“`The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.”‘
The chairs creaked under the three women. Montag finished it out:
“‘Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.'”
Mrs. Phelps was crying.
The others in the middle of the desert watched her crying grow very loud as her face squeezed itself out of shape. They sat, not touching her, bewildered by her display.
She sobbed uncontrollably. Montag himself was stunned and shaken.
“Sh, sh,” said Mildred. “You’re all right, Clara, now, Clara, snap out of it! Clara, what’s wrong?”
“I-I,”, sobbed Mrs. Phelps, “don’t know, don’t know, I just don’t know, oh oh…”
Mrs. Bowles stood up and glared at Montag. “You see? I knew it, that’s what I wanted to prove! I knew it would happen! I’ve always said, poetry and tears, poetry and suicide and crying and awful feelings, poetry and sickness; all that mush! Now I’ve had it proved to me. You’re nasty, Mr. Montag, you’re nasty! ”
Faber said, “Now…”
Montag felt himself turn and walk to the wall-slot and drop the book in through the brass notch to the waiting flames.
“Silly words, silly words, silly awful hurting words,” said Mrs. Bowles. “Why do people want to hurt people? Not enough hurt in the world, you’ve got to tease people with stuff like that ! ”
“Clara, now, Clara,” begged Mildred, pulling her arm. “Come on, let’s be cheery, you turn thèfamily’ on, now. Go ahead. Let’s laugh and be happy, now, stop crying, we’ll have a party!”
“No,” said Mrs. Bowles. “I’m trotting right straight home. You want to visit my house and `family,’ well and good. But I won’t come in this fireman’s crazy house again in my lifetime! ”
“Go home.” Montag fixed his eyes upon her, quietly. “Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it? Go home, go home!” he yelled. “Before I knock you down and kick you out of the door!”
Doors slammed and the house was empty. Montag stood alone in the winter
weather, with the parlour walls the colour of dirty snow.
In the bathroom, water ran. He heard Mildred shake the sleeping tablets into her hand.
“Fool, Montag, fool, fool, oh God you silly fool…”
“Shut up!” He pulled the green bullet from his ear and jammed it into his pocket.
It sizzled faintly. “. . . fool . . . fool . . .”
He searched the house and found the books where Mildred had stacked them behind the refrigerator. Some were missing and he knew that she had started on her own slow process of dispersing the dynamite in her house, stick by stick. But he was not
angry now, only exhausted and bewildered with himself. He carried the books into the backyard and hid them in the bushes near the alley fence. For tonight only, he thought, in case she decides to do any more burning.
He went back through the house. “Mildred?” He called at the door of the darkened bedroom. There was no sound.
Outside, crossing the lawn, on his way to work, he tried not to see how completely dark and deserted Clarisse McClellan’s house was ….
On the way downtown he was so completely alone with his terrible error that he felt the necessity for the strange warmness and goodness that came from a familiar and gentle voice speaking in the night. Already, in a few short hours, it seemed that he had known Faber a lifetime. Now he knew that he was two people, that he was above all Montag, who knew nothing, who did not even know himself a fool, but only suspected it. And he knew that he was also the old man who talked to him and talked to him as the train was sucked from one end of the night city to the other on one long sickening gasp of motion. In the days to follow, and in the nights when there was no moon and in the nights when there was a very bright moon shining on the earth, the old man would go on with this talking and this talking, drop by drop, stone by stone, flake by flake. His mind would well over at last and he would not be Montag any more, this the old man told him, assured him, promised him. He would be Montag-plus-Faber, fire plus water, and then, one day, after everything had mixed and simmered and worked away in silence, there would be neither fire nor water, but wine. Out of two separate and opposite things, a third. And one day he would look back upon the fool and know the fool. Even now he could feel the start of the long journey, the leave-taking, the going away from the self he had been.