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THE ADVENTURE OF THE MARTIAN CLIENT
John H. Watson, M.D.
Mr. H. G. Wells' popular book, The War of the Worlds, is a frequently inaccurate chronicle of a known radical and atheist, a boon companion of Frank Harris, George Bernard Shaw, and worse. He exaggerates needlessly and pretends to a scientific knowledge which plainly he does not possess. Yet scientists and laymen alike read and applaud him, even while they scorn the brilliant deductions of Sherlock Holmes and Professor George Edward Challenger.
Wells refers in his book to the magnificent and almost complete specimen of an invader, preserved in spirits at the Natural History Museum, but he carelessly, or perhaps deliberately, overlooks the history of its capture, examination, and presentation. And both scholarly journals and the popular press almost totally disregard Professor Challenger's striking rationalisation that the invaders were not Martians at all. As for Holmes, he shows little concern over these injustices, but after consulting him, I had decided to put the true facts on record for posterity to judge.
When the invasion began, in bright midsummer of 1902, fear seemed to overwhelm every human being except the two wisest and best men I have ever known. On that Friday morning of June 6, when the first Mars-based cylinder was beginning to open at Woking to disgorge its crew of ruthless destroyers, I was hurrying to Highgate. Poor Murray, my faithful old orderly who had saved my life during the Second Afghan War, lay critically ill in his lodgings there. Even as I came to his door, newspapers and jabbering neighbors reported something about strange beings from Mars landed among the little suburban towns in Surrey. I paid scant attention, for I found Murray very weak and helpless. Almost at once I became sadly sure that he could not be saved, only made as comfortable as possible as he settled into death. Later that night, while I sought to reduce his fever, I half heard more news to the effect that the invaders were striking down helpless crowds of the curious.
If it seems that I was not fully aware of these stirring events that day and on Saturday and Sunday, I must again offer the reminder that all my attention was needed at Murray's bedside. From other people in the house I heard wild stories, which seemed to me only crazy rumours, that these creatures from across space had utterly smashed Woking and Horsell, had utterly wiped out the troops hastily thrown in their way, and were advancing upon London itself. By Monday morning, Murray's fellow lodgers and the people in houses to both sides had fled, I never learned where or to what fate. The entire street was deserted save for my poor patient and myself.
I could have no thought of going away, too, and leaving Murray. Day after day I did what I could for him, as doctor and as friend. Meanwhile, all about us whirled terror and fire, and, in street below us, dense, clouds of that lethal vapour that has since been called the Black Smoke.
I heard the ear-shattering howls of the fighting-machines as they signalled each other above London's roofs, and several times I peered cautiously from behind the window curtains to see them far away, scurrying along at tremendous speed on their jointed legs fully a hundred feet high. It was on Tuesday, I think, that their heat-rays knocked nearby houses into exploding flames, but our own shelter had the good fortune to escape.
Through all this, Murray lay only half-conscious in bed. Once or twice he murmured something about guns, and I believe he thought himself back fighting the Afghans. I ranged all the other lodgings in the house to find food for him. It was on the morning of the eighth day, the second Friday of the invasion, that he died, and I could take time to realise that things had become strangely quiet outside our windows.
I straightened out my poor friend's body on his bed and crossed his hands upon his breast. Bowing my head above him, I whispered some sort of prayer. Then I went again to the window, peered out, and asked myself how I might escape.
I could see a cross street down the slope below. It was strewn with sooty dust left when the black smoke had precipitated, and I thanked God that Highgate's elevation spared me that deadly contact. Doing my best to see the state of affairs outside, I made out a dog trotting forlornly along a black-dusted sidewalk. He seemed to show no ill effects, from which I surmised that the vapour had become harmless when it settled. But then, just as I was on the point of going out at the front door, I saw a fighting-machine, too. It galloped along among distant houses, puffs of green steam rising from its joints. That decided me not to venture out in the daylight.
Again I roamed through the house, poking into every larder I could find. Some dried beef and a crust of bread and a lukewarm bottle of beer made my evening meal that Friday, with the silent form of poor dead Murray for company.
