The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the
strange and wonderful things that happened upon that
Friday, was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of
our social order with the first beginnings of the series of
events that was to topple that social order headlong. If on
Friday night you had taken a pair of compasses and drawn a
circle with a radius of five miles round the Woking sand pits,
I doubt if you would have had one human being outside it,
unless it were some relation of Stent or of the three or four
cyclists or London people lying dead on the common, whose
emotions or habits were at all affected by the new-comers.
Many people had heard of the cylinder, of course, and talked
about it in their leisure, but it certainly did not make the
sensation that an ultimatum to Germany would have done.
In London that night poor Henderson's telegram describing
the gradual unscrewing of the shot was judged to be a canard,
and his evening paper, after wiring for authentication from
him and receiving no reply--the man was killed--decided
not to print a special edition.
Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people
were inert. I have already described the behaviour of the men
and women to whom I spoke. All over the district people
were dining and supping; working men were gardening after
the labours of the day, children were being put to bed, young
people were wandering through the lanes love-making, stu-
dents sat over their books.
Maybe there was a murmur in the village streets, a novel
and dominant topic in the public-houses, and here and there
a messenger, or even an eye-witness of the later occurrences,
caused a whirl of excitement, a shouting, and a running to
and fro; but for the most part the daily routine of working,
eating, drinking, sleeping, went on as it had done for count-
less years--as though no planet Mars existed in the sky.
Even at Woking station and Horsell and Chobham that was
In Woking junction, until a late hour, trains were stopping
and going on, others were shunting on the sidings, passengers
were alighting and waiting, and everything was proceeding
in the most ordinary way. A boy from the town, trenching
on Smith's monopoly, was selling papers with the afternoon's
news. The ringing impact of trucks, the sharp whistle of the
engines from the junction, mingled with their shouts of
"Men from Mars!" Excited men came into the station about
nine o'clock with incredible tidings, and caused no more
disturbance than drunkards might have done. People rattling
Londonwards peered into the darkness outside the carriage
windows, and saw only a rare, flickering, vanishing spark
dance up from the direction of Horsell, a red glow and a
thin veil of smoke driving across the stars, and thought that
nothing more serious than a heath fire was happening. It was
only round the edge of the common that any disturbance
was perceptible. There were half a dozen villas burning on
the Woking border. There were lights in all the houses on the
common side of the three villages, and the people there kept
awake till dawn.
A curious crowd lingered restlessly, people coming and
going but the crowd remaining, both on the Chobham and
Horsell bridges. One or two adventurous souls, it was after-
wards found, went into the darkness and crawled quite near
the Martians; but they never returned, for now and again a
light-ray, like the beam of a warship's searchlight swept the
common, and the Heat-Ray was ready to follow. Save for
such, that big area of common was silent and desolate, and
the charred bodies lay about on it all night under the stars,
and all the next day. A noise of hammering from the pit was
heard by many people.
So you have the state of things on Friday night. In the
centre, sticking into the skin of our old planet Earth like a
poisoned dart, was this cylinder. But the poison was scarcely
working yet. Around it was a patch of silent common,
smouldering in places, and with a few dark, dimly seen
objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there. Here and
there was a burning bush or tree. Beyond was a fringe of
excitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation
had not crept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of
life still flowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The
fever of war that would presently clog vein and artery, deaden
nerve and destroy brain, had still to develop.
All night long the Martians were hammering and stirring,
sleepless, indefatigable, at work upon the machines they
were making ready, and ever and again a puff of greenish-
white smoke whirled up to the starlit sky.
About eleven a company of soldiers came through Horsell,
and deployed along the edge of the common to form a
cordon. Later a second company marched through Chobham
to deploy on the north side of the common. Several officers
from the Inkerman barracks had been on the common earlier
in the day, and one, Major Eden, was reported to be missing.
The colonel of the regiment came to the Chobham bridge
and was busy questioning the crowd at midnight. The military
authorities were certainly alive to the seriousness of the busi-
ness. About eleven, the next morning's papers were able to
say, a squadron of hussars, two Maxims, and about four
hundred men of the Cardigan regiment started from Aldershot.
A few seconds after midnight the crowd in the Chertsey road, Woking, saw a star fall from heaven into the pine woods to the northwest. It had a greenish colour, and caused a silent brightness like summer lightning. This was the second cylinder.