
already described the appearance of that colossal bulk, em-
bedded in the ground. The turf and gravel about it seemed
charred as if by a sudden explosion. No doubt its impact
had caused a flash of fire. Henderson and Ogilvy were not
there. I think they perceived that nothing was to be done for
the present, and had gone away to breakfast at Henderson's
There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the
Pit, with their feet dangling, and amusing themselves--until
I stopped them--by throwing stones at the giant mass.
After I had spoken to them about it, they began playing at
"touch" in and out of the group of bystanders.
Among these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener
I employed sometimes, a girl carrying a baby, Gregg the
butcher and his little boy, and two or three loafers and golf
caddies who were accustomed to hang about the railway
station. There was very little talking. Few of the common
people in England had anything but the vaguest astronomical
ideas in those days. Most of them were staring quietly at
the big tablelike end of the cylinder, which was still as
Ogilvy and Henderson had left it. I fancy the popular ex-
pectation of a heap of charred corpses was disappointed at
this inanimate bulk. Some went away while I was there, and
other people came. I clambered into the pit and fancied I
heard a faint movement under my feet. The top had certainly
ceased to rotate.
It was only when I got thus close to it that the strangeness
of this object was at all evident to me. At the first glance
it was really no more exciting than an overturned carriage
or a tree blown across the road. Not so much so, indeed. It
looked like a rusty gas float. It required a certain amount of
scientific education to perceive that the grey scale of the
Thing was no common oxide, that the yellowish-white metal
that gleamed in the crack between the lid and the cylinder
had an unfamiliar hue. "Extra-terrestrial" had no meaning for
most of the onlookers.
At that time it was quite clear in my own mind that the
Thing had come from the planet Mars, but I judged it
improbable that it contained any living creature. I thought
the unscrewing might be automatic. In spite of Ogilvy, I
still believed that there were men in Mars. My mind ran
fancifully on the possibilities of its containing manuscript,
on the difficulties in translation that might arise, whether
we should find coins and models in it, and so forth. Yet it
was a little too large for assurance on this idea. I felt an
impatience to see it opened. About eleven, as nothing
seemed happening, I walked back, full of such thought, to
my home in Maybury. But I found it difficult to get to work
upon my abstract investigations.
In the afternoon the appearance of the common had altered very much. The early editions of the evening papers had startled London with enormous headlines:
and so forth. In addition, Ogilvy's wire to the Astronomical
Exchange had roused every observatory in the three kingdoms.
There were half a dozen flies or more from the Woking station standing in the road by the sand pits, a basket- chaise from Chobham, and a rather lordly carriage. Besides that, there was quite a heap of bicycles. In addition, a large number of people must have walked, in spite of the heat of the day, from Woking and Chertsey, so that there was altogether quite a considerable crowd--one or two gaily dressed ladies among the others.
It was glaringly hot, not a cloud in the sky nor a breath
of wind, and the only shadow was that of the few scattered
pine trees. The burning heather had been extinguished, but
the level ground towards Ottershaw was blackened as far as
one could see, and still giving off vertical streamers of
smoke. An enterprising sweet-stuff dealer in the Chobham
Road had sent up his son with a barrow-load of green
apples and ginger beer.
Going to the edge of the pit, I found it occupied by a
group of about half a dozen men--Henderson, Ogilvy, and
a tall, fair-haired man that I afterwards learned was Stent,
the Astronomer Royal, with several workmen wielding spades
and pickaxes. Stent was giving directions in a clear, high-
pitched voice. He was standing on the cylinder, which was
now evidently much cooler; his face was crimson and stream-
ing with perspiration, and something seemed to have irritated
A large portion of the cylinder had been uncovered,
though its lower end was still embedded. As soon as Ogilvy
saw me among the staring crowd on the edge of the pit
he called to me to come down, and asked me if I would
mind going over to see Lord Hilton, the lord of the manor.
The growing crowd, he said, was becoming a serious
impediment to their excavations, especially the boys. They
wanted a light railing put up, and help to keep the people
back. He told me that a faint stirring was occasionally still
audible within the case, but that the workmen had failed
to unscrew the top, as it afforded no grip to them. The
case appeared to be enormously thick, and it was possible
that the faint sounds we heard represented a noisy tumult
in the interior.
I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of the privileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. I failed to find Lord Hilton at his house, but I was told he was expected from London by the six o'clock train from Waterloo; and as it was then about a quarter past five, I went home, had some tea, and walked up to the station to waylay him.