At last the late June twilight deepened into dusk. I picked up my medicine kit and emerged from the house, setting my face southward toward Baker Street.
A fairly straight route to my lodgings there would be no more than five miles. But, as I moved through the night toward Primrose Hill, I suddenly saw great shifting sheets of green light there. I had come near the London and Northwestern tracks at the moment, and upon the earth of the red embankment grew great tussocks of a strange red weed I did not recognise. At least it would give cover, and I crouched behind it to look toward that unearthly light. I could make out fully half a dozen machines, standing silently together as though in a military formation. At once I decided that there was a formidable central concentration of the enemy, close at hand. Instead of trying to continue southward, I stole away to the east, keeping close to the railroad tracks.
Creeping furtively, I won my way well above Primrose Hill and saw grateful darkness beyond. I dared stand erect and walk beside the rails. But abruptly there rose the ear-splitting peal of a siren voice, a fierce clanking of metal, seemingly close to the other side of the tracks. In cold terror I flung myself flat into a muddy hollow and lay there, not daring to stir, while the monster came clumping fearsomely along, now here, now there. If it had seen me, I told myself, I was doomed. But it went noisily back toward the green lights. Scrambling to my feet again, I fled northward into the deeper gloom.
Today I cannot say exactly where my terrified feet took me. I stumbled once or twice and panted for breath, but I dared not halt. I found myself fleeing along narrow, mean streets, and once or twice across open spaces among the buildings. When at last I stopped because I was almost exhausted, I judged I must be in Kentish Town. The houses there were deserted; at least, I saw no lights in them and heard no movement except the beating of my own blood in my ears. I sat on a step to rest, but I did not dare wait for long lest a pursuer come on clanging metal feet. Again I took up my journey. I came to a broad highway¬ - Camden Road, I decided - and fared on beyond it, more slowly now. Now and then I paused to listen. Nothing came in pursuit of me, but behind me to my right still rose the green glow from Primrose Hill.
When the early sun peered above roofs in front of me, I was among streets unfamiliar to me. This, I decided, must be Stoke Newington. I fairly staggered with weariness as I followed the pavement along in front of a line of shabby little shops and dwellings. One of the houses was half smashed, the front door hanging from one hinge. In I went, and was glad to find water in a pitcher, though there was no food anywhere. I drank in great gulps, and then lay down on a sofa, to sleep fitfully.
Several times during the day I wakened and went to look out at the shattered windows. No fighting-machines appeared, though once or twice I saw hurrying shadows across the street and the buildings opposite. This may have been the flying-machine that, as I heard later, the invaders had put together to quest through our heavier atmosphere. I finished the water and wished I had more when, at nightfall of Saturday, I went out and sent myself to go southward again.
Now and then I paused to get my bearings. I realised that I was moving east of Kingsland Road, and I took great care whenever I crossed a side street. Suddenly the sound of a human voice made me jump.
Glancing around, I saw a hunched figure in fluttering rags of clothing. He came toward me until I could see him in the darkness. He was old, with an untidy white beard. His eyes glowed rather spectrally.
“I thought that I alone was saved,” he croaked. “You, too, must have the mercy and favour of the Almighty.”
“Favor of the Almighty?” I said after him, amazed at the thought. Not for days had I felt any sense of heavenly favour in my plight.
“The destroying angels of the Lord are afoot in this evil town,” he said. “For years I have read the Bible and its prophecies, have tried to preach to the scoffers. Judgment Day is at hand, brother, and you can bank on that. You and me's left to witness it together, the judging of the quick and the dead.”
I asked if he had seen any invaders, and he replied that they had been roaming the streets earlier in the week, “look out human souls for judgment,” but that for two days he had seen none except at a distance. Again he urged me to stay with him, but I went on southward. My course kept me on the eastern side of Kingsland Road for a number of crossings, until I came to where I could turn my face westward, skirting a great heap of wreckage, to head slowly and furtively for Baker Street.
