View Full Version : First Men in the Moon, The - Herbert George Wells

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06-01-2007, 11:52 PM
Chapter 11 - The Mooncalf Pastures

SO we two poor terrestrial castaways, lost in that wild-growing moon
jungle, crawled in terror before the sounds that had come upon us. We
crawled, as it seemed, a long time before we saw either Selenite or
mooncalf, though we heard the bellowing and gruntulous noises of these
latter continually drawing nearer to us. We crawled through stony ravines,
over snow slopes, amidst fungi that ripped like thin bladders at our
thrust, emitting a watery humour, over a perfect pavement of things like
puff-balls, and beneath interminable thickets of scrub. And ever more
helplessly our eyes sought for our abandoned sphere. The noise of the
mooncalves would at times be a vast flat calf-like sound, at times it rose
to an amazed and wrathy bellowing, and again it would become a clogged
bestial sound, as though these unseen creatures had sought to eat and
bellow at the same time.

Our first view was but an inadequate transitory glimpse, yet none the less
disturbing because it was incomplete. Cavor was crawling in front at the
time, and he first was aware of their proximity. He stopped dead,
arresting me with a single gesture.

A crackling and smashing of the scrub appeared to be advancing directly
upon us, and then, as we squatted close and endeavoured to judge of the
nearness and direction of this noise, there came a terrific bellow behind
us, so close and vehement that the tops of the bayonet scrub bent before
it, and one felt the breath of it hot and moist. And, turning about, we
saw indistinctly through a crowd of swaying stems the mooncalf's shining
sides, and the long line of its back loomed out against the sky.

Of course it is hard for me now to say how much I saw at that time,
because my impressions were corrected by subsequent observation. First of
all impressions was its enormous size; the girth of its body was some
fourscore feet, its length perhaps two hundred. Its sides rose and fell
with its laboured breathing. I perceived that its gigantic, flabby body
lay along the ground, and that its skin was of a corrugated white,
dappling into blackness along the backbone. But of its feet we saw
nothing. I think also that we saw then the profile at least of the almost
brainless head, with its fat-encumbered neck, its slobbering omnivorous
mouth, its little nostrils, and tight shut eyes. (For the mooncalf
invariably shuts its eyes in the presence of the sun.) We had a glimpse of
a vast red pit as it opened its mouth to bleat and bellow again; we had a
breath from the pit, and then the monster heeled over like a ship, dragged
forward along the ground, creasing all its leathery skin, rolled again,
and so wallowed past us, smashing a path amidst the scrub, and was
speedily hidden from our eyes by the dense interlacings beyond. Another
appeared more distantly, and then another, and then, as though he was
guiding these animated lumps of provender to their pasture, a Selenite
came momentarily into ken. My grip upon Cavor's foot became convulsive at
the sight of him, and we remained motionless and peering long after he had
passed out of our range.

By contrast with the mooncalves he seemed a trivial being, a mere ant,
scarcely five feet high. He was, wearing garments of some leathery
substance, so that no portion of his actual body appeared, but of this, of
course, we were entirely ignorant. He presented himself, therefore, as a
compact, bristling creature, having much of the quality of a complicated
insect, with whip-like tentacles and a clanging arm projecting from his
shining cylindrical body case. The form of his head was hidden by his
enormous many-spiked helmet - we discovered afterwards that he used the
spikes for prodding refractory mooncalves - and a pair of goggles of
darkened glass, set very much at the side, gave a bird-like quality to the
metallic apparatus that covered his face. His arms did not project beyond
his body case, and he carried himself upon short legs that, wrapped though
they were in warm coverings, seemed to our terrestrial eyes inordinately
flimsy. They had very short thighs, very long shanks, and little feet.

In spite of his heavy-looking clothing, he was progressing with what would
be, from the terrestrial point of view, very considerable strides, and his
clanging arm was busy. The quality of his motion during the instant of his
passing suggested haste and a certain anger, and soon after we had lost
sight of him we heard the bellow of a mooncalf change abruptly into a
short, sharp squeal followed by the scuffle of its acceleration. And
gradually that bellowing receded, and then came to an end, as if the
pastures sought had been attained.

