they're pattering and clattering away at one another, Why? What is it they patter about? That's what I
want to know."
I think Walter rarely gave a hint of his ideas to anyone else, and I kept them confidential, partly because
I knew no one who wouldn't be more skeptical than I was myself and partly because it wouldn't do either
of us any good to get a reputation in the firm as crackpots.
For a year or so more we were working fairly close together. But with the opening of new nurseries and
the need for studying methods abroad, I began to travel a lot. He gave up the field work and went into
the research department. It suited him there, doing his own searching as well as the company's I used to
drop in to see him from time to time. He was forever making experiments with his triffids, but the results
weren't clearing his general ideas as much as he had hoped. He had proved to his own satisfaction at
least, the existence of a well-developed intelligence and even I had to admit that his results seemed to
show something more than instinct. He was still convinced that the pattering of the sticks was a form or
communication. For public consumption he had shown that the sticks were something more, and that a
triffid deprived of them gradually deteriorated. He had also established that the infertility rate of triffid
seeds was something like 95 per cent.
"Which." he remarked. "is a damned good thing. If they all germinated, there'd soon be standing room
only, for triffids only, on this planet."
With that, too, I agreed. Triffid-seed time was quite a sight. The dark green pod just below the cup was
glistening and distended, about half as big again as large apple- When it burst, it did it with a pop that
was audible twenty yards away. The white seeds shot into the air like steam and began drifting away on
the lightest of breezes. Looking down on a field of triffids late in August, you could well get the idea that
some kind of desultory bombardment was going on.
It was Walter's discovery again that the quality of the extracts was improved if the plants retained their
stings. In consequence, the practice of docking was discontinued on farms throughout the trade, and we
had to wear protective devices when working among the plants.
At the time or the accident that had landed me in hospital I was actually with Walter. We were
examining some specimens which were showing unusual deviations. Both of us were wearing wire-mesh
masks. I did not see exactly what happened. All I know is that as I bent forward a sting slashed viciously
at my face and smacked against the wire of the mask. Ninety-nine times in a hundred it would not have
mattered; that was what the masks were for. But this one came with such force that some of the little
poison sacs were burst open, and a few drops from them went into my eyes. Walter got me back into his
lab and administered the antidote in a few seconds. It was entirely due to his quick work that they had
the chance of saving my sight at all. But even so it had meant over a week in bed, in the dark.
While I lay there I had quite decided that when-and if- I had my sight back I was going to apply for a
transfer to another side of the business. And if that did not go through, I'd quit the job altogether.
I had built up a considerable resistance to triffid poison since my first sting in the garden. I could take,
and had taken, without very much harm, stings which would have laid an inexperienced man out very
cold indeed. But an old saying about a pitcher and a well kept on recurring to me. I was taking my
I spent, I remember, a good many of my enforcedly dark hours deciding what kind of job I would try for
if they would not give me that transfer.
Considering what was just around the corner for us all, I could scarcely have found a contemplation
THE GROPING CITY
I left the pub door swinging behind me as I made my way to the corner of the main road. There I
To the left, through miles of suburban streets, lay the open county; to the right, the West End of London,
with the City beyond. I was feeling somewhat restored, but curiously detached now, and rudderless. I
had no glimmering of a plan, and in the face of what I had at last begun to perceive as a vast and not
merely local catastrophe, if was still too stunned to begin to reason one out. What plan could there be to
deal with such a thing? I felt forlorn, cast into desolation, and yet not quite real, not quite myself here and
now. In no direction was there any traffic, nor any sound of it. The only signs of life were a few people
here and there cautiously groping their way along the shop fronts.
The day was perfect for early summer. The sun poured down from a deep blue sky set with tufts of
white woolly clouds. All of it was clean and fresh save for a smear made by a single column of greasy
smoke coming from somewhere behind the houses to the north.
I stood there indecisively for a few minutes. Then I turned east, Londonward.
To this day I cannot say quite why. Perhaps it was an instinct to seek familiar places, or the feeling that if
there were authority anywhere it must be somewhere in that direction.
