It was good listening to the beetle hum, the sleepy mosquito buzz and delicate filigree murmur of the old man’s voice at first scolding him and then consoling him in the late hour of night as he emerged from the steaming subway toward the firehouse world.
“Pity, Montag, pity. Don’t haggle and nag them; you were so recently one o f them yourself. They are so confident that they will run on for ever. But they won’t run on.
They don’t know that this is all one huge big blazing meteor that makes a pretty fire in space, but that some day it’ll have to hit. They see only the blaze, the pretty fire, as you saw it.
“Montag, old men who stay at home, afraid, tending their peanut-brittle bones, have no right to criticize. Yet you almost killed things at the start. Watch it! I’m with you, remember that. I understand how it happened. I must admit that your blind raging invigorated me. God, how young I felt! But now-I want you to feel old, I want a little of my cowardice to be distilled in you tonight. The next few hours, when you see Captain Beatty, tiptoe round him, let me hear him for you, let me feel the situation out. Survival is our ticket. Forget the poor, silly women ….”
“I made them unhappier than they have been in years, Ithink,” said Montag. “It shocked me to see Mrs. Phelps cry. Maybe they’re right, maybe it’s best not to face things, to run, have fun. I don’t know. I feel guilty–”
“No, you mustn’t! If there were no war, if there was peace in the world, I’d say fine, have fun! But, Montag, you mustn’t go back to being just a fireman. All isn’t well with the world.”
“Montag, you listening?”
“My feet,” said Montag. “I can’t move them. I feel so damn silly. My feet won’t move!”
“Listen. Easy now,” said the old man gently. “I know, I know. You’re afraid of making mistakes. Don’t be. Mistakes can be profited by. Man, when I was young I shoved my
ignorance in people’s faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn. Now, pick up your feet, into the firehouse with you! We’re twins, we’re not alone any more, we’re not separated out in different parlours, with no contact between. If you need help when Beatty pries at you, I’ll be sitting right here in your eardrum making notes!”
Montag felt his right foot, then his left foot, move.
“Old man,” he said, “stay with me.”
The Mechanical Hound was gone. Its kennel was empty and the firehouse stood all about in plaster silence and the orange Salamander slept with its kerosene in its belly and the firethrowers crossed upon its flanks and Montag came in through the silence and touched the brass pole and slid up in the dark air, looking back at the deserted kennel, his heart beating, pausing, beating. Faber was a grey moth asleep in his ear, for the moment.
Beatty stood near the drop-hole waiting, but with his back turned as if he were not waiting.
“Well,” he said to the men playing cards, “here comes a very strange beast which in all tongues is called a fool.”
He put his hand to one side, palm up, for a gift. Montag put the book in it. Without even glancing at the title, Beatty tossed the book into the trash-basket and lit a cigarette. “`Who are a little wise, the best fools be.’ Welcome back, Montag. I hope you’ll be staying, with us, now that your fever is done and your sickness over. Sit in for a hand of poker?”
They sat and the cards were dealt. In Beatty’s sight, Montag felt the guilt of his hands. His fingers were like ferrets that had done some evil and now never rested, always stirred and picked and hid in pockets, moving from under Beatty’s alcohol-flame stare. If Beatty so much as breathed on them, Montag felt that his hands might wither, turn over on their sides, and never be shocked to life again; they would be buried the rest of his life in his coat-sleeves, forgotten. For these were the hands that had acted on their own, no part of him, here was where the conscience first manifested itself to snatch books, dart off with job and Ruth and Willie Shakespeare, and now, in the firehouse, these hands seemed gloved with blood.