Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell Page 2
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|Femme Classic Art||The Australian edition of Gone With The Wind is out of copyright.||Femme Classic Art|
That night at supper, Scarlett went through the motions of presiding over the table in her mother's absence, but her mind was in a ferment over the dreadful news she had heard about Ashley and Melanie. Desperately she longed for her mother's return from the Slatterys', for, without her, she felt lost and alone. What right had the Slatterys and their everlasting sickness to take Ellen away from home just at this time when she, Scarlett, needed her so much?
Throughout the dismal meal, Gerald's booming voice battered against her ears until she thought she could endure it no longer. He had forgotten completely about his conversation with her that afternoon and was carrying on a monologue about the latest news from Fort Sumter, which he punctuated by hammering his fist on the table and waving his arms in the air. Gerald made a habit of dominating the conversation at mealtimes, and usually Scarlett, occupied with her own thoughts, scarcely heard him; but tonight she could not shut out his voice, no matter how much she strained to listen for the sound of carriage wheels that would herald Ellen's return.
Of course, she did not intend to tell her mother what was so heavy on her heart, for Ellen would be shocked and grieved to know that a daughter of hers wanted a man who was engaged to another girl. But, in the depths of the first tragedy she had ever known, she wanted the very comfort of her mother's presence. She always felt secure when Ellen was by her, for there was nothing so bad that Ellen could not better it, simply by being there.
She rose suddenly from her chair at the sound of creaking wheels in the driveway and then sank down again as they went on around the house to the back yard. It could not be Ellen, for she would alight at the front steps. Then there was an excited babble of negro voices in the darkness of the yard and high pitched negro laughter. Looking out the window, Scarlett saw Pork, who had left the room a moment before, holding high a flaring pine knot, while indistinguishable figures descended from a wagon. The laughter and talking rose and fell in the dark night air, pleasant, homely, carefree sounds, gutturally soft, musically shrill. Then feet shuffled up the back porch stairs and into the passageway leading to the main house, stopping in the hall just outside the dining room. There was a brief interval of whispering, and Pork entered, his usual dignity gone, his eyes rolling and his teeth a gleam.
"Mist' Gerald," he announced, breathing hard, the pride of a bridegroom all over his shining face, "you' new 'oman done come."
"New woman? I didn't buy any new woman," declared Gerald, pretending to glare.
"Yassah, you did, Mist' Gerald! Yassah! An' she out hyah now wanting ter speak wid you," answered Pork, giggling and twisting his hands in excitement.
"Well, bring in the bride," said Gerald, and Pork, turning, beckoned into the hall to his wife, newly arrived from the Wilkes plantation to become part of the household of Tara. She entered, and behind her, almost hidden by her voluminous calico skirts, came her twelve year old daughter, squirming against her mother's legs.
Dilcey was tall and bore herself erectly. She might have been any age from thirty to sixty, so unlined was her immobile bronze face. Indian blood was plain in her features, overbalancing the negroid characteristics. The red color of her skin, narrow high forehead, prominent cheek bones and the hawk bridged nose which flattened at the end above thick negro lips, all showed the mixture of two races. She was self possessed and walked with a dignity that surpassed even Mammy's, for Mammy had acquired her dignity and Dilcey's was in her blood.
When she spoke, her voice was not so slurred as most negroes' and she chose her words more carefully.
"Good evenin', young Misses. Mist' Gerald, I is sorry to 'sturb you, but I wanted to come here and thank you agin fo' buyin' me and my chile. Lots of gentlemens might a' bought me but they wouldn't a' bought my Prissy, too, jes' to keep me frum grievin' and I thanks you. I'm gwine do my bes' fo' you and show you I ain't forgettin'."
"Hum hurrump," said Gerald, clearing his throat in embarrassment at being caught openly in an act of kindness.
Dilcey turned to Scarlett and something like a smile wrinkled the corners of her eyes. "Miss Scarlett, Poke done tole me how you ast Mist Gerald to buy me. And so I'm gwine give you my Prissy fo' yo' own maid."
She reached behind her and jerked the little girl forward. She was a brown little creature, with skinny legs like a bird and a myriad of pigtails carefully wrapped with twine sticking stiffly out from her head. She had sharp, knowing eyes that missed nothing and a studiedly stupid look on her face.
"Thank you, Dilcey," Scarlett replied, "but I'm afraid Mammy will have something to say about that. She's been my maid ever since I was born."
"Mammy getting ole," said Dilcey, with a calmness that would have enraged Mammy. "She a good mammy, but you a young lady now and needs a good maid, and my Prissy been maidin' fo' Miss India fo' a year now. She kin sew and fix hair good as a grown pusson."
Prodded by her mother, Prissy bobbed a sudden curtsy and grinned at Scarlett, who could not help grinning back.
"A sharp little wench," she thought, and said aloud: "Thank you, Dilcey, we'll see about it when Mother comes home."
"Thankee, Ma'm. I gives you a good night," said Dilcey and, turning, left the room with her child, Pork dancing attendance. The supper things cleared away, Gerald resumed his oration, but with little satisfaction to himself and none at all to his audience. His thunderous predictions of immediate war and his rhetorical questions as to whether the South would stand for further insults from the Yankees only produced faintly bored, "Yes, Papas" and "No, Pas." Carreen, sitting on a hassock under the big lamp, was deep in the romance of a girl who had taken the veil after her lover's death and, with silent tears of enjoyment oozing from her eyes, was pleasurably picturing herself in a white coif. Suellen, embroidering on what she gigglingly called her "hope chest," was wondering if she could possibly detach Stuart Tarleton from her sister's side at the barbecue tomorrow and fascinate him with the sweet womanly qualities which she possessed and Scarlett did not. And Scarlett was in a tumult about Ashley.
How could Pa talk on and on about Fort Sumter and the Yankees when he knew her heart was breaking? As usual in the very young, she marveled that people could be so selfishly oblivious to her pain and the world rock along just the same, in spite of her heartbreak.
Her mind was as if a cyclone had gone through it, and it seemed strange that the dining room where they sat should be so placid, so unchanged from what it had always been. The heavy mahogany table and sideboards, the massive silver, the bright rag rugs on the shining floor were all in their accustomed places, just as if nothing had happened. It was a friendly and comfortable room and, ordinarily, Scarlett loved the quiet hours which the family spent there after supper; but tonight she hated the sight of it and, if she had not feared her father's loudly bawled questions, she would have slipped away, down the dark hall to Ellen's little office and cried out her sorrow on the old sofa.
That was the room that Scarlett liked the best in all the house. There, Ellen sat before her tall secretary each morning, keeping the accounts of the plantation and listening to the reports of Jonas Wilkerson, the overseer. There also the family idled while Ellen's quill scratched across her ledgers. Gerald in the old rocker, the girls on the sagging cushions of the sofa that was too battered and worn for the front of the house. Scarlett longed to be there now, alone with Ellen, so she could put her head in her mother's lap and cry in peace. Wouldn't Mother ever come home?
Then, wheels ground sharply on the graveled driveway, and the soft murmur of Ellen's voice dismissing the coachman floated into the room. The whole group looked up eagerly as she entered rapidly, her hoops swaying, her face tired and sad. There entered with her the faint fragrance of lemon verbena sachet, which seemed always to creep from the folds of her dresses, a fragrance that was always linked in Scarlett's mind with her mother. Mammy followed at a few paces, the leather bag in her hand, her underlip pushed out and her brow lowering. Mammy muttered darkly to herself as she waddled, taking care that her remarks were pitched too low to be understood but loud enough to register her unqualified disapproval.
"I am sorry I am so late," said Ellen, slipping her plaid shawl from drooping shoulders and handing it to Scarlett, whose cheek she patted in passing.
Gerald's face had brightened as if by magic at her entrance.
"Is the brat baptized?" he questioned.
"Yes, and dead, poor thing," said Ellen. "I feared Emmie would die too, but I think she will live."
The girls' faces turned to her, startled and questioning, and Gerald wagged his head philosophically.
"Well, 'tis better so that the brat is dead, no doubt, poor fatherle "
"It is late. We had better have prayers now," interrupted Ellen so smoothly that, if Scarlett had not known her mother well, the interruption would have passed unnoticed.
It would be interesting to know who was the father of Emmie Slattery's baby, but Scarlett knew she would never learn the truth of the matter if she waited to hear it from her mother. Scarlett suspected Jonas Wilkerson, for she had frequently seen him walking down the road with Emmie at nightfall. Jonas was a Yankee and a bachelor, and the fact that he was an overseer forever barred him from any contact with the County social life. There was no family of any standing into which he could marry, no people with whom he could associate except the Slatterys and riffraff like them. As he was several cuts above the Slatterys in education, it was only natural that he should not want to marry Emmie, no matter how often he might walk with her in the twilight.
Scarlett sighed, for her curiosity was sharp. Things were always happening under her mother's eyes which she noticed no more than if they had not happened at all. Ellen ignored all things contrary to her ideas of propriety and tried to teach Scarlett to do the same, but with poor success.
Ellen had stepped to the mantel to take her rosary beads from the small inlaid casket in which they always reposed when Mammy spoke up with firmness.
"Miss Ellen, you gwine eat some supper befo' you does any prayin'."
"Thank you. Mammy, but I am not hungry."
"Ah gwine fix yo' supper mahseff an' you eats it," said Mammy, her brow furrowed with indignation as she started down the hall for the kitchen. "Poke!" she called, "tell Cookie stir up de fiah. Miss Ellen home."
As the boards shuddered under her weight, the soliloquy she had been muttering in the front hall grew louder and louder, coming clearly to the ears of the family in the dining room.
