BOOK ONE: THE COMING OF THE MARTIANS
CHAPTER 14: IN LONDON
Unable from his window to learn what was happening, my
brother went down and out into the street, just as the sky
between the parapets of the houses grew pink with the early
dawn. The flying people on foot and in vehicles grew more
numerous every moment. "Black Smoke!" he heard people
crying, and again "Black Smoke!" The contagion of such a
unanimous fear was inevitable. As my brother hesitated on
the door-step, he saw another news vender approaching, and
got a paper forthwith. The man was running away with the
rest, and selling his papers for a shilling each as he ran--a
grotesque mingling of profit and panic.
And from this paper my brother read that catastrophic
despatch of the Commander-in-Chief:
"The Martians are able to discharge enormous clouds of a
black and poisonous vapour by means of rockets. They have
smothered our batteries, destroyed Richmond, Kingston, and
Wimbledon, and are advancing slowly towards London, destroying everything on the way. It is impossible to stop them.
There is no safety from the Black Smoke but in instant flight."
That was all, but it was enough. The whole population of
the great six-million city was stirring, slipping, running; presently it would be pouring EN MASSE northward.
"Black Smoke!" the voices cried. "Fire!"
The bells of the neighbouring church made a jangling
tumult, a cart carelessly driven smashed, amid shrieks and
curses, against the water trough up the street. Sickly yellow
lights went to and fro in the houses, and some of the passing
cabs flaunted unextinguished lamps. And overhead the dawn
was growing brighter, clear and steady and calm.
He heard footsteps running to and fro in the rooms, and
up and down stairs behind him. His landlady came to the
door, loosely wrapped in dressing gown and shawl; her husband followed ejaculating.
As my brother began to realise the import of all these
things, he turned hastily to his own room, put all his available
money--some ten pounds altogether--into his pockets, and
went out again into the streets.