But Chicken George agreed readily enough. "Nobody in dis family, anyways. I done tried 'em all 'ceptin 'you. Seem like all de res' my boys willin' to spend dey lives draggin' from one end ofafiel' to de other, lookin' up a mule' butt'." He considered for a moment. "Yo' blacksmithin', wouldn't 'zackly call dat no high livin' neither - nothin' like gamecoclin' - but leas' ways it's a man's work."
Tom wondered if his father ever seriously respected anything excepting fighting chickens. He felt deeply grateful that somehow he had escaped into the solid, stable trade of blacksmithing. But he expressed his thoughts in an oblique way. "Don't see nothin' wrong wid farmin', Pappy. If some folks wasn't farming, 'speck nobody wouldn't be eatin'. I jes' took to blacksmithin' same as you wid gamecoclin', 'cause I loves it, an' de Lawd gimme a knack fo' it. Jes' ever'body don' love de same things."
"Well, leas' you an' me got sense to make money doin' what we likes," said Chicken George. (Al.H.)
34. It was a flaking three-storey house in the ancient part of the city, a century old if it was a day, but like all houses it had been given a thin fireproof plastic sheath many years ago, and this preservative shell seemed to be the only thing holding it in the sky.
"Here we are."
The engine slammed to a stop. Beatty, Stoneman and Black ran up the sidewalk, suddenly odious and fat in the plump fireproof slickers. Montag followed.
They crashed the front door and grabbed at a woman, though she was not running, she was not trying to escape. She was only standing, weaving from side to side, her eyes fixed upon a nothingness in the wall as if they had struck her a terrible blow upon the head. Her tongue was moving in her mouth, and her eyes seemed to be trying to remember something.
Next thing they were up in musty blackness, swinging silver hatchets at doors that were, after all, unlocked, tumbling through like boys all rollic and shout. "Hey!" A fountain of books sprang down upon Montag as he climbed shuddering up the sheer stair-well. How inconvenient! Always before it had been like snuffing a candle. The police went first and adhesive-taped the victim's mouth and bandaged him off into their glittering beetle cars, so when you arrived you found an empty house. You weren't hurting anyone, you were hurting only things! And since things really couldn't be hurt, since things felt nothing, and things don't scream and cry out, there was nothing to tease your conscience later. You were simply cleaning up. Janitorial work, essentially. Everything to its proper place. Quick with the kerosene! Who's got a match?
But now, tonight, someone had slipped. This woman was spoiling the ritual. The men were making too much noise, laughing, joking to cover her terrible accusing silence below. She made the empty rooms roar with accusation and shake down a fine dust of guilt that was sucked in their nostrils as they plunged about. It was neither cricket nor correct. Montag felt an immense irritation. She shouldn't be here, on top of everything!
Books bombarded his shoulders, his arms, his upturned face. A book alighted, almost obediently, like a white pigeon, in his hands, wings fluttering. In the dim, wavering light, a page hung open and it was like a snowy feather, the words delicately painted thereon. In all the rush and fervour, Montag had only an instant to read a line, but it blazed in his mind for the next minute as if stamped there with fiery steel, "Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine." He dropped the book. Immediately, another fell into his arms.
"Montag, up here!"
Montag's hand closed like a mouth, crashed the book with wild devotion, with an insanity of mindlessness to his chest. The men above were hurling shovelfuls of magazines into the dusty air. They fell like slaughtered birds and the woman stood below, like a small girl, among the bodies.
Montag had done nothing. His hand had done it all, his hand, with a brain of its own, with a conscience and a curiosity in each trembling finger, had turned thief. Now, it plunged the book back under his arm, pressed it tight to sweating armpit, rushed out empty, with a magician's flourish! Look here! Innocent! Look!
He gazed, shaken, at that white hand. He held it way out, as if he were far-sighted. He held it close, as if he were blind.
He jerked about.
"Don't stand there, idiot!"
The books lay like great mounds of fishes left to dry. The men danced and slipped and fell over them. Titles glittered their golden eyes falling, gone.
They pumped the cold fluid from the numbered 451 tanks strapped to their shoulders. They coated each book, they pumped rooms full of it.
They hurried downstairs, Montag staggered after them in the kerosene fumes.
"Come on, woman!"
The woman knelt among the books, touching the drenched leather and cardboard, reading the gilt titles with her fingers while her eyes accused Montag.
"You can't ever have my books," she said.
"You know the law," said Beatty. "Where's your common sense? None of those books agree with each other. You've been locked up here for years with a regular damned Tower of Babel. Snap out of it. The people in those books never lived. Come on now!"
She shook her head.
"The whole house is going up," said Beatty.
The men walked clumsily to the door. They glanced back at Montag, who stood near the woman.
"You're not leaving her here?" he protested.
"She won't come."
"Force her, then!"
Beatty raised his hand in which was concealed the igniter. "We're due back at the house. Besides, these fanatics always try suicide; the pattern's familiar."
Montag placed his hand on the woman's elbow. "You can come with me."
"No," she said. "Thank you, anyway."
"I'm counting to ten," said Beatty. "One. Two."
"Please," said Montag.
"Go on," said the woman.
"Here." Montag pulled at the woman.
The woman replied quietly. "I want to stay here."
"You can stop counting," she said. She opened the fingers of one hand slightly and in the palm of the hand was a single slender object.
An ordinary kitchen match.
The sight of it rushed the men out and down away from the house. Captain Beatty, keeping his dignity, backed slowly through the front door, his pink face burnt and shiny from a thousand fires and night excitements. God, thought Montag, how true! Always at night the alarm comes. Never by day! Is it because the fire is prettier by night? More spectacle, a better show? The pink face of Beatty now showed the faintest panic in the door. The woman's hand twitched on the single matchstick. The fumes of kerosene bloomed up about her. Montag felt the hidden book pound like a heart against his chest. (R.Br.)