Twice in half an hour, Montag had to rise from the game and go to the latrine to wash his hands. When he came back he hid his hands under the table.
Beatty laughed. “Let’s have your hands in sight, Montag.
Not that we don’t trust you, understand, but–”
They all laughed.
“Well,” said Beatty, “the crisis is past and all is well, the sheep returns to the fold.
We’re all sheep who have strayed at times. Truth is truth, to the end of reckoning, we’ve cried. They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts, we’ve shouted to ourselves. `Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,’ Sir Philip Sidney said. But on the other hand: `Words are like leaves and where they most abound, Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found.’ Alexander Pope. What do you think of that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Careful,” whispered Faber, living in another world, far away.
“Or this? ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.’ Pope. Same Essay. Where does that put you?”
Montag bit his lip.
“I’ll tell you,” said Beatty, smiling at his cards. “That made you for a little while a drunkard. Read a few lines and off you go over the cliff. Bang, you’re ready to blow up the world, chop off heads, knock down women and children, destroy authority. I know, I’ve been through it all.”
“I’m all right,” said Montag, nervously.
“Stop blushing. I’m not needling, really I’m not. Do you know, I had a dream an hour ago. I lay down for a cat-nap and in this dream you and I, Montag, got into a furious debate on books. You towered with rage, yelled quotes at me. I calmly parried every thrust. Power, I said, And you, quoting Dr. Johnson, said `Knowledge is more than equivalent to force!’ And I said, `Well, Dr. Johnson also said, dear boy, that “He is no wise man that will quit a certainty for an uncertainty.'” Stick with the fireman, Montag.
All else is dreary chaos!”
“Don’t listen,” whispered Faber. “He’s trying to confuse. He’s slippery. Watch out!”
Beatty chuckled. “And you said, quoting, `Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long!’ And I cried in good humour, ‘Oh God, he speaks only of his horse!’ And
`The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.’ And you yelled, ‘This age thinks better of a gilded fool, than of a threadbare saint in wisdom’s school!’ And I whispered gently, ‘The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting.’ And you screamed,
‘Carcasses bleed at the sight of the murderer!’ And I said, patting your hand, ‘What, do I give you trench mouth?’ And you shrieked, ‘Knowledge is power!’ and ‘A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders of the furthest of the two!’ and I summed my side up with rare serenity in, ‘The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us, Mr. Valery once said.'”
Montag’s head whirled sickeningly. He felt beaten unmercifully on brow, eyes, nose, lips, chin, on shoulders, on upflailing arms. He wanted to yell, “No! shut up, you’re confusing things, stop it!” Beatty’s graceful fingers thrust out to seize his wrist.
“God, what a pulse! I’ve got you going, have I, Montag. Jesus God, your pulse sounds like the day after the war. Everything but sirens and bells! Shall I talk some more? I like your look of panic. Swahili, Indian, English Lit., I speak them all. A kind of excellent dumb discourse, Willie!”
“Montag, hold on! ” The moth brushed Montag’s ear. “He’s muddying the waters!”
“Oh, you were scared silly,” said Beatty, “for I was doing a terrible thing in using the very books you clung to, to rebut you on every hand, on every point! What traitors books can be! You think they’re backing you up, and they turn on you. Others can use them, too, and there you are, lost in the middle of the moor, in a great welter of nouns and verbs and adjectives. And at the very end of my dream, along I came with the Salamander and said, Going my way? And you got in and we drove back to the firehouse in beatific silence, all -dwindled away to peace.” Beatty let Montag’s wrist go, let the hand slump limply on the table. “All’s well that is well in the end.”