“He’s come back!” she whispered.
The front door voice called again softly. “Someone here . . .”
“We won’t answer.” Montag lay back against the wall and then slowly sank to a crouching position and began to nudge the books, bewilderedly, with his thumb, his forefinger. He was shivering and he wanted above all to shove the books up through the ventilator again, but he knew he could not face Beatty again. He crouched and then he sat and the voice of the front door spoke again, more insistently. Montag picked a single small volume from the floor. “Where do we begin?” He opened the book half?way and peered at it. “We begin by beginning, I guess.”
“He’ll come in,” said Mildred, “and burn us and the books!”
The front door voice faded at last. There was a silence. Montag felt the presence of someone beyond the door, waiting, listening. Then the footsteps going away down the walk and over the lawn.
“Let’s see what this is,” said Montag.
He spoke the words haltingly and with a terrible selfconsciousness. He read a dozen pages here and there and came at last to this:
” Ìt is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break eggs at the smaller end.”‘
Mildred sat across the hall from him. “What does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything!
The Captain was right! ”
“Here now,” said Montag. “We’ll start over again, at the beginning.”
THE SIEVE AND THE SAND
THEY read the long afternoon through, while the cold November rain fell from the sky upon the quiet house. They sat in the hall because the parlour was so empty and grey-looking without its walls lit with orange and yellow confetti and sky-rockets and women in gold-mesh dresses and men in black velvet pulling one-hundred-pound rabbits from silver hats. The parlour was dead and Mildred kept peering in at it with a blank expression as Montag paced the floor and came back and squatted down and read a page as many as ten times, aloud.
” `We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over, so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over.'”
Montag sat listening to the rain.
“Is that what it was in the girl next door? I’ve tried so hard to figure.”
“She’s dead. Let’s talk about someone alive, for goodness’ sake.”
Montag did not look back at his wife as he went trembling along the hall to the kitchen, where he stood a long .time watching the rain hit the windows before he came back down the hall in the grey light, waiting for the tremble to subside.
He opened another book.
” `That favourite subject, Myself.”‘
He squinted at the wall. ” `The favourite subject, Myself.”‘
“I understand that one,” said Mildred.
“But Clarisse’s favourite subject wasn’t herself. It was everyone else, and me. She was the first person in a good many years I’ve really liked. She was the first person I can remember who looked straight at me as if I counted.” He lifted the two books.
“These men have been dead a long time, but I know their words point, one way or another, to Clansse.”
Outside the front door, in the rain, a faint scratching.
Montag froze. He saw Mildred thrust herself back to the wall and gasp.
“I shut it off.”
“Someone–the door–why doesn’t the door-voice tell us–”
Under the door-sill, a slow, probing sniff, an exhalation of electric steam.
Mildred laughed. “It’s only a dog, that’s what! You want me to shoo him away?”
“Stay where you are!”
Silence. The cold rain falling. And the smell of blue electricity blowing under the locked door.
“Let’s get back to work,” said Montag quietly.
Mildred kicked at a book. “Books aren’t people. You read and I look around, but there isn’t anybody!”
He stared at the parlour that was dead and grey as the waters of an ocean that might teem with life if they switched on the electronic sun.