BOOK TWO: THE EARTH UNDER THE MARTIANS
CHAPTER 6: THE WORK OF FIFTEEN DAYS
Some way farther, in a grassy place, was a group of mushrooms which also I devoured, and then I came upon a brown
sheet of flowing shallow water, where meadows used to be.
These fragments of nourishment served only to whet my
hunger. At first I was surprised at this flood in a hot, dry
summer, but afterwards I discovered that it was caused by
the tropical exuberance of the red weed. Directly this extraordinary growth encountered water it straightway became
gigantic and of unparalleled fecundity. Its seeds were simply
poured down into the water of the Wey and Thames, and
its swiftly growing and Titanic water fronds speedily choked
both those rivers.
At Putney, as I afterwards saw, the bridge was almost
lost in a tangle of this weed, and at Richmond, too, the
Thames water poured in a broad and shallow stream across
the meadows of Hampton and Twickenham. As the water
spread the weed followed them, until the ruined villas of
the Thames valley were for a time lost in this red swamp,
whose margin I explored, and much of the desolation the
Martians had caused was concealed.
In the end the red weed succumbed almost as quickly as
it had spread. A cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the
action of certain bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by
the action of natural selection, all terrestrial plants have
acquired a resisting power against bacterial diseases--they
never succumb without a severe struggle, but the red weed
rotted like a thing already dead. The fronds became bleached,
and then shrivelled and brittle. They broke off at the least
touch, and the waters that had stimulated their early growth
carried their last vestiges out to sea.
My first act on coming to this water was, of course, to
slake my thirst. I drank a great deal of it and, moved by an
impulse, gnawed some fronds of red weed; but they were
watery, and had a sickly, metallic taste. I found the water
was sufficiently shallow for me to wade securely, although
the red weed impeded my feet a little; but the flood evidently
got deeper towards the river, and I turned back to Mortlake.
I managed to make out the road by means of occasional
ruins of its villas and fences and lamps, and so presently I
got out of this spate and made my way to the hill going up
towards Roehampton and came out on Putney Common.