"Ah has said time an' again, it doan do no good doin' nuthin' fer w'ite trash. Dey is de shiflesses, mos' ungrateful passel of no counts livin'. An' Miss Ellen got no bizness weahin' herseff out waitin' on folks dat did dey be wuth shootin' dey'd have niggers ter wait on dem. An' Ah has said "
Her voice trailed off as she went down the long open passageway, covered only by a roof, that led into the kitchen. Mammy had her own method of letting her owners know exactly where she stood on all matters. She knew it was beneath the dignity of quality white folks to pay the slightest attention to what a darky said when she was just grumbling to herself. She knew that to uphold this dignity, they must ignore what she said, even if she stood in the next room and almost shouted. It protected her from reproof, and it left no doubt in anyone's mind as to her exact views on any subject.
Pork entered the room, bearing a plate, silver and a napkin. He was followed closely by Jack, a black little boy of ten, hastily buttoning a white linen jacket with one hand and bearing in the other a fly swisher, made of thin strips of newspaper tied to a reed longer than he was. Ellen had a beautiful peacock feather fly brusher, but it was used only on very special occasions and then only after domestic struggle, due to the obstinate conviction of Pork, Cookie and Mammy that peacock feathers were bad luck.
Ellen sat down in the chair which Gerald pulled out for her and four voices attacked her.
"Mother, the lace is loose on my new ball dress and I want to wear it tomorrow night at Twelve Oaks. Won't you please fix it?"
"Mother, Scarlett's new dress is prettier than mine and I look like a fright in pink. Why can't she wear my pink and let me wear her green? She looks all right in pink."
"Mother, can I stay up for the ball tomorrow night? I'm thirteen now "
"Mrs. O'Hara, would you believe it Hush, you girls, before I take me crop to you! Cade Calvert was in Atlanta this morning and he says will you be quiet and let me be hearing me own voice? and he says it's all upset they are there and talking nothing but war, militia drilling, troops forming. And he says the news from Charleston is that they will be putting up with no more Yankee insults."
Ellen's tired mouth smiled into the tumult as she addressed herself first to her husband, as a wife should.
"If the nice people of Charleston feel that way, I'm sure we will all feel the same way soon," she said, for she had a deeply rooted belief that, excepting only Savannah, most of the gentle blood of the whole continent could be found in that small seaport city, a belief shared largely by Charlestonians.
"No, Carreen, next year, dear. Then you can stay up for balls and wear grown up dresses, and what a good time my little pink cheeks will have! Don't pout, dear. You can go to the barbecue, remember that, and stay up through supper, but no balls until you are fourteen.
"Give me your gown, Scarlett, I will whip the lace for you after prayers.
"Suellen, I do not like your tone, dear. Your pink gown is lovely and suitable to your complexion, Scarlett's is to hers. But you may wear my garnet necklace tomorrow night."
Suellen, behind her mother's hack, wrinkled her nose triumphantly at Scarlett, who had been planning to beg the necklace for herself. Scarlett put out her tongue at her. Suellen was an annoying sister with her whining and selfishness, and had it not been for Ellen's restraining hand, Scarlett would frequently have boxed her ears.
"Now, Mr. O'Hara, tell me more about what Mr. Calvert said about Charleston," said Ellen.
Scarlett knew her mother cared nothing at all about war and politics and thought them masculine matters about which no lady could intelligently concern herself. But it gave Gerald pleasure to air his views, and Ellen was unfailingly thoughtful of her husband's pleasure.
While Gerald launched forth on his news, Mammy set the plates before her mistress, golden topped biscuits, breast of fried chicken and a yellow yam open and steaming, with melted butter dripping from it. Mammy pinched small Jack, and he hastened to his business of slowly swishing the paper ribbons back and forth behind Ellen. Mammy stood beside the table, watching every forkful that traveled from plate to mouth, as though she intended to force the food down Ellen's throat should she see signs of flagging. Ellen ate diligently, but Scarlett could see that she was too tired to know what she was eating. Only Mammy's implacable face forced her to it.
When the dish was empty and Gerald only midway in his remarks on the thievishness of Yankees who wanted to free darkies and yet offered no penny to pay for their freedom, Ellen rose.
"We'll be having prayers?" he questioned, reluctantly.
"Yes. It is so late why, it is actually ten o'clock," as the clock with coughing and tinny thumps marked the hour. "Carreen should have been asleep long ago. The lamp, please, Pork, and my prayer book, Mammy."
Prompted by Mammy's hoarse whisper, Jack set his fly brush in the corner and removed the dishes, while Mammy fumbled in the sideboard drawer for Ellen's worn prayer book. Pork, tiptoeing, reached the ring in the chain and drew the lamp slowly down until the table top was brightly bathed in light and the ceiling receded into shadows. Ellen arranged her skirts and sank to the floor on her knees, laying the open prayer book on the table before her and clasping her hands upon it. Gerald knelt beside her, and Scarlett and Suellen took their accustomed places on the opposite side of the table, folding their voluminous petticoats in pads under their knees, so they would ache less from contact with the hard floor. Carreen, who was small for her age, could not kneel comfortably at the table and so knelt facing a chair, her elbows on the seat. She liked this position, for she seldom failed to go to sleep during prayers and, in this postures it escaped her mother's notice.
The house servants shuffled and rustled in the hall to kneel by the doorway, Mammy groaning aloud as she sank down, Pork straight as a ramrod, Rosa and Teena, the maids, graceful in their spreading bright calicoes, Cookie gaunt and yellow beneath her snowy head rag, and Jack, stupid with sleep, as far away from Mammy's pinching fingers as possible. Their dark eyes gleamed expectantly, for praying with their white folks was one of the events of the day. The old and colorful phrases of the litany with its Oriental imagery meant little to them but it satisfied something in their hearts, and they always swayed when they chanted the responses: "Lord, have mercy on us," "Christ, have mercy on us."
Ellen closed her eyes and began praying, her voice rising and falling, lulling and soothing. Heads bowed in the circle of yellow light as Ellen thanked God for the health and happiness of her home, her family and her negroes.
When she had finished her prayers for those beneath the roof of Tara, her father, mother, sisters, three dead babies and "all the poor souls in Purgatory," she clasped her white beads between long fingers and began the Rosary. Like the rushing of a soft wind, the responses from black throats and white throats rolled back:
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death."
Despite her heartache and the pain of unshed tears, a deep sense of quiet and peace fell upon Scarlett as it always did at this hour. Some of the disappointment of the day and the dread of the morrow departed from her, leaving a feeling of hope. It was not the lifting up of her heart to God that brought this balm, for religion went no more than lip deep with her. It was the sight of her mother's serene face upturned to the throne of God and His saints and angels, praying for blessings on those whom she loved. When Ellen intervened with Heaven, Scarlett felt certain that Heaven heard.
Ellen finished and Gerald, who could never find his beads at prayer time, began furtively counting his decade on his fingers. As his voice droned on, Scarlett's thoughts strayed, in spite of herself. She knew she should be examining her conscience. Ellen had taught her that at the end of each day it was her duty to examine her conscience thoroughly, to admit her numerous faults and pray to God for forgiveness and strength never to repeat them. But Scarlett was examining her heart.
She dropped her head upon her folded hands so that her mother could not see her face, and her thoughts went sadly back to Ashley. How could he be planning to marry Melanie when he really loved her, Scarlett? And when he knew how much she loved him? How could he deliberately break her heart?
Then, suddenly, an idea, shining and new, flashed like a comet through her brain.
"Why, Ashley hasn't an idea that I'm in love with him!"
She almost gasped aloud in the shock of its unexpectedness. Her mind stood still as if paralyzed for a long, breathless instant, and then raced forward.
"How could he know? I've always acted so prissy and ladylike and touch me not around him he probably thinks I don't care a thing about him except as a friend. Yes, that's why he's never spoken! He thinks his love is hopeless. And that's why he's looked so "
Her mind went swiftly back to those times when she had caught him looking at her in that strange manner, when the gray eyes that were such perfect curtains for his thoughts had been wide and naked and had in them a look of torment and despair.
"He's been broken hearted because he thinks I'm in love with Brent or Stuart or Cade. And probably he thinks that if he can't have me, he might as well please his family and marry Melanie. But if he knew I did love him "
Her volatile spirits shot up from deepest depression to excited happiness. This was the answer to Ashley's reticence, to his strange conduct. He didn't know! Her vanity leaped to the aid of her desire to believe, making belief a certainty. If he knew she loved him, he would hasten to her side. She had only to
"Oh!" she thought rapturously, digging her fingers into her lowered brow. "What a fool I've been not to think of this till now! I must think of some way to let him know. He wouldn't marry her if he knew I loved him! How could he?"
With a start, she realized that Gerald had finished and her mother's eyes were on her. Hastily she began her decade, telling off the beads automatically but with a depth of emotion in her voice that caused Mammy to open her eyes and shoot a searching glance at her. As she finished her prayers and Suellen, then Carreen, began their decades, her mind was still speeding onward with her entrancing new thought.
Even now, it wasn't too late! Too often the County had been scandalized by elopements when one or the other of the participating parties was practically at the altar with a third. And Ashley's engagement had not even been announced yet! Yes, there was plenty of time!
If no love lay between Ashley and Melanie but only a promise given long ago, then why wasn't it possible for him to break that promise and marry her? Surely he would do it, if he knew that she, Scarlett, loved him. She must find some way to let him know. She would find some way! And then
Scarlett came abruptly out of her dream of delight, for she had neglected to make the responses and her mother was looking at her reprovingly. As she resumed the ritual, she opened her eyes briefly and cast a quick glance around the room. The kneeling figures, the soft glow of the lamp, the dim shadows where the negroes swayed, even the familiar objects that had been so hateful to her sight an hour ago, in an instant took on the color of her own emotions, and the room seemed once more a lovely place. She would never forget this moment or this scene!
