The street empty, the house burnt like an ancient bit of stage-scenery, the other homes dark, the Hound here, Beatty there, the three other firemen another place, and the Salamander . . . ? He gazed at the immense engine. That would have to go, too.
Well, he thought, let’s see how badly off you are. On your feet now. Easy, easy . . .
He stood and he had only one leg. The other was like a chunk of burnt pine-log he was carrying along as a penance for some obscure sin. When he put his weight on it, a shower of silver needles gushed up the length of the calf and went off in the knee.
He wept. Come on! Come on, you, you can’t stay here!
A few house-lights were going on again down the street, whether from the incidents just passed, or because of the abnormal silence following the fight, Montag did not know. He hobbled around the ruins, seizing at his bad leg when it lagged, talking and whimpering and shouting directions at it and cursing it and pleading with it to work for him now when it was vital. He heard a number of people crying out in the darkness and shouting. He reached the back yard and the alley. Beatty, he thought, you’re not a problem now. You always said, don’t face a problem, bum it. Well, now I’ve done both. Good-bye, Captain.
And he stumbled along the alley in the dark.
A shotgun blast went off in his leg every time he put it down and he thought, you’re a fool, a damn fool, an awful fool, an idiot, an awful idiot, a damn idiot, and a fool, a damn fool; look at the mess and where’s the mop, look at the mess, and what do you do? Pride, damn it, and temper, and you’ve junked it all, at the very start you vomit on everyone and on yourself. But everything at once, but everything one on top of another; Beatty, the women, Mildred, Clarisse, everything. No excuse, though, no excuse. A fool, a damn fool, go give yourself up!
No, we’ll save what we can, we’ll do what there is left to do. If we have to burn, let’s take a few more with us. Here!
He remembered the books and turned back. Just on the off chance.
He found a few books where he had left them, near the garden fence. Mildred, God bless her, had missed a few. Four books still lay hidden where he had put them.
Voices were wailing in the night and flashbeams swirled about. Other Salamanders were roaring their engines far away, and police sirens were cutting their way across town with their sirens.
Montag took the four remaining books and hopped, jolted, hopped his way down the alley and suddenly fell as if his head had been cut off and only his body lay there.
Something inside had jerked him to a halt and flopped him down. He lay where he had fallen and sobbed, his legs folded, his face pressed blindly to the gravel.
Beatty wanted to die.
In the middle of the crying Montag knew it for the truth. Beatty had wanted to die. He had just stood there, not really trying to save himself, just stood there, joking, needling, thought Montag, and the thought was enough to stifle his sobbing and let him pause for air. How strange, strange, to want to die so much that you let a man walk around armed and then instead of shutting up and staying alive, you go on yelling at people and making fun of them until you get them mad, and then ….
At a distance, running feet.
Montag sat up. Let’s get out of here. Come on, get up, get up, you just can’t sit! But he was still crying and that had to be finished. It was going away now. He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, not even Beatty. His flesh gripped him and shrank as if it had been plunged in acid. He gagged. He saw Beatty, a torch, not moving, fluttering out on the grass. He bit at his knuckles. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, oh God, sorry ….