Silence. Montag sat like a carved white stone. The echo of the final hammer on his skull died slowly away into the black cavern where Faber waited for the echoes to subside. And then when the startled dust had settled down about Montag’s mind, Faber began, softly, “All right, he’s had his say. You must take it in. I’ll say my say, too, in the next few hours. And you’ll take it in. And you’ll try to judge them and make your decision as to which way to jump, or fall. But I want it to be your decision, not mine, and not the Captain’s. But remember that the Captain belongs to the most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority. Oh, God, the terrible tyranny of the majority. We all have our harps to play. And it’s up to you now to know with which ear you’ll listen.”
Montag opened his mouth to answer Faber and was saved this error in the presence of others when the station bell rang. The alarm-voice in the ceiling chanted. There was a tacking-tacking sound as the alarm-report telephone typed out the address across the room. Captain Beatty, his poker cards in one pink hand, walked with exaggerated slowness to the phone and ripped out the address when the report was finished. He glanced perfunctorily at it, and shoved it in his pocket. He came back and sat down. The others looked at him.
“It can wait exactly forty seconds while I take all the money away from you,” said Beatty, happily.
Montag put his cards down.
“Tired, Montag? Going out of this game?”
“Hold on. Well, come to think of it, we can finish this hand later. Just leave your cards face down and hustle the equipment. On the double now.” And Beatty rose up again.
“Montag, you don’t look well? I’d hate to think you were coming down with another fever…”
“I’ll be all right.”
“You’ll be fine. This is a special case. Come on, jump for it!”
They leaped into the air and clutched the brass pole as if it were the last vantage point above a tidal wave passing below, and then the brass pole, to their dismay slid them down into darkness, into the blast and cough and suction of the gaseous dragon roaring to life!
They rounded a corner in thunder and siren, with concussion of tyres, with scream of rubber, with a shift of kerosene bulk in the glittery brass tank, like the food in the stomach of a giant; with Montag’s fingers jolting off the silver rail, swinging into cold space, with the wind tearing his hair back from his head, with the wind whistling in his teeth, and him all the while thinking of the women, the chaff women in his parlour tonight, with the kernels blown out from under them by a neon wind, and his silly damned reading of a book to them. How like trying to put out fires with water-pistols, how senseless and insane. One rage turned in for another. One anger displacing another. When would he stop being entirely mad and be quiet, be very quiet indeed?
“Here we go!”
Montag looked up. Beatty never drove, but he was driving tonight, slamming the Salamander around corners, leaning forward high on the driver’s throne, his massive black slicker flapping out behind so that he seemed a great black bat flying above the engine, over the brass numbers, taking the full wind.
“Here we go to keep the world happy, Montag !”
Beatty’s pink, phosphorescent cheeks glimmered in the high darkness, and he was smiling furiously.
“Here we are!”
The Salamander boomed to a halt, throwing men off in slips and clumsy hops.
Montag stood fixing his raw eyes to the cold bright rail under his clenched fingers.
I can’t do it, he thought. How can I go at this new assignment, how can I go on burning things? I can’t go in this place.
Beatty, smelling of the wind through which he had rushed, was at Montag’s elbow.
“All right, Montag?”
The men ran like cripples in their clumsy boots, as quietly as spiders.