“You’re absolutely serious?”
“It’s an insidious plan, if I do say so myself.” Faber glanced nervously at his bedroom door. “To see the firehouses burn across the land, destroyed as hotbeds of treason. The salamander devours his tail! Ho, God!”
“I’ve a list of firemen’s residences everywhere. With some sort of underground.”
“Can’t trust people, that’s the dirty part. You and I and who else will set the fires?”
“Aren’t there professors like yourself, former writers, historians, linguists . . .?”
“Dead or ancient.”
“The older the better; they’ll go unnoticed. You know dozens, admit it!”
“Oh, there are many actors alone who haven’t acted Pirandello or Shaw or Shakespeare for years because their plays are too aware of the world. We could use their anger. And we could use the honest rage of those historians who haven’t written a line for forty years. True, we might form classes in thinking and reading.”
“But that would just nibble the edges. The whole culture’s shot through. The skeleton needs melting and re-shaping. Good God, it isn’t as simple as just picking up a book you laid down half a century ago. Remember, the firemen are rarely necessary. The public itself stopped reading of its own accord. You firemen provide a circus now and then at which buildings are set off and crowds gather for the pretty blaze, but it’s a small sideshow indeed, and hardly necessary to keep things in line. So few want to be rebels any more. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily. Can you dance faster than the White Clown, shout louder than ‘Mr. Gimmick’ and the parlour ‘families’? If you can, you’ll win your way, Montag. In any event, you’re a fool. People are having fun.”
“Committing suicide! Murdering!”
A bomber flight had been moving east all the time they talked, and only now did the two men stop and listen, feeling the great jet sound tremble inside themselves.
“Patience, Montag. Let the war turn off the ‘families.’ Our civilization is flinging itself to pieces. Stand back from the centrifuge.”
“There has to be someone ready when it blows up.”
“What? Men quoting Milton? Saying, I remember Sophocles? Reminding the survivors that man has his good side, too? They will only gather up their stones to hurl at each other. Montag, go home. Go to bed. Why waste your final hours racing about your cage denying you’re a squirrel?”
“Then you don’t care any more?”
“I care so much I’m sick.”
“And you won’t help me?”
“Good night, good night.”
Montag’s hands picked up the Bible. He saw what his hands had done and he looked surprised.
“Would you like to own this?”
Faber said, “I’d give my right arm.”
Montag stood there and waited for the next thing to happen. His hands, by themselves, like two men working together, began to rip the pages from the book. The hands tore the flyleaf and then the first and then the second page.
“Idiot, what’re you doing!” Faber sprang up, as if he had been struck. He fell, against Montag. Montag warded him off and let his hands continue. Six more pages fell to the floor. He picked them up and wadded the paper under Faber’s gaze.
– from Fahrenheit 451