The brandy had made me feel more hungry than ever, but I did not find the problem of feeding as easy
to deal with as it should have been. And yet there were the shops, untenanted and unguarded, with food
in the windows-and here was I, with hunger and the means to pay. Or, if I did not wish to pay, I had only
to smash a window and take what I wanted.
Nevertheless, it was hard to persuade oneself to do that. I was not yet ready to admit, after nearly thirty
years of a reasonably right-respecting existence and law-abiding life, that things had changed in any
fundamental way. There was, too, a feeling that as long as I remained my normal self things might even
yet, in some inconceivable way, return to their normal, Absurd it undoubtedly was, but I had a very
strong sense that the moment I should stove in one of those sheets of plate glass I would leave the old
order behind me forever: I should become a looter, a sacker, a low scavenger upon the dead body of the
system that had nourished me. Such a foolish niceness of sensibility in a stricken world! And yet it still
pleases me to remember that civilized usage did not slide off me at once, and that for a time, at least, I
wandered along past displays which made my mouth water while my already obsolete conventions kept
The problem resolved itself in a sophistical way after perhaps half a mile. A taxi, after mounting the
sidewalk, had finished up with its radiator buried in a pile of delicatessen. That made it seem different
from doing my own breaking in. I climbed past the taxi and collected the makings of a good meal. But
even then something of the old standards still clung:
I conscientiously left a fair price for what I had taken lying on the counter.
Almost across the road there was a garden. It was the kind that had once been the graveyard of a
vanished church. The old headstones had been taken up and set back against the surrounding brick wall,
the cleared space turfed over and laid out with graveled paths. It looked pleasant under the freshly leafed
trees, and to one of the seats there I took my lunch.
The place was withdrawn and peaceful. No one else came in, though occasionally a figure would shuffle
past the railings at the entrance. I threw some crumbs to a few sparrows, the first birds I had seen that
day, and felt all the better for watching their perky indifference to calamity.
When I had finished eating I lit a cigarette. While I sat there smoking it, wondering where I should go
and what I should do, the quiet was broken by the sound of a piano played somewhere in a block of
apartments that overlooked the garden. Presently a girl's voice began to sing. The song was Byron's
So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast.
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
Arid the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
I listened, looking up at the pattern that the tender young leaves and the branches made against the fresh
blue sky. The song finished. The notes of the piano died away. Then there was a sound of sobbing. No
passion: softly, helplessly, forlorn, heartbroken. Who she was, whether it was the singer or another
weeping her hopes away, I do not know. But to listen longer was more than I could endure. I went
quietly back into the street, unable to see anything more than mistily for a while.
Even Hyde Park Corner, when I reached it, was almost deserted. A few derelict cars and trucks stood
about on the roads. Very little, it seemed, had gone out of control when it was in motion. One bus had
run across the path and come to rest in the Green Park; a runaway horse with shafts still attached to it lay
beside the artillery memorial against which it had cracked its skull. The only moving things were a few
men and a lesser number of women feeling their way carefully with hands and feet where there were
railings and shuffling forward with protectively outstretched arms where there were not. Also, and rather
unexpectedly, there were one or two cats, apparently intact visually and treating the whole situation with
that self-possession common to cats. They had poor prowling through the eerie quietness-the sparrows
were few, and the pigeons had vanished.
Still magnetically drawn toward the old center of things, I crossed in the direction of Piccadilly. I was just
about to start along it when I noticed a sharp new sound-a steady tapping not far away, and coming
closer. Looking up Park Lane, I discovered its source. A man, more neatly dressed than any other I had
seen that morning, was walking rapidly toward me, hitting the wall beside him with a white stick. As he
caught the sound of my steps he stopped, listening alertly.
"It's all right," I told him. "Come on."
I felt relieved to see him. He was, so to speak, normally blind. His dark glasses were much less
disturbing than the staring but useless eyes of the others.
"Stand still, then," he said. "I've already been bumped into by God knows how many fools today. What
the devil's happened? Why is it so quiet? I know it isn't night-I can feel the sunlight. What's gone wrong
I told him as much as I knew of what had happened.
