The Days Of Imprisonment


The arrival of a second fighting-machine drove us from our peephole

into the scullery, for we feared that from his elevation the Martian

might see down upon us behind our barrier. At a later date we began

to feel less in danger of their eyes, for to an eye in the dazzle of

the sunlight outside our refuge must have been blank blackness, but at

first the slightest suggestion of approach drove us into the scullery

n heart-throbbing retreat. Yet terrible as was the danger we

incurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible.

And I recall now with a sort of wonder that, in spite of the infinite

danger in which we were between starvation and a still more terrible

death, we could yet struggle bitterly for that horrible privilege of

sight. We would race across the kitchen in a grotesque way between

eagerness and the dread of making a noise, and strike each other, and

thrust and kick, within a few inches of exposure.

The fact is that we had absolutely incompatible dispositions and

habits of thought and action, and our danger and isolation only

accentuated the incompatibility. At Halliford I had already come to

hate the curate's trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity

of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made

to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and

intensified, almost to the verge of craziness. He was as lacking in

restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I

verily believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought

his weak tears in some way efficacious. And I would sit in the

darkness unable to keep my mind off him by reason of his

importunities. He ate more than I did, and it was in vain I pointed

out that our only chance of life was to stop in the house until the

Martians had done with their pit, that in that long patience a time

might presently come when we should need food. He ate and drank

impulsively in heavy meals at long intervals. He slept little.

As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration so

intensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loathed

doing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows. That brought him

to reason for a time. But he was one of those weak creatures, void of

pride, timorous, anaemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who

face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves.

It is disagreeable for me to recall and write these things, but I

set them down that my story may lack nothing. Those who have escaped

the dark and terrible aspects of life will find my brutality, my flash

of rage in our final tragedy, easy enough to blame; for they know what

is wrong as well as any, but not what is possible to tortured men. But

those who have been under the shadow, who have gone down at last to

elemental things, will have a wider charity.

And while within we fought out our dark, dim contest of whispers,

snatched food and drink, and gripping hands and blows, without, in the

pitiless sunlight of that terrible June, was the strange wonder, the

unfamiliar routine of the Martians in the pit. Let me return to those

first new experiences of mine. After a long time I ventured back to

the peephole, to find that the new-comers had been reinforced by the

occupants of no fewer than three of the fighting-machines. These last

had brought with them certain fresh appliances that stood in an

orderly manner about the cylinder. The second handling-machine was now

completed, and was busied in serving one of the novel contrivances the

big machine had brought. This was a body resembling a milk can in its

general form, above which oscillated a pear-shaped receptacle, and

from which a stream of white powder flowed into a circular basin


The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one tentacle of the

handling-machine. With two spatulate hands the handling-machine was

digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped

receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door

and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the

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.