BOOK ONE: THE COMING OF THE MARTIANS
CHAPTER 6: THE HEAT-RAY IN THE CHOBHAM ROAD
It is still a matter of wonder how the Martians are able
to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in
some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a
chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense
heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they
choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown
composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse
projects a beam of light. But no one has absolutely proved
these details. However it is done, it is certain that a beam of
heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead
of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame
at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and
melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that
explodes into steam.
That night nearly forty people lay under the starlight about
the pit, charred and distorted beyond recognition, and all
night long the common from Horsell to Maybury was deserted
and brightly ablaze.
The news of the massacre probably reached Chobham,
Woking, and Ottershaw about the same time. In Woking the
shops had closed when the tragedy happened, and a number
of people, shop people and so forth, attracted by the stories
they had heard, were walking over the Horsell Bridge and
along the road between the hedges that runs out at last upon
the common. You may imagine the young people brushed up
after the labours of the day, and making this novelty, as they
would make any novelty, the excuse for walking together and
enjoying a trivial flirtation. You may figure to yourself the
hum of voices along the road in the gloaming. . . .
As yet, of course, few people in Woking even knew that
the cylinder had opened, though poor Henderson had sent a
messenger on a bicycle to the post office with a special wire
to an evening paper.
As these folks came out by twos and threes upon the open,
they found little knots of people talking excitedly and peering
at the spinning mirror over the sand pits, and the new-comers
were, no doubt, soon infected by the excitement of the occasion.