Had it not been for my chance meeting with Swears, the eminent astronomer and objurgationist, this book would never have been written. He asked me down to our basement, which he rents from me as an observatory, and in spite of all that has happened since I still remember our wigil very distinctly. (I spell it with a “w” from an inordinate affection for that letter.) Swears moved about, invisible but painfully audible to my naked ear. The night was very warm, and I was very thirsty. As I gazed through the syphon, the little star seemed alternately to expand and contract, and finally to assume a sort of dual skirt, but that was simply because my eye was tired. I remember how I sat under the table with patches of green and crimson swimming before my eyes. Grotesque and foolish as this may seem to the sober reader, it is absolutely true.
Swears watched till one, and then he gave it up. He was full of speculations about the condition of Wenus. Swears’ language was extremely sultry.
“The chances against anything lady-like on Wenus,” he said, “are a million to one.”
Even Pearson’s Weekly woke up to the disturbance at last, and Mrs. Lynn Linton contributed an article entitled “What Women Might Do” to the Queen. A paper called Punch, if I remember the name aright, made a pun on the subject, which was partially intelligible with the aid of italics and the laryngoscope. For my own part, I was too much occupied in teaching my wife to ride a Bantam, and too busy upon a series of papers in Nature on the turpitude of the classical professoriate of the University of London, to give my undivided attention to the impending disaster. I cannot divide things easily; I am an indivisible man. But one night I went for a bicycle ride with my wife. She was a Bantam of delight, I can tell you, but she rode very badly. It was starlight, and I was attempting to explain the joke in the paper called, if I recollect aright, Punch. It was an extraordinarily sultry night, and I told her the names of all the stars she saw as she fell off her machine. She had a good bulk of falls. There were lights in the upper windows of the houses as the people went to bed. Grotesque and foolish as this will seem to the sober reader, it is absolutely true. Coming home, a party of bean-feasters from Wimbledon, Wormwood Scrubs, or Woking passed us, singing and playing concertinas. It all seemed so safe and tranquil. But the Wenuses were even then on their milky way.
The falling star.
Then came the night of the first star. It was seen early in the morning rushing over Winchester; leaving a gentle frou-frou behind it. Trelawny, of the Wells’ Observatory, the greatest authority on Meteoric Crinolines, watched it anxiously. Winymann, the publisher, who sprang to fame by the publication of The War of the Worlds, saw it from his office window, and at once telegraphed to me: “Materials for new book in the air.” That was the first hint I received of the wonderful wisit.