We listened. For a space the moon world was still. But it was some time
before we resumed our crawling search for the vanished sphere.

When next we saw mooncalves they were some little distance away from us in
a place of tumbled rocks. The less vertical surfaces of the rocks were
thick with a speckled green plant growing in dense mossy clumps, upon
which these creatures were browsing. We stopped at the edge of the reeds
amidst which we were crawling at the sight of them, peering out at then
and looking round for a second glimpse of a Selenite. They lay against
their food like stupendous slugs, huge, greasy hulls, eating greedily and
noisily, with a sort of sobbing avidity. They seemed monsters of mere
fatness, clumsy and overwhelmed to a degree that would make a Smithfield
ox seem a model of agility. Their busy, writhing, chewing mouths, and eyes
closed, together with the appetising sound of their munching, made up an
effect of animal enjoyment that was singularly stimulating to our empty

"Hogs!" said Cavor, with unusual passion. "Dis- gusting hogs!" and after
one glare of angry envy crawled off through the bushes to our right. I
stayed long enough to see that the speckled plant was quite hopeless for
human nourishment, then crawled after him, nibbling a quill of it between
my teeth.

Presently we were arrested again by the proximity of a Selenite, and this
time we were able to observe him more exactly. Now we could see that the
Selenite covering was indeed clothing, and not a sort of crustacean
integument. He was quite similar in his costume to the former one we had
glimpsed, except that ends of something like wadding were protruding front
his neck, and he stood on a promontory of rock and moved his head this way
and that, as though he was surveying the crater. We lay quite still,
fearing to attract his attention if we moved, and after a time he turned
about and disappeared.

We came upon another drove of mooncalves bellowing up a ravine, and then
we passed over a place of sounds, sounds of beating machinery as if some
huge hall of industry came near the surface there. And while these sounds
were still about us we came to the edge of a great open space, perhaps two
hundred yards in diameter, and perfectly level. Save for a few lichens
that advanced from its margin this space was bare, and presented a powdery
surface of a dusty yellow colour. We were afraid to strike out across
this space, but as it presented less obstruction to our crawling than the
scrub, we went down upon it and began very circumspectly to skirt its

For a little while the noises from below ceased and everything, save for
the faint stir of the growing vegetation, was very still. Then abruptly
there began an uproar, louder, more vehement, and nearer than any we had
so far heard. Of a certainty it came from below. Instinctively we crouched
as flat as we could, ready for a prompt plunge into the thicket beside us.
Each knock and throb seemed to vibrate through our bodies. Louder grew
this throbbing and beating, and that irregular vibration increased until
the whole moon world seemed to be jerking and pulsing.

"Cover," whispered Cavor, and I turned towards the bushes.

At that instant came a thud like the thud of a gun, and then a thing
happened - it still haunts me in my dreams. I had turned my head to look
at Cavor's face, and thrust out my hand in front of me as I so. And my
hand met nothing! Plunged suddenly into a bottomless hole!

My chest hit something hard, and I found myself with my chin on the edge
of an unfathomable abyss that had suddenly opened beneath me, my hand
extended stiffly into the void. The whole of that flat circular area was
no more than a gigantic lid, that was now sliding sideways from off the
pit it had covered into a slot prepared for it.

Had it not been for Cavor I think I should have remained rigid, hanging
over this margin and staring into the enormous gulf below, until at last
the edges of the slot scraped me off and hurled me into its depths. But
Cavor had not received the shock that had paralysed me. He had been a
little distance from the edge when the lid had first opened, and
perceiving the peril that held me helpless, gripped my legs and pulled me
backward. I came into a sitting position, crawled away from the edge for a
space on all fours, then staggered up and ran after him across the
thundering, quivering sheet of metal. It seemed to be swinging open with a
steadily accelerated velocity, and the bushes in front of me shifted
sideways as I ran.

I was none too soon. Cavor's back vanished amidst the bristling thicket,
and as I scrambled up after him, the monstrous valve came into its
position with a clang. For a long time we lay panting, not daring to
approach the pit.