At midnight, approaching Regent Street, I saw lights. They were white this time, not green. Hastening toward them, I judged that they beat up at their brightest from the direction of Piccadilly. But before I came anywhere near, I spied to northward a gleaming metal tower - again one of the fighting-machines - and plunged into a cellarway to hide.
There I cowered, miserably hungry and thirsty, until Sunday noon. There was no sound in abandoned London. At last I slunk, like the hunted animal I had become, to make my way across Regent Street and move west along Piccadilly. I reached Baker Street at last, and saw no sign of destruction there. It gave me a faint feeling of hope. Along the pavement I walked, ready at a moment's warning to dive for shelter, until I came to the door of 221-B. The familiar entry seemed strange and hushed. It was as though I had been gone for a year. Up the stairs I fairly crawled, then along the passage to turn the knob of the door. It was unlocked and opened readily. In I tottered, home at last.
There sat Sherlock Holmes in his favourite chair, calmly filling his cherrywood pipe from the Persian slipper. He lifted his lean face to smile at me.
“Thank God you are safe,” I muttered, half falling into my own chair across from him.
He was on his feet in an instant and at the sideboard. He poured a stiff drink of brandy into a glass. I took it and drank, slowly and gratefully.
“You have been here all the time?” I managed to ask as he sat down again.
“Not quite all the time,” he said, as easily as though we were idly chatting. “On last Sunday night, at the first news of disaster heading up from Surrey into London, I escorted Mrs. Hudson to the railroad station. At first I had had some thought of sending her to Norfolk alone, but the crowds were big and unruly, and so I went with her to Donnithorpe, her old home. She had relatives at the inn, and they were glad to welcome her. News came to me there. On Monday, the flight from London moved eastward to the seashore, well below Donnithorpe, with Martians in pursuit of the crowd of fugitives. Then came comparative quiet, with no apparent move into Norfolk. On Wednesday I returned here, cautiously, on foot for a good part of the way, to look out for you.”
“I was with poor Murray up at Highgate,” I said. “He has died. Perhaps it is as well to die, in the face of all this horror.”
“Not according to my estimate of the situation,” he said. “But to resume. I have hoped for your return ever since I reached here on Thursday evening. I have hoped, too, for word from my friend, Professor Challenger. But you must be hungry, Watson.”
I remembered that I was. On the table were a plate of cracknels and a plate of sardines, with a bottle of claret. Eagerly I ate and drank as I told of my adventures.
“You have mentioned Professor Challenger to me, I think,” I said between mouthfuls. “Just who is he?”
“One of England's most brilliant zoologists, and vividly aware of my own attainments. He would say, the most brilliant by far.”
“You speak as though he is of a tremendous egotism.”
“And that is true, though in his case it is pardonable. But do you remember a magazine article some time back, an account of an egg-shaped crystal that reflected strange scenes and creatures?”
“Yes, because you and I looked at it together. I do not care for its author, H. G. Wells, but I read it because young Jacoby Wace, the assistant demonstrator at St. Catherine's was concerned. He said that the crystal had vanished.”
“So it had,” nodded Holmes, his manner strangely self-satisfied.
“Wace told Wells that before he could secure that crystal from the curiosity shop where it had been taken, a tall, dark man in grey had bought it and vanished beyond reach.”
“And what does that tall, dark man in grey suggest to you?” inquired Holmes casually.
“To me? Why, nothing in particular.”
“Really, Watson, and you always admired my grey suit I got at Shingleton's.”
I almost choked on a bit of cracknel. “Do you mean that you got possession of that crystal?”
“I did indeed. Challenger and I have studied it, and I left it at his home for his further observations. So, you see, we are not wholly unprepared for this voyage across space from Mars to Earth. When the first cylinder struck at Woking, a week ago last Friday, I hurried at once to Challenger's home in West Kensington. His wife said that he had joined the scientists at Woking, but I could not find him when I went there myself. I fear he may have been killed by the heat-ray, along with Ogilvy of the observatory there, and Stent, the Astronomer Royal.”
“May I come in?” boomed a great voice from the passage outside.