When I had finished he said nothing for almost a minute, then he gave a short, bitter laugh.
"There's one thing," he said. "They'll be needing all their damned patronage for themselves now."
With that he straightened up, a little defiantly.
"Thank you. Good luck," he said to me, and set off westward wearing an exaggerated air of
The sound of his briskly confident tapping gradually died away behind me as I made my way up
There were more people to be seen now, and I walked among the scatter of stranded vehicles in the
road. Out there I was much less disturbing to those who were feeling their way along the fronts of the
buildings, for every time they heard a step close by they would stop and brace themselves against a
possible collision. Such collisions were taking place every now and then all down the street, but there
was one that I found significant. The subjects of it had been groping along a shop front from opposite
directions until they met with a bump. One was a young man in a well-cut suit, but wearing a tie obviously
selected by touch alone; the other, a woman who carried a small child. The child whined something
The young man had started to edge his way past the woman. He stopped abruptly.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Can your child see?"
"Yes," she said. "But I can't."
The young man turned. He put one finger on the plate glass window, pointing.
"Look, Sonny, what's in there?" he asked.
"Not Sonny," the child objected.
"Go on, Mary. Tell the gentleman," her mother encouraged her.
"Pretty ladies," said the child.
The man took the woman by the arm and felt his way to the next window.
"And what's in here?" he asked again.
"Apples and fings," the child told him.
"Fine!" said the young man.
He pulled off his shoe and hit the window a smart smack with the heel of it. He was inexperienced; the
first blow did not do it, but the second did. The crash reverberated up and down the street. He restored
his shoe, put an arm cautiously through the broken window, and felt about until he found a couple of
oranges. One he gave to the woman and one to the child. He felt about again, found one for himself, and
began to peel it. The woman fingered hers.
"But-" she began.
"What's the matter? Don't like oranges?" he asked.
"But it isn't right," she said. "We didn't ought to take 'em. Not like this."
"How else are you going to get food?" he inquired.
"I suppose-well, I don't know," she admitted doubtfully.
"Very well. That's the answer. Eat it up now, and we'll go and find something more substantial."
She still held the orange in her hand, head bent down as though she were looking at it.
"All the same, it don't seem right," she said again, but there was less conviction in her tone.
Presently she put the child down and began to peel the orange....
Piccadilly Circus was the most populous place I had found so far. It seemed crowded after the rest,
though there were probably less than a hundred people there, all told. Mostly they were wearing queer,
ill-assorted clothes and were prowling restlessly around as though still semi dazed. Occasionally a mishap
would bring an outburst of profanity and futile rage-rather alarming to hear, because it was itself the
product of fright, and childish in temper. But with one exception there was little talk and little noise. It
seemed as though their blindness had shut people into themselves.
The exception had found himself a position out on one of the traffic islands. He was a tall, elderly, gaunt
man with a bush of wiry gray hair, and he was holding forth emphatically about repentance, the wrath to
come, and the uncomfortable prospects for sinners. Nobody was paying him any attention; for most of
them the day of wrath had already arrived.
Then, from a distance, came a sound which caught every-ones attention: a gradually swelling chorus:
And when I die,
Don't bury me at all,
Just pickle my bones
Dreary and untuneful, it slurred through the empty streets, echoing dismally back and forth. Every head
in the Circus was turning now left, now right, trying to place its direction. The prophet of doom raised his
voice against the competition. The song wailed discordantly closer:
Lay a bottle of booze
At my head and my feet,
And then I'm sure
My bones will keep.
and as an accompaniment to it there was the shuffle of feet more or less in step.
From where I stood I could see them come in single file out of a side street into Shaftesbury Avenue and
turn toward the Circus. The second man had his hands on the shoulders of the leader, the third on his,
and so on, to the number of twenty-five or thirty. At the conclusion of that song somebody started "Beer,
Beer, Glorious Beer!" pitching it in such a high key that it petered out in confusion.
