BOOK ONE: THE COMING OF THE MARTIANS
CHAPTER 1: THE EVE OF THE WAR
The Martians seem to have calculated their descent with
amazing subtlety--their mathematical learning is evidently
far in excess of ours--and to have carried out their preparations with a well-nigh perfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble
far back in the nineteenth century. Men like Schiaparelli
watched the red planet--it is odd, by-the-bye, that for countless centuries Mars has been the star of war--but failed to
interpret the fluctuating appearances of the markings they
mapped so well. All that time the Martians must have been
During the opposition of 1894 a great light was seen on
the illuminated part of the disk, first at the Lick Observatory,
then by Perrotin of Nice, and then by other observers. English
readers heard of it first in the issue of NATURE dated August 2.
I am inclined to think that this blaze may have been the
casting of the huge gun, in the vast pit sunk into their planet,
from which their shots were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as
yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak
during the next two oppositions.
The storm burst upon us six years ago now. As Mars
approached opposition, Lavelle of Java set the wires of the
astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreak of incandescent gas upon the planet.
It had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the
spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a
mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an
enormous velocity towards this earth. This jet of fire had
become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared
it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted
out of the planet, "as flaming gases rushed out of a gun."
A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day
there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in
the DAILY TELEGRAPH, and the world went in ignorance of one
of the gravest dangers that ever threatened the human race.
I might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not met
Ogilvy, the well-known astronomer, at Ottershaw. He was
immensely excited at the news, and in the excess of his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a
scrutiny of the red planet.