Montag placed his hand on the woman’s elbow. “You can come with me.”
“No,” she said. “Thank you, anyway.”
“I’m counting to ten,” said Beatty. “One. Two.”
“Please,” said Montag.
“Go on,” said the woman.
“Here.” Montag pulled at the woman.
The woman replied quietly, “I want to stay here”
“You can stop counting,” she said. She opened the fingers of one hand slightly and in the palm of the hand was a single slender object.
An ordinary kitchen match.
The sight of it rushed the men out and down away from the house. Captain Beatty, keeping his dignity, backed slowly through the front door, his pink face burnt and shiny from a thousand fires and night excitements. God, thought Montag, how true!
Always at night the alarm comes. Never by day! Is it because the fire is prettier by night? More spectacle, a better show? The pink face of Beatty now showed the faintest panic in the door. The woman’s hand twitched on the single matchstick. The fumes of kerosene bloomed up about her. Montag felt the hidden book pound like a heart against his chest.
“Go on,” said the woman, and Montag felt himself back away and away out of the door, after Beatty, down the steps, across the lawn, where the path of kerosene lay like the track of some evil snail.
On the front porch where she had come to weigh them quietly with her eyes, her quietness a condemnation, the woman stood motionless.
Beatty flicked his fingers to spark the kerosene.
He was too late. Montag gasped.
The woman on the porch reached out with contempt for them all, and struck the kitchen match against the railing.
People ran out of houses all down the street.
They said nothing on their way back to the firehouse. Nobody looked at anyone else.
Montag sat in the front seat with Beatty and Black. They did not even smoke their pipes. They sat there looking out of the front of the great salamander as they turned a corner and went silently on.
“Master Ridley,” said Montag at last.
“What?” said Beatty.
“She said, `Master Ridley.’ She said some crazy thing when we came in the door.
`Play the man,’ she said, `Master Ridley.’ Something, something, something.”
” `We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out,”‘ said Beatty. Stoneman glanced over at the Captain, as did Montag, startled.
Beatty rubbed his chin. “A man named Latimer said that to a man named Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford, for heresy, on October 16, 1555.”
Montag and Stoneman went back to looking at the street as it moved under the engine wheels.
“I’m full of bits and pieces,” said Beatty. “Most fire captains have to be. Sometimes I surprise myself. WATCH it, Stoneman!”
Stoneman braked the truck.
“Damn!” said Beatty. “You’ve gone right by the comer where we turn for the firehouse.”
“Who is it?”
“Who would it be?” said Montag, leaning back against the closed door in the dark.
His wife said, at last, “Well, put on the light.”
“I don’t want the light.”
“Come to bed.”
He heard her roll impatiently; the bedsprings squealed.
“Are you drunk?” she said.
So it was the hand that started it all. He felt one hand and then the other work his coat free and let it slump to the floor. He held his pants out into an abyss and let them fall into darkness. His hands had been infected, and soon it would be his arms.
He could feel the poison working up his wrists and into his elbows and his shoulders, and then the jump-over from shoulder-blade to shoulder-blade like a spark leaping a gap. His hands were ravenous. And his eyes were beginning to feel hunger, as if they must look at something, anything, everything.
His wife said, “What are you doing?”
He balanced in space with the book in his sweating cold fingers.
A minute later she said, “Well, just don’t stand there in the middle of the floor.”
He made a small sound.
“What?” she asked.
He made more soft sounds. He stumbled towards the bed and shoved the book clumsily under the cold pillow. He fell into bed and his wife cried out, startled. He lay far across the room from her, on a winter island separated by an empty sea. She talked to him for what seemed a long while and she talked about this and she talked about that and it was only words, like the words he had heard once in a nursery at a friend’s house, a two-year-old child building word patterns, talking jargon, making pretty sounds in the air. But Montag said nothing and after a long while when he only made the small sounds, he felt her move in the room and come to his bed and stand over him and put her hand down to feel his cheek. He knew that when she pulled her hand away from his face it was wet.