They trudged steadily on until they reached the center of the Circus, then the leader raised his voice, It
was a considerable voice, with parade-ground quality:
Everybody else in the Circus was now struck motionless, all with their faces turned toward him, nil trying
to guess what was afoot. The leader raised his voice again, mimicking the manner of a professional guide:
"'Ere we are, gents one an' all. Piccabloodydilly Circus. The Center of the World. The 'Ub of the
Universe. Where all the nobs had their wine, women, and song."
He was not blind, far from it. His eyes were ranging round, taking stock as he spoke, His sight must
have been saved by some such accident as mine, but he was pretty drunk, and so were the men behind
"An' we'll 'ave it too," he added. "Next stop, the well-known Caffy Royal-an' all drinks on the house,"
"Yus-but what abaht the women?" asked a voice, and there was a laugh.
"Oh, women. 'S' that what you want?" said the leader.
He stepped forward and caught a girl by the arm. She screamed as he dragged her toward the man who
had spoken, but he took no notice of that.
"There y'are, chum. An' don't say I don't treat you right. It's a peach, a smasher-if that makes any
difference to you."
"Hey, what about mc?" said the next man.
"You, mate? Well, let's see. Like 'em blond or dark?"
Considered later, I suppose I behaved like a fool. My head was still full of standards and conventions
that had ceased to apply. It did not occur to me that if there was to be any survival, anyone adopted by
this gang would stand a far better chance than she would on her own. Fired with a mixture of schoolboy
heroics and noble sentiments, I waded in. He didn't see me coming until I was quite close, and then I
slogged for his jaw. Unfortunately he was a little quicker.
When I next took an interest in things I found myself lying in the road. The sound of the gang was
diminishing into the distance, and the prophet of doom, restored to eloquence, was sending threatful bolts
of damnation, hell-fire, and a brimstone gehenna hurtling after them.
With a bit of sense knocked into me, I became thankful that the affair had not fallen out worse. Had the
result been reversed, I could scarcely have escaped making myself responsible for the men he had been
leading. After all, and whatever one might feel about his methods, he was the eyes of that party, and
they'd be looking to him for food as well as for drink. And the women would go along too, on their own
account as soon as they got hungry enough. And now I came to look around me, I felt doubtful whether
any of the women hereabouts would seriously mind anyway. What with one thing and another, it looked
as if I might have had a lucky escape from promotion to gang leadership.
Remembering that they had been headed for the Café Royal, I decided to revive myself and clear my
head at the Regent Palace Hotel. Others appeared to have thought of that before me, but there were
quite a lot of bottles they had not found.
I think it was while I was sitting there comfortably with a brandy in front of me and a cigarette in my
hand that I at last began to admit that what I had seen was all real-and decisive. There would be no going
back-ever. It was finish to all I had known . . . .
Perhaps it had needed that blow to drive it home. Now I came face to face with the fact that my
existence simply had no focus any longer. My way of life, my plans, ambitions, every expectation I had
had, they were all wiped out at a stroke, along with the conditions that had formed them. I suppose that
had I had any relatives or close attachments to mourn I should have felt suicidally derelict at that moment
but what had seemed at times a rather empty existence turned out now to be lucky. My mother and
father were dead, my one attempt to marry had miscarried some years before, and there was no
particular person dependent on me. And, curiously, what I found that I did feel-with a consciousness that
it was against what I ought to be feeling-was release....
It wasn't just the brandy, for it persisted. I think it may have come from the sense of facing something
quite fresh and new to me. All the old problems, the stale ones, both personal and general, had been
solved by one mighty slash. Heaven alone knew as yet what others might arise-and it looked as though
there would be plenty of them-but they would be new. I was emerging as my own master, and no longer
a cog. It might well be a world full of horrors and dangers that I should have to face, but I could take my
own steps to deal with it-I would no longer be shoved hither and thither by forces and interests that I
neither understood nor cared about.
No, it wasn't altogether the brandy, for even now, years afterward, I can still feel something of it-though
possibly the brandy did oversimplify things a little just then.
Then there was, too, the little question of what to do next: how and where to start on this new life. But I
did not let that worry me a lot for the present. I drank up and went out of the hotel to see what this
strange world had to offer.
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested