Montag looked at the cards in his own hands. “I-I’ve been thinking. About the fire last week. About the man whose library we fixed. What happened to him?”
“They took him screaming off to the asylum”
“He. wasn’t insane.”
Beatty arranged his cards quietly. “Any man’s insane who thinks he can fool the Government and us.”
“I’ve tried to imagine,” said Montag, “just how it would feel. I mean to have firemen burn our houses and our books.”
“We haven’t any books.”
“But if we did have some.”
“You got some?”
Beatty blinked slowly.
“No.” Montag gazed beyond them to the wall with the typed lists of a million forbidden books. Their names leapt in fire, burning down the years under his axe and his hose which sprayed not water but kerosene. “No.” But in his mind, a cool wind started up and blew out of the ventilator grille at home, softly, softly, chilling his face. And, again, he saw himself in a green park talking to an old man, a very old man, and the wind from the park was cold, too.
Montag hesitated, “Was-was it always like this? The firehouse, our work? I mean, well, once upon a time…”
“Once upon a time!” Beatty said. “What kind of talk is THAT?”
Fool, thought Montag to himself, you’ll give it away. At the last fire, a book of fairy tales, he’d glanced at a single line. “I mean,” he said, “in the old days, before homes were completely fireproofed ” Suddenly it seemed a much younger voice was speaking for him. He opened his mouth and it was Clarisse McClellan saying, “Didn’t firemen prevent fires rather than stoke them up and get them going?”
“That’s rich!” Stoneman and Black drew forth their rulebooks, which also contained brief histories of the Firemen of America, and laid them out where Montag, though long familiar with them, might read:
“Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin.”
RULE 1. Answer the alarm swiftly.
2. Start the fire swiftly.
3. Burn everything.
4. Report back to firehouse immediately.
5. Stand alert for other alarms.
Everyone watched Montag. He did not move.
The alarm sounded.
The bell in the ceiling kicked itself two hundred times. Suddenly there were four empty chairs. The cards fell in a flurry of snow. The brass pole shivered. The men were gone.
Montag sat in his chair. Below, the orange dragon coughed into life.
Montag slid down the pole like a man in a dream.
The Mechanical Hound leapt up in its kennel, its eyes all green flame.
“Montag, you forgot your helmet!”
He seized it off the wall behind him, ran, leapt, and they were off, the night wind hammering about their siren scream and their mighty metal thunder !
It was a flaking three-storey house in the ancient part of the city, a century old if it was a day, but like all houses it had been given a thin fireproof plastic sheath many years ago, and this preservative shell seemed to be the only thing holding it in the sky.
“Here we are !”
The engine slammed to a stop. Beatty, Stoneman, and Black ran up the sidewalk, suddenly odious and fat in the plump fireproof slickers. Montag followed.
They crashed the front door and grabbed at a woman, though she was not running, she was not trying to escape. She was only standing, weaving from side to side, her eyes fixed upon a nothingness in the wall as if they had struck her a terrible blow upon the head. Her tongue was moving in her mouth, and her eyes seemed to be trying to remember something, and then they remembered and her tongue moved again:
” ‘Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.’ ”
“Enough of that!” said Beatty. “Where are they?”
He slapped her face with amazing objectivity and repeated the question. The old woman’s eyes came to a focus upon Beatty. “You know where they are or you wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Stoneman held out the telephone alarm card with the complaint signed in telephone duplicate on the back