Martians Want Earth Water

And while the Martians behind me were thus preparing for their next sally, and in front of me Humanity gathered for the battle, I made my way with infinite pains and labour from the fire and smoke of burning Weybridge towards London.

I saw an abandoned boat, very small and remote, drifting down-stream; and throwing off the most of my sodden clothes, I went after it, gained it, and so escaped out of that destruction.  There were no oars in the boat, but I contrived to paddle, as well as my parboiled hands would allow, down the river towards Halliford and Walton, going very tediously and continually looking behind me, as you may well understand.  I followed the river, because I considered that the water gave me my best chance of escape should these giants return.

The hot water from the Martian's overthrow drifted downstream with me, so that for the best part of a mile I could see little of either bank.  Once, however, I made out a string of black figures hurrying across the meadows from the direction of Weybridge.  Halliford, it seemed, was deserted, and several of the houses facing the river were on fire.  It was strange to see the place quite tranquil, quite desolate under the hot blue sky, with the smoke and little threads of flame going straight up into the heat of the afternoon.  Never before had I seen houses burning without the accompaniment of an obstructive crowd.  A little farther on the dry reeds up the bank were smoking and glowing, and a line of fire inland was marching steadily across a late field of hay.

For a long time I drifted, so painful and weary was I after the violence I had been through, and so intense the heat upon the water. Then my fears got the better of me again, and I resumed my paddling. The sun scorched my bare back.  At last, as the bridge at Walton was coming into sight round the bend, my fever and faintness overcame my fears, and I landed on the Middlesex bank and lay down, deadly sick, amid the long grass.  I suppose the time was then about four or five o'clock.  I got up presently, walked perhaps half a mile without meeting a soul, and then lay down again in the shadow of a hedge.  I seem to remember talking, wanderingly, to myself during that last spurt.  I was also very thirsty, and bitterly regretful I had drunk no more water.  It is a curious thing that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach Leatherhead worried me excessively.

I do not clearly remember the arrival of the curate, so that probably I dozed.  I became aware of him as a seated figure in soot-smudged shirt sleeves, and with his upturned, clean-shaven face staring at a faint flickering that danced over the sky.  The sky was what is called a mackerel sky--rows and rows of faint down-plumes of cloud, just tinted with the midsummer sunset.


The world was full of people. The census of 2010 gave eight billions  for the whole world—eight crab-shells, yes, eight billions. It was not  like to-day. Mankind knew a great deal more about getting food. And the  more food there was, the more people there were. In the year 1800, there  were one hundred and seventy millions in Europe alone. One hundred years  later--a grain of sand, Hoo-Hoo--one hundred years later, at 1900, there  were five hundred millions in Europe--five grains of sand, Hoo-Hoo, and  this one tooth. This shows how easy was the getting of food, and how men  increased. And in the year 2000 there were fifteen hundred millions  in Europe. And it was the same all over the rest of the world. Eight  crab-shells there, yes, eight billion people were alive on the earth  when the Scarlet Death began.

I was a young man when the Plague came -- twenty-seven years old; and I  lived on the other side of San Francisco Bay, in Berkeley. You remember  those great stone houses, Edwin, when we came down the hills from Contra  Costa? That was where I lived, in those stone houses. I was a professor  of English literature.

Much of this was over the heads of the boys, but they strove to  comprehend dimly this tale of the past.   "What was them stone houses for?" Hare-Lip queried.

"You remember when your dad taught you to swim?" The boy nodded.  "Well, in the University of California--;that is the name we had for  the houses--we taught young men and women how to think, just as I have  taught you now, by sand and pebbles and shells, to know how many people  lived in those days. There was very much to teach. The young men and  women we taught were called students. We had large rooms in which we  taught. I talked to them, forty or fifty at a time, just as I am talking  to you now. I told them about the books other men had written before  their time, and even, sometimes, in their time—"

"Was that all you did?--just talk, talk, talk?" Hoo-Hoo demanded. "Who  hunted your meat for you? and milked the goats? and caught the fish?"

Los Angeles, City of Water By JACQUES LESLIE DEC. 6, 2014