But at last very cautiously and bit by bit we crept into a position from
which we could peer down. The bushes about us creaked and waved with the
force of a breeze that was blowing down the shaft. We could see nothing at
first except smooth vertical walls descending at last into an impenetrable
black. And then very gradually we became aware of a number of very faint
and little lights going to and fro.

For a time that stupendous gulf of mystery held us so that we forgot even
our sphere. In time, as we grew more accustomed to the darkness, we could
make out very small, dim, elusive shapes moving about among those
needle-point illuminations. We peered amazed and incredulous,
understanding so little that we could find no words to say. We could
distinguish nothing that would give us a clue to the meaning of the faint
shapes we saw.

"What can it be?" I asked; "what can it be?"

"The engineering!... They must live in these caverns during the night, and
come out during the day."

"Cavor! " I said. "Can they be - that - it was something like -, men?"

"That was not a man."

"We dare risk nothing"

"We dare do nothing until we find the sphere!"

"We can do nothing until we find the sphere."

He assented with a groan and stirred himself to move. He stared about him
for a space, sighed, and indicated a direction. We struck out through the
jungle. For a time we crawled resolutely, then with diminishing vigour.
Presently among great shapes of flabby purple there came a noise of
trampling and cries about us. We lay close, and for a long time the sounds
went to and fro and very near. But this time we saw nothing. I tried to
whisper to Cavor that I could hardly go without food much longer, but my
mouth had become too dry for whispering.

"Cavor," I said, "I must have food."

He turned a face full of dismay towards me. "It's a case for holding out,"
he said.

"But I must," I said, "and look at my lips!"

"I've been thirsty some time."

"If only some of that snow had remained!"

"It's clean gone! We're driving from arctic to tropical at the rate of a
degree a minute...."

I gnawed my hand.

"The sphere!" he said. "There is nothing for it but the sphere."

We roused ourselves to another spurt of crawling. My mind ran entirely on
edible things, on the hissing profundity of summer drinks, more
particularly I craved for beer. I was haunted by the memory of a sixteen
gallon cask that had swaggered in my Lympne cellar. I thought of the
adjacent larder, and especially of steak and kidney pie - tender steak and
plenty of kidney, and rich, thick gravy between. Ever and again I was
seized with fits of hungry yawning. We came to flat places overgrown with
fleshy red things, monstrous coralline growths; as we pushed against them
they snapped and broke. I noted the quality of the broken surfaces. The
confounded stuff certainly looked of a biteable texture. Then it seemed to
me that it smelt rather well.

I picked up a fragment and sniffed at it.

"Cavor," I said in a hoarse undertone.

He glanced at me with his face screwed up. "Don't,"

he said. I put down the fragment, and we crawled on through this tempting
fleshiness for a space.

"Cavor," I asked, "why not?"

"Poison," I heard him say, but he did not look round.

We crawled some way before I decided.

"I'll chance it," said I.

He made a belated gesture to prevent me. I stuffed my mouth full. He
crouched watching my face, his own twisted into the oddest expression.
"It's good," I said.

"O Lord!" he cried.

He watched me munch, his face wrinkled between desire and disapproval,
then suddenly succumbed to appetite and began to tear off huge mouthfuls.
For a time we did nothing but eat.

The stuff was not unlike a terrestrial mushroom, only it was much laxer in
texture, and, as one swallowed it, it warmed the throat. At first we
experienced a mere mechanical satisfaction in eating; then our blood began
to run warmer, and we tingled at the lips and fingers, and then new and
slightly irrelevant ideas came bubbling up in our minds.

"Its good," said I. "Infernally good! What a home for our surplus
population! Our poor surplus population," and I broke off another large
portion. It filled me with a curiously benevolent satisfaction that there
was such good food in the moon. The depression of my hunger gave way to an
irrational exhilaration. The dread and discomfort in which I had been
living vanished entirely. I perceived the moon no longer as a planet from
which I most earnestly desired the means of escape, but as a possible
refuge from human destitution. I think I forgot the Selenites, the
mooncalves, the lid, and the noises completely so soon as I had eaten that

Cavor replied to my third repetition of my "surplus population" remark
with similar words of approval. I felt that my head swam, but I put this
down to the stimulating effect cf food after a long fast. " Ess'lent
discov'ry yours, Cavor,' said I. "Se'nd on'y to the 'tato."

"Whajer mean?" asked Cavor. "'Scovery of the moon - se'nd on'y to the
'tato? "

I looked at him, shocked at his suddenly hoarse voice, and by the badness
of his articulation. It occurred to me in a flash that he was intoxicated,
possibly by the fungus. It also occurred to me that he erred in imaging
that he had discovered the moon; he had not discovered it, he had only
reached it. I tried to lay my hand on his arm and explain this to him, but
the issue was too subtle for his brain. It was also unexpectedly difficult
to express. After a momentary attempt to understand me - I remember
wondering if the fungus had made my eyes as fishy as his - he set off upon
some observations on his own account.

"We are," he announced with a solemn hiccup, "the creashurs o' Mat we eat
and drink."

He repeated this, and as I was now in one of my subtle moods, I determined
to dispute it. Possibly I wandered a little from the point. But Cavor
certainly did not attend at all properly. He stood up as well as he could,
putting a hand on my head to steady I himself, which was disrespectful,
and stood staring about him, quite devoid now of any fear of the moon

I tried to point out that this was dangerous for some reason that was not
perfectly clear to me, but the word "dangerous" had somehow got mixed with
"indiscreet," and came out rather more like "injurious" than either; and
after an attempt to disentangle them, I resumed my argument, addressing
myself principally to the unfamiliar but attentive coralline growths on
either side. I felt that it was necessary to clear up this confusion
between the moon and a potato at once - I wandered into a long parenthesis
on the importance of precision of definition in argument. I did my best to
ignore the fact that my bodily sensations were no longer agreeable.

In some way that I have now forgotten, my mind was led back to projects of
colonisation. "We must annex this moon," I said. " There must be no
shilly-shally. This is part of the White Man's Burthen. Cavor - we are -
hic - Satap - mean Satraps! Nempire Ceasar never dreamt. B'in all the
newspapers. Cavorecia. Bedfordecia. Bedfordecia - hic - Limited. Mean -
unlimited! Practically."

Certainly I was intoxicated.

I embarked upon an argument to show the infinite benefits our arrival
would confer on the moon. I involved myself in a rather difficult proof
that the arrival of Columbus was, on the whole, beneficial to America. I
found I had forgotten the line of argument I had intended to pursue, and
continued to repeat "Simlar to C'lumbus," to fill up time.

From that joint my memory of the action of that abominable fungus becomes
confused. I remember vaguely that we declared our intention of standing no
nonsense from any confounded insects, that we decided it ill became men to
hide shamefully upon a mere satellite, that we equipped ourselves with
huge armfuls of the fungus - whether for missile purposes or not I do not
know - and, heedless of the stabs of the bayonet scrub, we started forth
into the sunshine.

Almost immediately we must have come upon the Selenites. There were six of
them, and they were marching in single file over a rocky place, making the
most remarkable piping and whining sounds. They all seemed to become aware
of us at once, all instantly became silent and motionless, like animals,
with their faces turned towards us.

For a moment I was sobered.

"Insects," murmured Cavor, "insects! And they think I'm going to crawl
about on my stomach - on my vertebrated stomach!"

"Stomach," he repeated slowly, as though he chewed the indignity.

Then suddenly, with a shout of fury, he made three vast strides and leapt
towards them. He leapt badly; he made a series of somersaults in the air,
whirled right over them, and vanished with an enormous splash amidst the
cactus bladders. What the Selenites made of this amazing, and to my mind
undignified irruption from another planet, I have no means of guessing. I
seem to remember the sight of their backs as they ran in all directions,
but I am not sure. All these last incidents before oblivion came are vague
and faint in my mind. I know I made a step to follow Cavor, and tripped
and fell headlong among the rocks. I was, I am certain, suddenly and
vehemently ill. I seem to remember, a violent struggle and being gripped
by metallic clasps....

My next clear recollection is that we were prisoners at we knew not what
depths beneath the moon's surface; we were in darkness amidst strange
distracting noises; our bodies were covered with scratches and bruises,
and our heads racked with pain.