"Virgin most faithful," her mother intoned. The Litany of the Virgin was beginning, and obediently Scarlett responded: "Pray for us," as Ellen praised in soft contralto the attributes of the Mother of God.
As always since childhood, this was, for Scarlett, a moment for adoration of Ellen, rather than the Virgin. Sacrilegious though it might be, Scarlett always saw, through her closed eyes, the upturned face of Ellen and not the Blessed Virgin, as the ancient phrases were repeated. "Health of the Sick," "Seat of Wisdom," "Refuge of Sinners," "Mystical Rose" they were beautiful because they were the attributes of Ellen. But tonight, because of the exaltation of her own spirit, Scarlett found in the whole ceremonial, the softly spoken words, the murmur of the responses, a surpassing beauty beyond any that she had ever experienced before. And her heart went up to God in sincere thankfulness that a pathway for her feet had been opened out of her misery and straight to the arms of Ashley.
When the last "Amen" sounded, they all rose, somewhat stiffly, Mammy being hauled to her feet by the combined efforts of Teena and Rosa. Pork took a long spiller from the mantelpiece, lit it from the lamp flame and went into the hall. Opposite the winding stair stood a walnut sideboard, too large for use in the dining room, bearing on its wide top several lamps and a long row of candles in candlesticks. Pork lit one lamp and three candles and, with the pompous dignity of a first chamberlain of the royal bedchamber lighting a king and queen to their rooms, he led the procession up the stairs, holding the light high above his head. Ellen, on Gerald's arm, followed him, and the girls, each taking her own candlestick, mounted after them.
Scarlett entered her room, set the candle on the tall chest of drawers and fumbled in the dark closet for the dancing dress that needed stitching. Throwing it across her arm, she crossed the hall quietly. The door of her parents' bedroom was slightly ajar and, before she could knock, Ellen's voice, low but stern, came to her ears.
"Mr. O'Hara, you must dismiss Jonas Wilkerson."
Gerald exploded. "And where will I be getting another overseer who wouldn't be cheating me out of my eyeteeth?"
"He must be dismissed, immediately, tomorrow morning. Big Sam is a good foreman and he can take over the duties until you can hire another overseer."
"Ah, ha!" came Gerald's voice. "So, I understand! Then the worthy Jonas sired the "
"He must be dismissed."
"So, he is the father of Emmie Slattery's baby," thought Scarlett. "Oh, well, what else can you expect from a Yankee man and a white trash girl?"
Then, after a discreet pause which gave Gerald's splutterings time to die away, she knocked on the door and handed the dress to her mother.
By the time Scarlett had undressed and blown out the candle, her plan for tomorrow had worked itself out in every detail. It was a simple plan, for, with Gerald's single mindedness of purpose, her eyes were centered on the goal and she thought only of the most direct steps by which to reach it.
First, she would be "prideful," as Gerald had commanded. From the moment she arrived at Twelve Oaks, she would be her gayest, most spirited self. No one would suspect that she had ever been downhearted because of Ashley and Melanie. And she would flirt with every man there. That would be cruel to Ashley, but it would make him yearn for her all the more. She wouldn't overlook a man of marriageable age, from ginger whiskered old Frank Kennedy, who was Suellen's beau, on down to shy, quiet, blush ing Charles Hamilton, Melanie's brother. They would swarm around her like bees around a hive, and certainly Ashley would be drawn from Melanie to join the circle of her admirers. Then somehow she would maneuver to get a few minutes alone with him, away from the crowd. She hoped everything would work out that way, because it would be more difficult otherwise. But if Ashley didn't make the first move, she would simply have to do it herself.
When they were finally alone, he would have fresh in his mind the picture of the other men thronging about her, he would be newly impressed with the fact that every one of them wanted her, and that look of sadness and despair would be in his eyes. Then she would make him happy again by letting him discover that, popular though she was, she preferred him above any other man in all the world. And when she admitted it, modestly and sweetly, she would look a thousand things more. Of course, she would do it all in a ladylike way. She wouldn't even dream of saying to him boldly that she loved him that would never do. But the manner of telling him was a detail that troubled her not at all. She had managed such situations before and she could do it again.
Lying in the bed with the moonlight streaming dimly over her, she pictured the whole scene in her mind. She saw the look of surprise and happiness that would come over his face when he realized that she really loved him, and she heard the words he would say asking her to be his wife.
Naturally, she would have to say then that she simply couldn't think of marrying a man when he was engaged to another girl, but he would insist and finally she would let herself be persuaded. Then they would decide to run off to Jonesboro that very afternoon and
Why, by this time tomorrow night, she might be Mrs. Ashley Wilkes!
She sat up in bed, hugging her knees, and for a long happy moment she WAS Mrs. Ashley Wilkes Ashley's bride! Then a slight chill entered her heart. Suppose it didn't work out this way? Suppose Ashley didn't beg her to run away with him? Resolutely she pushed the thought from her mind.
"I won't think of that now," she said firmly. "If I think of it now, it will upset me. There's no reason why things won't come out the way I want them if he loves me. And I know he does!"
She raised her chin and her pale, black fringed eyes sparkled in the moonlight. Ellen had never told her that desire and attainment were two different matters; life had not taught her that the race was not to the swift. She lay in the silvery shadows with courage rising and made the plans that a sixteen year old makes when life has been so pleasant that defeat is an impossibility and a pretty dress and a clear complexion are weapons to vanquish fate.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
It was ten o'clock in the morning. The day was warm for April and the golden sunlight streamed brilliantly into Scarlett's room through the blue curtains of the wide windows. The cream colored walls glowed with light and the depths of the mahogany furniture gleamed deep red like wine, while the floor glistened as if it were glass, except where the rag rugs covered it and they were spots of gay color.
Already summer was in the air, the first hint of Georgia summer when the high tide of spring gives way reluctantly before a fiercer heat. A balmy, soft warmth poured into the room, heavy with velvety smells, redolent of many blossoms, of newly fledged trees and of the moist, freshly turned red earth. Through the window Scarlett could see the bright riot of the twin lanes of daffodils bordering the graveled driveway and the golden masses of yellow jessamine spreading flowery sprangles modestly to the earth like crinolines. The mockingbirds and the jays, engaged in their old feud for possession of the magnolia tree beneath her window, were bickering, the jays strident, acrimonious, the mockers sweet voiced and plaintive.
Such a glowing morning usually called Scarlett to the window, to lean arms on the broad sill and drink in the scents and sounds of Tara. But, today she had no eye for sun or azure sky beyond a hasty thought, "Thank God, it isn't raining." On the bed lay the apple green, watered silk ball dress with its festoons of ecru lace, neatly packed in a large cardboard box. It was ready to be carried to Twelve Oaks to be donned before the dancing began, but Scarlett shrugged at the sight of it. If her plans were successful, she would not wear that dress tonight. Long before the ball began, she and Ashley would be on their way to Jonesboro to be married. The troublesome question was what dress should she wear to the barbecue?
What dress would best set off her charms and make her most irresistible to Ashley? Since eight o'clock she had been trying on and rejecting dresses, and now she stood dejected and irritable in lace pantalets, linen corset cover and three billowing lace and linen petticoats. Discarded garments lay about her on the floor, the bed, the chairs, in bright heaps of color and straying ribbons.
The rose organdie with long pink sash was becoming, but she had worn it last summer when Melanie visited Twelve Oaks and she'd be sure to remember it. And might be catty enough to mention it. The black bombazine, with its puffed sleeves and princess lace collar, set off her white skin superbly, but it did make her look a trifle elderly. Scarlett peered anxiously in the mirror at her sixteen year old face as if expecting to see wrinkles and sagging chin muscles. It would never do to appear sedate and elderly before Melanie's sweet youthfulness. The lavender barred muslin was beautiful with those wide insets of lace and net about the hem, but it had never suited her type. It would suit Carreen's delicate profile and wishy washy expression perfectly, but Scarlett felt that it made her look like a schoolgirl. It would never do to appear schoolgirlish beside Melanie's poised self. The green plaid taffeta, frothing with flounces and each flounce edged in green velvet ribbon, was most becoming, in fact her favorite dress, for it darkened her eyes to emerald. But there was unmistakably a grease spot on the front of the basque. Of course, her brooch could be pinned over the spot, but perhaps Melanie had sharp eyes. There remained varicolored cotton dresses which Scarlett felt were not festive enough for the occasion, ball dresses and the green sprigged muslin she had worn yesterday. But it was an afternoon dress. It was not suitable for a barbecue, for it had only tiny puffed sleeves and the neck was low enough for a dancing dress. But there was nothing else to do but wear it. After all she was not ashamed of her neck and arms and bosom, even if it was not correct to show them in the morning.
As she stood before the mirror and twisted herself about to get a side view, she thought that there was absolutely nothing about her figure to cause her shame. Her neck was short but rounded and her arms plump and enticing. Her breasts, pushed high by her stays, were very nice breasts. She had never had to sew tiny rows of silk ruffles in the lining of her basques, as most sixteen year old girls did, to give their figures the desired curves and fullness. She was glad she had inherited Ellen's slender white hands and tiny feet, and she wished she had Ellen's height, too, but her own height pleased her very well. What a pity legs could not be shown, she thought, pulling up her petticoats and regretfully viewing them, plump and neat under pantalets. She had such nice legs. Even the girls at the Fayetteville Academy had admitted as much. And as for her waist there was no one in Fayetteville, Jonesboro or in three counties, for that matter, who had so small a waist.
The thought of her waist brought her back to practical matters. The green muslin measured seventeen inches about the waist, and Mammy had laced her for the eighteen inch bombazine. Mammy would have to lace her tighter. She pushed open the door, listened and heard Mammy's heavy tread in the downstairs hall. She shouted for her impatiently, knowing she could raise her voice with impunity, as Ellen was in the smokehouse, measuring out the day's food to Cookie.
"Some folks thinks as how Ah kin fly," grumbled Mammy, shuffling up the stairs. She entered puffing, with the expression of one who expects battle and welcomes it. In her large black hands was a tray upon which food smoked, two large yams covered with butter, a pile of buckwheat cakes dripping syrup, and a large slice of ham swimming in gravy. Catching sight of Mammy's burden, Scarlett's expression changed from one of minor irritation to obstinate belligerency. In the excitement of trying on dresses she had forgotten Mammy's ironclad rule that, before going to any party, the O'Hara girls must be crammed so full of food at home they would be unable to eat any refreshments at the party.
"It's no use. I won't eat it. You can just take it back to the kitchen."
Mammy set the tray on the table and squared herself, hands on hips.
"Yas'm, you is! Ah ain' figgerin' on havin' happen whut happen at dat las' barbecue w'en Ah wuz too sick frum dem chittlins Ah et ter fetch you no tray befo' you went. You is gwine eat eve'y bite of dis."
"I am not! Now, come here and lace me tighter because we are late already. I heard the carriage come round to the front of the house."
Mammy's tone became wheedling.
"Now, Miss Scarlett, you be good an' come eat jes'a lil. Miss Carreen an' Miss Suellen done eat all dey'n."
"They would," said Scarlett contemptuously. "They haven't any more spirit than a rabbit. But I won't! I'm through with trays. I'm not forgetting the time I ate a whole tray and went to the Calverts' and they had ice cream out of ice they'd brought all the way from Savannah, and I couldn't eat but a spoonful. I'm going to have a good time today and eat as much as I please."
At this defiant heresy, Mammy's brow lowered with indignation. What a young miss could do and what she could not do were as different as black and white in Mammy's mind; there was no middle ground of deportment between. Suellen and Carreen were clay in her powerful hands and harkened respectfully to her warning. But it had always been a struggle to teach Scarlett that most of her natural impulses were unladylike. Mammy's victories over Scarlett were hard won and represented guile unknown to the white mind.
"Ef you doan care 'bout how folks talks 'bout dis fainbly, Ah does," she rumbled. "Ah ain' gwine stand by an' have eve'ybody at de pahty sayin' how you ain' fotched up right. Ah has tole you an' tole you dat you kin allus tell a lady by dat she eat lak a bird. An' Ah ain' aimin' ter have you go ter Mist' Wilkes' an' eat lak a fe'el han' an' gobble lak a hawg."
"Mother is a lady and she eats," countered Scarlett.
"W'en you is mahied, you kin eat, too," retorted Mammy. "W'en Miss Ellen yo' age, she never et nuthin' w'en she went out, an' needer yo' Aunt Pauline nor yo' Aunt Eulalie. An' dey all done mahied. Young misses whut eats heavy mos' gener'ly doan never ketch husbands."
"I don't believe it. At that barbecue when you were sick and I didn't eat beforehand, Ashley Wilkes told me he LIKED to see a girl with a healthy appetite."
Mammy shook her head ominously.
"Whut gempmums says an' whut dey thinks is two diffunt things. An' Ah ain' noticed Mist' Ashley axing fer ter mahy you."
Scarlett scowled, started to speak sharply and then caught herself. Mammy had her there and there was no argument. Seeing the obdurate look on Scarlett's face, Mammy picked up the tray and, with the bland guile of her race, changed her tactics. As she started for the door, she sighed.
"Well'm, awright. Ah wuz tellin' Cookie w'ile she wuz a fixin' dis tray. 'You kin sho tell a lady by whut she DOAN eat,' an' Ah say ter Cookie. 'Ah ain' seed no w'ite lady who et less'n Miss Melly Hamilton did las' time she wuz visitin' Mist' Ashley' Ah means, visitin' Miss India."
Scarlett shot a look of sharp suspicion at her, but Mammy's broad face carried only a look of innocence and of regret that Scarlett was not the lady Melanie Hamilton was.
"Put down that tray and come lace me tighter," said Scarlett irritably. "And I'll try to eat a little afterwards. If I ate now I couldn't lace tight enough."
Cloaking her triumph, Mammy set down the tray.
"Whut mah lamb gwine wear?"
"That," answered Scarlett, pointing at the fluffy mass of green flowered muslin. Instantly Mammy was in arms.
"No, you ain'. It ain' fittin' fer mawnin'. You kain show yo' buzzum befo' three o'clock an' dat dress ain' got no neck an' no sleeves. An' you'll git freckled sho as you born, an' Ah ain' figgerin' on you gittin' freckled affer all de buttermilk Ah been puttin' on you all dis winter, bleachin' dem freckles you got at Savannah settin' on de beach. Ah sho gwine speak ter yo' Ma 'bout you."
"If you say one word to her before I'm dressed I won't eat a bite," said Scarlett coolly. "Mother won't have time to send me back to change once I'm dressed."
Mammy sighed resignedly, beholding herself outguessed. Between the two evils, it was better to have Scarlett wear an afternoon dress at a morning barbecue than to have her gobble like a hog.
"Hole onter sumpin' an' suck in yo' breaf," she commanded.
Scarlett obeyed, bracing herself and catching firm hold of one of the bedposts. Mammy pulled and jerked vigorously and, as the tiny circumference of whalebone girdled waist grew smaller, a proud, fond look came into her eyes.
"Ain' nobody got a wais' lak mah lamb," she said approvingly. "Eve'y time Ah pulls Miss Suellen littler dan twenty inches, she up an' faint."
"Pooh!" gasped Scarlctt, speaking with difficulty. "I never fainted in my life."
"Well, 'twouldn' do no hahm ef you wuz ter faint now an' den," advised Mammy. "You is so brash sometimes, Miss Scarlett. Ah been aimin' ter tell you, it jes' doan look good de way you doan faint 'bout snakes an' mouses an' sech. Ah doan mean round home but w'en you is out in comp'ny. An' Ah has tole you an' "
"Oh, hurry! Don't talk so much. I'll catch a husband. See if I don't, even if I don't scream and faint. Goodness, but my stays are tight! Put on the dress."
Mammy carefully dropped the twelve yards of green sprigged muslin over the mountainous petticoats and hooked up the back of the tight, low cut basque.
"You keep yo' shawl on yo' shoulders w'en you is in de sun, an' doan you go takin' off yo' hat w'en you is wahm," she commanded. "Elsewise you be comin' home lookin' brown lak Ole Miz Slattery. Now, you come eat, honey, but doan eat too fas'. No use havin' it come right back up agin."
Scarlett obediently sat down before the tray, wondering if she would be able to get any food into her stomach and still have room to breathe. Mammy plucked a large towel from the washstand and carefully tied it around Scarlett's neck, spreading the white folds over her lap. Scarlett began on the ham, because she liked ham, and forced it down.
"I wish to Heaven I was married," she said resentfully as she attacked the yams with loathing. "I'm tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I'm tired of acting like I don't eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I'm tired of saying, 'How wonderful you are!' to fool men who haven't got one half the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it. . . . I can't eat another bite."
"Try a hot cake," said Mammy inexorably.
"Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?"
"Ah specs it's kase gempmums doan know whut dey wants. Dey jes' knows whut dey thinks dey wants. An' givin' dem whut dey thinks dey wants saves a pile of mizry an' bein' a ole maid. An' dey thinks dey wants mousy lil gals wid bird's tastes an' no sense at all. It doan make a gempmum feel lak mahyin' a lady ef he suspicions she got mo' sense dan he has."
"Don't you suppose men get surprised after they're married to find that their wives do have sense?"
"Well, it's too late den. Dey's already mahied. 'Sides, gempmums specs dey wives ter have sense."
"Some day I'm going to do and say everything I want to do and say, and if people don't like it I don't care."
"No, you ain'," said Mammy grimly. "Not while Ah got breaf. You eat dem cakes. Sop dem in de gravy, honey."
"I don't think Yankee girls have to act like such fools. When we were at Saratoga last year, I noticed plenty of them acting like they had right good sense and in front of men, too."
"Yankee gals! Yas'm, Ah guess dey speaks dey minds awright, but Ah ain' noticed many of dem gittin' proposed ter at Saratoga."
"But Yankees must get married," argued Scarlett. "They don't just grow. They must get married and have children. There's too many of them."
"Men mahys dem fer dey money," said Mammy firmly.
Scarlett sopped the wheat cake in the gravy and put it in her mouth. Perhaps there was something to what Mammy said. There must be something in it, for Ellen said the same things, in different and more delicate words. In fact, the mothers of all her girl friends impressed on their daughters the necessity of being helpless, clinging, doe eyed creatures. Really, it took a lot of sense to cultivate and hold such a pose. Perhaps she had been too brash. Occasionally she had argued with Ashley and frankly aired her opinions. Perhaps this and her healthy enjoyment of walking and riding had turned him from her to the frail Melanie. Perhaps if she changed her tactics But she felt that if Ashley succumbed to premeditated feminine tricks, she could never respect him as she now did. Any man who was fool enough to fall for a simper, a faint and an "Oh, how wonderful you are!" wasn't worth having. But they all seemed to like it.
If she had used the wrong tactics with Ashley in the past well, that was the past and done with. Today she would use different ones, the right ones. She wanted him and she had only a few hours in which to get him. If fainting, or pretending to faint, would do the trick, then she would faint. If simpering, coquetry or empty headedness would attract him, she would gladly play the flirt and be more empty headed than even Cathleen Calvert. And if bolder measures were necessary, she would take them. Today was the day!
There was no one to tell Scarlett that her own personality, frighteningly vital though it was, was more attractive than any masquerade she might adopt. Had she been told, she would have been pleased but unbelieving. And the civilization of which she was a part would have been unbelieving too, for at no time, before or since, had so low a premium been placed on feminine naturalness.
As the carriage bore her down the red road toward the Wilkes plantation, Scarlett had a feeling of guilty pleasure that neither her mother nor Mammy was with the party. There would be no one at the barbecue who, by delicately lifted brows or out thrust underlip, could interfere with her plan of action. Of course, Suellen would be certain to tell tales tomorrow, but if all went as Scarlett hoped, the excitement of the family over her engagement to Ashley or her elopement would more than overbalance their displeasure. Yes, she was very glad Ellen had been forced to stay at home.
Gerald, primed with brandy, had given Jonas Wilkerson his dismissal that morning, and Ellen had remained at Tara to go over the accounts of the plantation before he took his departure. Scarlett had kissed her mother good by in the little office where she sat before the tall secretary with its paper stuffed pigeonholes. Jonas Wilkerson, hat in hand, stood beside her, his sallow tight skinned face hardly concealing the fury of hate that possessed him at being so unceremoniously turned out of the best overseer's job in the County. And all because of a bit of minor philandering. He had told Gerald over and over that Emmie Slattery's baby might have been fathered by any one of a dozen men as easily as himself an idea in which Gerald concurred but that had not altered his case so far as Ellen was concerned. Jonas hated all Southerners. He hated their cool courtesy to him and their contempt for his social status, so inadequately covered by their courtesy. He hated Ellen O'Hara above anyone else, for she was the epitome of all that he hated in Southerners.
Mammy, as head woman of the plantation, had remained to help Ellen, and it was Dilcey who rode on the driver's seat beside Toby, the girls' dancing dresses in a long box across her lap. Gerald rode beside the carriage on his big hunter, warm with brandy and pleased with himself for having gotten through with the unpleasant business of Wilkerson so speedily. He had shoved the responsibility onto Ellen, and her disappointment at missing the barbecue and the gathering of her friends did not enter his mind; for it was a fine spring day and his fields were beautiful and the birds were singing and he felt too young and frolicsome to think of anyone else. Occasionally he burst out with "Peg in a Low backed Car" and other Irish ditties or the more lugubrious lament for Robert Emmet, "She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps."
He was happy, pleasantly excited over the prospect of spending the day shouting about the Yankees and the war, and proud of his three pretty daughters in their bright spreading hoop skirts beneath foolish little lace parasols. He gave no thought to his conversation of the day before with Scarlett, for it had completely slipped his mind. He only thought that she was pretty and a great credit to him and that, today, her eyes were as green as the hills of Ireland. The last thought made him think better of himself, for it had a certain poetic ring to it, and so he favored the girls with a loud and slightly off key rendition of "The Wearin' o' the Green."
Scarlett, looking at him with the affectionate contempt that mothers feel for small swaggering sons, knew that he would be very drunk by sundown. Coming home in the dark, he would try, as usual, to jump every fence between Twelve Oaks and Tara and, she hoped, by the mercy of Providence and the good sense of his horse, would escape breaking his neck. He would disdain the bridge and swim his horse through the river and come home roaring, to be put to bed on the sofa in the office by Pork who always waited up with a lamp in the front hall on such occasions.
He would ruin his new gray broadcloth suit, which would cause him to swear horribly in the morning and tell Ellen at great length how his horse fell off the bridge in the darkness a palpable lie which would fool no one but which would be accepted by all and make him feel very clever.
Pa is a sweet, selfish, irresponsible darling, Scarlett thought, with a surge of affection for him. She felt so excited and happy this morning that she included the whole world, as well as Gerald, in her affection. She was pretty and she knew it; she would have Ashley for her own before the day was over; the sun was warm and tender and the glory of the Georgia spring was spread before her eyes. Along the roadside the blackberry brambles were concealing with softest green the savage red gulches cut by the winter's rains, and the bare granite boulders pushing up through the red earth were being draped with sprangles of Cherokee roses and compassed about by wild violets of palest purple hue. Upon the wooded hills above the river, the dogwood blossoms lay glistening and white, as if snow still lingered among the greenery. The flowering crab trees were bursting their buds and rioting from delicate white to deepest pink and, beneath the trees where the sunshine dappled the pine straw, the wild honeysuckle made a varicolored carpet of scarlet and orange and rose. There was a faint wild fragrance of sweet shrub on the breeze and the world smelled good enough to eat.
"I'll remember how beautiful this day is till I die," thought Scarlett. "Perhaps it will be my wedding day!"
And she thought with a tingling in her heart how she and Ashley might ride swiftly through this beauty of blossom and greenery this very afternoon, or tonight by moonlight, toward Jonesboro and a preacher. Of course, she would have to be remarried by a priest from Atlanta, but that would be something for Ellen and Gerald to worry about. She quailed a little as she thought how white with mortification Ellen would be at hearing that her daughter had eloped with another girl's fiance, but she knew Ellen would forgive her when she saw her happiness. And Gerald would scold and bawl but, for all his remarks of yesterday about not wanting her to marry Ashley, he would be pleased beyond words at an alliance between his family and the Wilkes.
"But that'll be something to worry about after I'm married," she thought, tossing the worry from her.
It was impossible to feel anything but palpitating joy in this warm sun, in this spring, with the chimneys of Twelve Oaks just beginning to show on the hill across the river.
"I'll live there all my life and I'll see fifty springs like this and maybe more, and I'll tell my children and my grandchildren how beautiful this spring was, lovelier than any they'll ever see." She was so happy at this thought that she joined in the last chorus of "The Wearin' o' the Green" and won Gerald's shouted approval.
"I don't know why you're so happy this morning," said Suellen crossly, for the thought still rankled in her mind that she would look far better in Scarlett's green silk dancing frock than its rightful owner would. And why was Scarlett always so selfish about lending her clothes and bonnets? And why did Mother always back her up, declaring green was not Suellen's color? "You know as well as I do that Ashley's engagement is going to be announced tonight. Pa said so this morning. And I know you've been sweet on him for months."
"That's all you know," said Scarlett, putting out her tongue and refusing to lose her good humor. How surprised Miss Sue would be by this time tomorrow morning!
"Susie, you know that's not so," protested Carreen, shocked. "It's Brent that Scarlett cares about."
Scarlett turned smiling green eyes upon her younger sister, wondering how anyone could be so sweet. The whole family knew that Carreen's thirteen year old heart was set upon Brent Tarleton, who never gave her a thought except as Scarlett's baby sister. When Ellen was not present, the O'Haras teased her to tears about him.
"Darling, I don't care a thing about Brent," declared Scarlett, happy enough to be generous. "And he doesn't care a thing about me. Why, he's waiting for you to grow up!"
Carreen's round little face became pink, as pleasure struggled with incredulity.
"Oh, Scarlett, really?"
"Scarlett, you know Mother said Carreen was too young to think about beaux yet, and there you go putting ideas in her head."
"Well, go and tattle and see if I care," replied Scarlett. "You want to hold Sissy back, because you know she's going to be prettier than you in a year or so."
"You'll be keeping civil tongues in your heads this day, or I'll be taking me crop to you," warned Gerald. "Now whist! Is it wheels I'm hearing? That'll be the Tarletons or the Fontaines."
As they neared the intersecting road that came down the thickly wooded hill from Mimosa and Fairhill, the sound of hooves and carriage wheels became plainer and clamorous feminine voices raised in pleasant dispute sounded from behind the screen of trees. Gerald, riding ahead, pulled up his horse and signed to Toby to stop the carriage where the two roads met.
"'Tis the Tarleton ladies," he announced to his daughters, his florid face abeam, for excepting Ellen there was no lady in the County he liked more than the red haired Mrs. Tarleton. "And 'tis herself at the reins. Ah, there's a woman with fine hands for a horse! Feather light and strong as rawhide, and pretty enough to kiss for all that. More's the pity none of you have such hands," he added, casting fond but reproving glances at his girls. "With Carreen afraid of the poor beasts and Sue with hands like sadirons when it comes to reins and you, Puss "
"Well, at any rate I've never been thrown," cried Scarlett indignantly. "And Mrs. Tarleton takes a toss at every hunt."
"And breaks a collar bone like a man," said Gerald. "No fainting, no fussing. Now, no more of it, for here she comes."
He stood up in his stirrups and took off his hat with a sweep, as the Tarleton carriage, overflowing with girls in bright dresses and parasols and fluttering veils, came into view, with Mrs. Tarleton on the box as Gerald had said. With her four daughters, their mammy and their ball dresses in long cardboard boxes crowding the carriage, there was no room for the coachman. And, besides, Beatrice Tarleton never willingly permitted anyone, black or white, to hold reins when her arms were out of slings. Frail, fine boned, so white of skin that her flaming hair seemed to have drawn all the color from her face into its vital burnished mass, she was nevertheless possessed of exuberant health and untiring energy. She had borne eight children, as red of hair and as full of life as she, and had raised them most successfully, so the County said, because she gave them all the loving neglect and the stern discipline she gave the colts she bred. "Curb them but don't break their spirits," was Mrs. Tarleton's motto.
She loved horses and talked horses constantly. She understood them and handled them better than any man in the County. Colts overflowed the paddock onto the front lawn, even as her eight children overflowed the rambling house on the hill, and colts and sons and daughters and hunting dogs tagged after her as she went about the plantation. She credited her horses, especially her red mare, Nellie, with human intelligence; and if the cares of the house kept her busy beyond the time when she expected to take her daily ride, she put the sugar bowl in the hands of some small pickaninny and said: "Give Nellie a handful and tell her I'll be out terrectly."
Except on rare occasions she always wore her riding habit, for whether she rode or not she always expected to ride and in that expectation put on her habit upon arising. Each morning, rain or shine, Nellie was saddled and walked up and down in front of the house, waiting for the time when Mrs. Tarleton could spare an hour away from her duties. But Fairhill was a difficult plantation to manage and spare time hard to get, and more often than not Nellie walked up and down riderless hour after hour, while Beatrice Tarleton went through the day with the skirt of her habit absently looped over her arm and six inches of shining boot showing below it.
Today, dressed in dull black silk over unfashionably narrow hoops, she still looked as though in her habit, for the dress was as severely tailored as her riding costume and the small black hat with its long black plume perched over one warm, twinkling, brown eye was a replica of the battered old hat she used for hunting.
She waved her whip when she saw Gerald and drew her dancing pair of red horses to a halt, and the four girls in the back of the carriage leaned out and gave such vociferous cries of greeting that the team pranced in alarm. To a casual observer it would seem that years had passed since the Tarletons had seen the O'Haras, instead of only two days. But they were a sociable family and liked their neighbors, especially the O'Hara girls. That is, they liked Suellen and Carreen. No girl in the County, with the possible exception of the empty headed Cathleen Calvert, really liked Scarlett.
In summers, the County averaged a barbecue and ball nearly every week, but to the red haired Tarletons with their enormous capacity for enjoying themselves, each barbecue and each ball was as exciting as if it were the first they had ever attended. They were a pretty, buxom quartette, so crammed into the carriage that their hoops and flounces overlapped and their parasols nudged and bumped together above their wide leghorn sun hats, crowned with roses and dangling with black velvet chin ribbons. All shades of red hair were represented beneath these hats, Hetty's plain red hair, Camilla's strawberry blonde, Randa's coppery auburn and small Betsy's carrot top.
"That's a fine bevy, Ma'm," said Gerald gallantly, reining his horse alongside the carriage. "But it's far they'll go to beat their mother."
Mrs. Tarleton rolled her red brown eyes and sucked in her lower lip in burlesqued appreciation, and the girls cried, "Ma, stop making eyes or we'll tell Pa!" "I vow, Mr. O'Hara, she never gives us a chance when there's a handsome man like you around!"
Scarlett laughed with the rest at these sallies but, as always, the freedom with which the Tarletons treated their mother came as a shock. They acted as if she were one of themselves and not a day over sixteen. To Scarlett, the very idea of saying such things to her own mother was almost sacrilegious. And yet and yet there was something very pleasant about the Tarleton girls' relations with their mother, and they adored her for all that they criticized and scolded and teased her. Not, Scarlett loyally hastened to tell herself, that she would prefer a mother like Mrs. Tarleton to Ellen, but still it would be fun to romp with a mother. She knew that even that thought was disrespectful to Ellen and felt ashamed of it. She knew no such troublesome thoughts ever disturbed the brains under the four flaming thatches in the carriage and, as always when she felt herself different from her neighbors, an irritated confusion fell upon her.
Quick though her brain was, it was not made for analysis, but she half consciously realized that, for all the Tarleton girls were as unruly as colts and wild as March hares, there was an unworried single mindedness about them that was part of their inheritance. On both their mother's and their father's side they were Georgians, north Georgians, only a generation away from pioneers. They were sure of themselves and of their environment. They knew instinctively what they were about, as did the Wilkeses, though in widely divergent ways, and in them there was no such conflict as frequently raged in Scarlett's bosom where the blood of a soft voiced, overbred Coast aristocrat mingled with the shrewd, earthy blood of an Irish peasant. Scarlett wanted to respect and adore her mother like an idol and to rumple her hair and tease her too. And she knew she should be altogether one way or the other. It was the same conflicting emotion that made her desire to appear a delicate and high bred lady with boys and to be, as well, a hoyden who was not above a few kisses.
"Where's Ellen this morning?" asked Mrs. Tarleton.
"She's after discharging our overseer and stayed home to go over the accounts with him. Where's himself and the lads?"
"Oh, they rode over to Twelve Oaks hours ago to sample the punch and see if it was strong enough, I dare say, as if they wouldn't have from now till tomorrow morning to do it! I'm going to ask John Wilkes to keep them overnight, even if he has to bed them down in the stable. Five men in their cups are just too much for me. Up to three, I do very well but "
Gerald hastily interrupted to change the subject. He could feel his own daughters snickering behind his back as they remembered in what condition he had come home from the Wilkeses' last barbecue the autumn before.
"And why aren't you riding today, Mrs. Tarleton? Sure, you don't look yourself at all without Nellie. It's a stentor, you are."
"A stentor, me ignorant broth of a boy!" cried Mrs. Tarleton, aping his brogue. "You mean a centaur. Stentor was a man with a voice like a brass gong."
"Stentor or centaur, 'tis no matter," answered Gerald, unruffled by his error. "And 'tis a voice like brass you have, Ma'm, when you're urging on the hounds, so it is."
"That's one on you, Ma," said Betty. "I told you you yelled like a Comanche whenever you saw a fox."
"But not as loud as you yell when Mammy washes your ears," returned Mrs. Tarleton. "And you sixteen! Well, as to why I'm not riding today, Nellie foaled early this morning."
"Did she now!" cried Gerald with real interest, his Irishman's passion for horses shining in his eyes, and Scarlett again felt the sense of shock in comparing her mother with Mrs. Tarleton. To Ellen, mares never foaled nor cows calved. In fact, hens almost didn't lay eggs. Ellen ignored these matters completely. But Mrs. Tarleton had no such reticences.
"A little filly, was it?"
"No, a fine little stallion with legs two yards long. You must ride over and see him, Mr. O'Hara. He's a real Tarleton horse. He's as red as Hetty's curls."
"And looks a lot like Betty, too," said Camilla, and then disappeared shrieking amid a welter of skirts and pantalets and bobbing hats, as Betty, who did have a long face, began pinching her.
"My fillies are feeling their oats this morning," said Mrs. Tarleton. "They've been kicking up their heels ever since we heard the news this morning about Ashley and that little cousin of his from Atlanta. What's her name? Melanie? Bless the child, she's a sweet little thing, but I can never remember either her name or her face. Our cook is the broad wife of the Wilkes butler, and he was over last night with the news that the engagement would be announced tonight and Cookie told us this morning. The girls are all excited about it, though I can't see why. Everybody's known for years that Ashley would marry her, that is, if he didn't marry one of his Burr cousins from Macon. Just like Honey Wilkes is going to marry Melanie's brother, Charles. Now, tell me, Mr. O'Hara, is it illegal for the Wilkes to marry outside of their family? Because if "
Scarlett did not hear the rest of the laughing words. For one short instant, it was as though the sun had ducked behind a cool cloud, leaving the world in shadow, taking the color out of things. The freshly green foliage looked sickly, the dogwood pallid, and the flowering crab, so beautifully pink a moment ago, faded and dreary. Scarlett dug her fingers into the upholstery of the carriage and for a moment her parasol wavered. It was one thing to know that Ashley was engaged but it was another to hear people talk about it so casually. Then her courage flowed strongly back and the sun came out again and the landscape glowed anew. She knew Ashley loved her. That was certain. And she smiled as she thought how surprised Mrs. Tarleton would be when no engagement was announced that night how surprised if there were an elopement. And she'd tell neighbors what a sly boots Scarlett was to sit there and listen to her talk about Melanie when all the time she and Ashley She dimpled at her own thoughts and Betty, who had been watching sharply the effect of her mother's words, sank back with a small puzzled frown.
"I don't care what you say, Mr. O'Hara," Mrs. Tarleton was saying emphatically. "It's all wrong, this marrying of cousins. It's bad enough for Ashley to be marrying the Hamilton child, but for Honey to be marrying that pale looking Charles Hamilton "
"Honey'll never catch anybody else if she doesn't marry Charlie," said Randa, cruel and secure in her own popularity. "She's never had another beau except him. And he's never acted very sweet on her, for all that they're engaged. Scarlett, you remember how he ran after you last Christmas "
"Don't be a cat, Miss," said her mother. "Cousins shouldn't marry, even second cousins. It weakens the strain. It isn't like horses. You can breed a mare to a brother or a sire to a daughter and get good results if you know your blood strains, but in people it just doesn't work. You get good lines, perhaps, but no stamina. You "
"Now, Ma'm, I'm taking issue with you on that! Can you name me better people than the Wilkes? And they've been intermarrying since Brian Boru was a boy."
"And high time they stopped it, for it's beginning to show. Oh, not Ashley so much, for he's a good looking devil, though even he But look at those two washed out looking Wilkes girls, poor things! Nice girls, of course, but washed out. And look at little Miss Melanie. Thin as a rail and delicate enough for the wind to blow away and no spirit at all. Not a notion of her own. 'No, Ma'm!' 'Yes, Ma'm!' That's all she has to say. You see what I mean? That family needs new blood, fine vigorous blood like my red heads or your Scarlett. Now, don't misunderstand me. The Wilkes are fine folks in their way, and you know I'm fond of them all, but be frank! They are overbred and inbred too, aren't they? They'll do fine on a dry track, a fast track, but mark my words, I don't believe the Wilkes can run on a mud track. I believe the stamina has been bred out of them, and when the emergency arises I don't believe they can run against odds. Dry weather stock. Give me a big horse who can run in any weather! And their intermarrying has made them different from other folks around here. Always fiddling with the piano or sticking their heads in a book. I do believe Ashley would rather read than hunt! Yes, I honestly believe that, Mr. O'Hara! And just look at the bones on them. Too slender. They need dams and sires with strength "
"Ah ah hum," said Gerald, suddenly and guiltily aware that the conversation, a most interesting and entirely proper one to him, would seem quite otherwise to Ellen. In fact, he knew she would never recover should she learn that her daughters had been exposed to so frank a conversation. But Mrs. Tarleton was, as usual, deaf to all other ideas when pursuing her favorite topic, breeding, whether it be horses or humans.
"I know what I'm talking about because I had some cousins who married each other and I give you my word their children all turned out as popeyed as bullfrogs, poor things. And when my family wanted me to marry a second cousin, I bucked like a colt. I said, 'No, Ma. Not for me. My children will all have spavins and heaves.' Well, Ma fainted when I said that about spavins, but I stood firm and Grandma backed me up. She knew a lot about horse breeding too, you see, and said I was right. And she helped me run away with Mr. Tarleton. And look at my children! Big and healthy and not a sickly one or a runt among them, though Boyd is only five feet ten. Now, the Wilkes "
"Not meaning to change the subject, Ma'm," broke in Gerald hurriedly, for he had noticed Carreen's bewildered look and the avid curiosity on Suellen's face and feared lest they might ask Ellen embarrassing questions which would reveal how inadequate a chaperon he was. Puss, he was glad to notice, appeared to be thinking of other matters as a lady should.
Betty Tarleton rescued him from his predicament.
"Good Heavens, Ma, do let's get on!" she cried impatiently. "This sun is broiling me and I can just hear freckles popping out on my neck."
"Just a minute, Ma'm, before you go," said Gerald. "But what have you decided to do about selling us the horses for the Troop? War may break any day now and the boys want the matter settled. It's a Clayton County troop and it's Clayton County horses we want for them. But you, obstinate creature that you are, are still refusing to sell us your fine beasts."
"Maybe there won't be any war," Mrs. Tarleton temporized, her mind diverted completely from the Wilkeses' odd marriage habits.
"Why, Ma'm, you can't "
"Ma," Betty interrupted again, "can't you and Mr. O'Hara talk about the horses at Twelve Oaks as well as here?"
"That's just it, Miss Betty," said Gerald. "And I won't be keeping you but one minute by the clock. We'll be getting to Twelve Oaks in a little bit, and every man there, old and young, wanting to know about the horses. Ah, but it's breaking me heart to see such a fine pretty lady as your mother so stingy with her beasts! Now, where's your patriotism, Mrs. Tarleton? Does the Confederacy mean nothing to you at all?"
"Ma," cried small Betsy, "Randa's sitting on my dress and I'm getting all wrinkled."
"Well, push Randa off you, Betsy, and hush. Now, listen to me, Gerald O'Hara," she retorted, her eyes beginning to snap. "Don't you go throwing the Confederacy in my face! I reckon the Confederacy means as much to me as it does to you, me with four boys in the Troop and you with none. But my boys can take care of themselves and my horses can't. I'd gladly give the horses free of charge if I knew they were going to be ridden by boys I know, gentlemen used to thoroughbreds. No, I wouldn't hesitate a minute. But let my beauties be at the mercy of back woodsmen and Crackers who are used to riding mules! No, sir! I'd have nightmares thinking they were being ridden with saddle galls and not groomed properly. Do you think I'd let ignorant fools ride my tender mouthed darlings and saw their mouths to pieces and beat them till their spirits were broken? Why, I've got goose flesh this minute, just thinking about it! No, Mr. O'Hara, you're mighty nice to want my horses, but you'd better go to Atlanta and buy some old plugs for your clodhoppers. They'll never know the difference."
"Ma, can't we please go on?" asked Camilla, joining the impatient chorus. "You know mighty well you're going to end up giving them your darlings anyhow. When Pa and the boys get through talking about the Confederacy needing them and so on, you'll cry and let them go."
Mrs. Tarleton grinned and shook the lines.
"I'll do no such thing," she said, touching the horses lightly with the whip. The carriage went off swiftly.
"That's a fine woman," said Gerald, putting on his hat and taking his place beside his own carriage. "Drive on, Toby. We'll wear her down and get the horses yet. Of course, she's right. She's right. If a man's not a gentleman, he's no business on a horse. The infantry is the place for him. But more's the pity, there's not enough planters' sons in this County to make up a full troop. What did you say, Puss?"
"Pa, please ride behind us or in front of us. You kick up such a heap of dust that we're choking," said Scarlett, who felt that she could endure conversation no longer. It distracted her from her thoughts and she was very anxious to arrange both her thoughts and her face in attractive lines before reaching Twelve Oaks. Gerald obediently put spurs to his horse and was off in a red cloud after the Tarleton carriage where he could continue his horsy conversation.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
They crossed the river and the carriage mounted the hill. Even before Twelve Oaks came into view Scarlett saw a haze of smoke hanging lazily in the tops of the tall trees and smelled the mingled savory odors of burning hickory logs and roasting pork and mutton.
The barbecue pits, which had been slowly burning since last night, would now be long troughs of rose red embers, with the meats turning on spits above them and the juices trickling down and hissing into the coals. Scarlett knew that the fragrance carried on the faint breeze came from the grove of great oaks in the rear of the big house. John Wilkes always held his barbecues there, on the gentle slope leading down to the rose garden, a pleasant shady place and a far pleasanter place, for instance, than that used by the Calverts. Mrs. Calvert did not like barbecue food and declared that the smells remained in the house for days, so her guests always sweltered on a flat unshaded spot a quarter of a mile from the house. But John Wilkes, famed throughout the state for his hospitality, really knew how to give a barbecue.
The long trestled picnic tables, covered with the finest of the Wilkeses' linen, always stood under the thickest shade, with backless benches on either side; and chairs, hassocks and cushions from the house were scattered about the glade for those who did not fancy the benches. At a distance great enough to keep the smoke away from the guests were the long pits where the meats cooked and the huge iron wash pots from which the succulent odors of barbecue sauce and Brunswick stew floated. Mr. Wilkes always had at least a dozen darkies busy running back and forth with trays to serve the guests. Over behind the barns there was always another barbecue pit, where the house servants and the coachmen and maids of the guests had their own feast of hoecakes and yams and chitterlings, that dish of hog entrails so dear to negro hearts, and, in season, watermelons enough to satiate.
As the smell of crisp fresh pork came to her, Scarlett wrinkled her nose appreciatively, hoping that by the time it was cooked she would feel some appetite. As it was she was so full of food and so tightly laced that she feared every moment she was going to belch. That would be fatal, as only old men and very old ladies could belch without fear of social disapproval.
They topped the rise and the white house reared its perfect symmetry before her, tall of columns, wide of verandas, flat of roof, beautiful as a woman is beautiful who is so sure of her charm that she can be generous and gracious to all. Scarlett loved Twelve Oaks even more than Tara, for it had a stately beauty, a mellowed dignity that Gerald's house did not possess.
The wide curving driveway was full of saddle horses and carriages and guests alighting and calling greetings to friends. Grinning negroes, excited as always at a party, were leading the animals to the barnyard to be unharnessed and unsaddled for the day. Swarms of children, black and white, ran yelling about the newly green lawn, playing hopscotch and tag and boasting how much they were going to eat. The wide hall which ran from front to back of the house was swarming with people, and as the O'Hara carriage drew up at the front steps, Scarlett saw girls in crinolines, bright as butterflies, going up and coming down the stairs from the second floor, arms about each other's waists, stopping to lean over the delicate handrail of the banisters, laughing and calling to young men in the hall below them.
Through the open French windows, she caught glimpses of the older women seated in the drawing room, sedate in dark silks as they sat fanning themselves and talking of babies and sicknesses and who had married whom and why. The Wilkes butler, Tom, was hurrying through the halls, a silver tray in his hands, bowing and grinning, as he offered tall glasses to young men in fawn and gray trousers and fine ruffled linen shirts.
The sunny front veranda was thronged with guests. Yes, the whole County was here, thought Scarlett. The four Tarleton boys and their father leaned against the tall columns, the twins, Stuart and Brent, side by side inseparable as usual, Boyd and Tom with their father, James Tarleton. Mr. Calvert was standing close by the side of his Yankee wife, who even after fifteen years in Georgia never seemed to quite belong anywhere. Everyone was very polite and kind to her because he felt sorry for her, but no one could forget that she had compounded her initial error of birth by being the governess of Mr. Calvert's children. The two Calvert boys, Raiford and Cade, were there with their dashing blonde sister, Cathleen, teasing the dark faced Joe Fontaine and Sally Munroe, his pretty bride to be. Alex and Tony Fontaine were whispering in the ears of Dimity Munroe and sending her into gales of giggles. There were families from as far as Lovejoy, ten miles away, and from Fayetteville and Jonesboro, a few even from Atlanta and Macon. The house seemed bursting with the crowd, and a ceaseless babble of talking and laughter and giggles and shrill feminine squeaks and screams rose and fell.
On the porch steps stood John Wilkes, silver haired, erect, radiating the quiet charm and hospitality that was as warm and never failing as the sun of Georgia summer. Beside him Honey Wilkes, so called because she indiscriminately addressed everyone from her father to the field hands by that endearment, fidgeted and giggled as she called greetings to the arriving guests.
Honey's nervously obvious desire to be attractive to every man in sight contrasted sharply with her father's poise, and Scarlett had the thought that perhaps there was something in what Mrs. Tarleton said, after all. Certainly the Wilkes men got the family looks. The thick deep gold lashes that set off the gray eyes of John Wilkes and Ashley were sparse and colorless in the faces of Honey and her sister India. Honey had the odd lashless look of a rabbit, and India could be described by no other word than plain.
India was nowhere to be seen, but Scarlett knew she probably was in the kitchen giving final instructions to the servants. Poor India, thought Scarlett, she's had so much trouble keeping house since her mother died that she's never had the chance to catch any beau except Stuart Tarleton, and it certainly wasn't my fault if he thought I was prettier than she.
John Wilkes came down the steps to offer his arm to Scarlett. As she descended from the carriage, she saw Suellen smirk and knew that she must have picked out Frank Kennedy in the crowd.
If I couldn't catch a better beau than that old maid in britches! she thought contemptuously, as she stepped to the ground and smiled her thanks to John Wilkes.
Frank Kennedy was hurrying to the carriage to assist Suellen, and Suellen was bridling in a way that made Scarlett want to slap her. Frank Kennedy might own more land than anyone in the County and he might have a very kind heart, but these things counted for nothing against the fact that he was forty, slight and nervous and had a thin ginger colored beard and an old maidish, fussy way about him. However, remembering her plan, Scarlett smothered her contempt and cast such a flashing smile of greeting at him that he stopped short, his arm outheld to Suellen and goggled at Scarlett in pleased bewilderment.
Scarlett's eyes searched the crowd for Ashley, even while she made pleasant small talk with John Wilkes, but he was not on the porch. There were cries of greeting from a dozen voices and Stuart and Brent Tarleton moved toward her. The Munroe girls rushed up to exclaim over her dress, and she was speedily the center of a circle of voices that rose higher and higher in efforts to be heard above the din. But where was Ashley? And Melanie and Charles? She tried not to be obvious as she looked about and peered down the hall into the laughing group inside.
As she chattered and laughed and cast quick glances into the house and the yard, her eyes fell on a stranger, standing alone in the hall, staring at her in a cool impertinent way that brought her up sharply with a mingled feeling of feminine pleasure that she had attracted a man and an embarrassed sensation that her dress was too low in the bosom. He looked quite old, at least thirty five. He was a tall man and powerfully built. Scarlett thought she had never seen a man with such wide shoulders, so heavy with muscles, almost too heavy for gentility. When her eye caught his, he smiled, showing animal white teeth below a close clipped black mustache. He was dark of face, swarthy as a pirate, and his eyes were as bold and black as any pirate's appraising a galleon to be scuttled or a maiden to be ravished. There was a cool recklessness in his face and a cynical humor in his mouth as he smiled at her, and Scarlett caught her breath. She felt that she should be insulted by such a look and was annoyed with herself because she did not feel insulted. She did not know who he could be, but there was undeniably a look of good blood in his dark face. It showed in the thin hawk nose over the full red lips, the high forehead and the wide set eyes.
She dragged her eyes away from his without smiling back, and he turned as someone called: "Rhett! Rhett Butler! Come here! I want you to meet the most hardhearted girl in Georgia."
Rhett Butler? The name had a familiar sound, somehow connected with something pleasantly scandalous, but her mind was on Ashley and she dismissed the thought.
"I must run upstairs and smooth my hair," she told Stuart and Brent, who were trying to get her cornered from the crowd. "You boys wait for me and don't run off with any other girl or I'll be furious."
She could see that Stuart was going to be difficult to handle today if she flirted with anyone else. He had been drinking and wore the arrogant looking for a fight expression that she knew from experience meant trouble. She paused in the hall to speak to friends and to greet India who was emerging from the back of the house, her hair untidy and tiny beads of perspiration on her forehead. Poor India! It would be bad enough to have pale hair and eyelashes and a jutting chin that meant a stubborn disposition, without being twenty years old and an old maid in the bargain. She wondered if India resented very much her taking Stuart away from her. Lots of people said she was still in love with him, but then you could never tell what a Wilkes was thinking about. If she did resent it, she never gave any sign of it, treating Scarlett with the same slightly aloof, kindly courtesy she had always shown her.
Scarlett spoke pleasantly to her and started up the wide stairs. As she did, a shy voice behind her called her name and, turning, she saw Charles Hamilton. He was a nice looking boy with a riot of soft brown curls on his white forehead and eyes as deep brown, as clean and as gentle as a collie dog's. He was well turned out in mustard colored trousers and black coat and his pleated shirt was topped by the widest and most fashionable of black cravats. A faint blush was creeping over his face as she turned for he was timid with girls. Like most shy men he greatly admired airy, vivacious, always at ease girls like Scarlett. She had never given him more than perfunctory courtesy before, and so the beaming smile of pleasure with which she greeted him and the two hands outstretched to his almost took his breath away.
"Why Charles Hamilton, you handsome old thing, you! I'll bet you came all the way down here from Atlanta just to break my poor heart!"
Charles almost stuttered with excitement, holding her warm little hands in his and looking into the dancing green eyes. This was the way girls talked to other boys but never to him. He never knew why but girls always treated him like a younger brother and were very kind, but never bothered to tease him. He had always wanted girls to flirt and frolic with him as they did with boys much less handsome and less endowed with this world's goods than he. But on the few occasions when this had happened he could never think of anything to say and he suffered agonies of embarrassment at his dumbness. Then he lay awake at night thinking of all the charming gallantries he might have employed; but he rarely got a second chance, for the girls left him alone after a trial or two.
Even with Honey, with whom he had an unspoken understanding of marriage when he came into his property next fall, he was diffident and silent. At times, he had an ungallant feeling that Honey's coquetries and proprietary airs were no credit to him, for she was so boy crazy he imagined she would use them on any man who gave her the opportunity. Charles was not excited over the prospect of marrying her, for she stirred in him none of the emotions of wild romance that his beloved books had assured him were proper for a lover. He had always yearned to be loved by some beautiful, dashing creature full of fire and mischief.
And here was Scarlett O'Hara teasing him about breaking her heart!
He tried to think of something to say and couldn't, and silently he blessed her because she kept up a steady chatter which relieved him of any necessity for conversation. It was too good to be true.
"Now, you wait right here till I come back, for I want to eat barbecue with you. And don't you go off philandering with those other girls, because I'm mighty jealous," came the incredible words from red lips with a dimple on each side; and briskly black lashes swept demurely over green eyes.
"I won't," he finally managed to breathe, never dreaming that she was thinking he looked like a calf waiting for the butcher.
Tapping him lightly on the arm with her folded fan, she turned to start up the stairs and her eyes again fell on the man called Rhett Butler who stood alone a few feet away from Charles. Evidently he had overheard the whole conversation, for he grinned up at her as maliciously as a tomcat, and again his eyes went over her, in a gaze totally devoid of the deference she was accustomed to.
"God's nightgown!" said Scarlett to herself in indignation, using Gerald's favorite oath. "He looks as if as if he knew what I looked like without my shimmy," and, tossing her head, she went up the steps.
In the bedroom where the wraps were laid, she found Cathleen Calvert preening before the mirror and biting her lips to make them look redder. There were fresh roses in her sash that matched her cheeks, and her cornflower blue eyes were dancing with excitement.
"Cathleen," said Scarlett, trying to pull the corsage of her dress higher, "who is that nasty man downstairs named Butler?"
"My dear, don't you know?" whispered Cathleen excitedly, a weather eye on the next room where Dilcey and the Wilkes girls' mammy were gossiping. "I can't imagine how Mr. Wilkes must feel having him here, but he was visiting Mr. Kennedy in Jonesboro something about buying cotton and, of course, Mr. Kennedy had to bring him along with him. He couldn't just go off and leave him."
"What is the matter with him?"
"My dear, he isn't received!"
Scarlett digested this in silence, for she had never before been under the same roof with anyone who was not received. It was very exciting.
"What did he do?"
"Oh, Scarlett, he has the most terrible reputation. His name is Rhett Butler and he's from Charleston and his folks are some of the nicest people there, but they won't even speak to him. Caro Rhett told me about him last summer. He isn't any kin to her family, but she knows all about him, everybody does. He was expelled from West Point. Imagine! And for things too bad for Caro to know. And then there was that business about the girl he didn't marry."
"Do tell me!"
"Darling, don't you know anything? Caro told me all about it last summer and her mama would die if she thought Caro even knew about it. Well, this Mr. Butler took a Charleston girl out buggy riding. I never did know who she was, but I've got my suspicions. She couldn't have been very nice or she wouldn't have gone out with him in the late afternoon without a chaperon. And, my dear, they stayed out nearly all night and walked home finally, saying the horse had run away and smashed the buggy and they had gotten lost in the woods. And guess what "
"I can't guess. Tell me," said Scarlett enthusiastically, hoping for the worst.
"He refused to marry her the next day!"
"Oh," said Scarlett, her hopes dashed.
"He said he hadn't er done anything to her and he didn't see why he should marry her. And, of course, her brother called him out, and Mr. Butler said he'd rather be shot than marry a stupid fool. And so they fought a duel and Mr. Butler shot the girl's brother and he died, and Mr. Butler had to leave Charleston and now nobody receives him," finished Cathleen triumphantly, and just in time, for Dilcey came back into the room to oversee the toilet of her charge.
"Did she have a baby?" whispered Scarlett in Cathleen's ear.
Cathleen shook her head violently. "But she was ruined just the same," she hissed back.
I wish I had gotten Ashley to compromise me, thought Scarlett suddenly. He'd be too much of a gentleman not to marry me. But somehow, unbidden, she had a feeling of respect for Rhett Butler for refusing to marry a girl who was a fool.
Scarlett sat on a high rosewood ottoman, under the shade of a huge oak in the rear of the house, her flounces and ruffles billowing about her and two inches of green morocco slippers all that a lady could show and still remain a lady peeping from beneath them. She had scarcely touched plate in her hands and seven cavaliers about her. The barbecue had reached its peak and the warm air was full of laughter and talk, the click of silver on porcelain and the rich heavy smells of roasting meats and redolent gravies. Occasionally when the slight breeze veered, puffs of smoke from the long barbecue pits floated over the crowd and were greeted with squeals of mock dismay from the ladies and violent flappings of palmetto fans.
Most of the young ladies were seated with partners on the long benches that faced the tables, but Scarlett, realizing that a girl has only two sides and only one man can sit on each of these sides, had elected to sit apart so she could gather about her as many men as possible.
Under the arbor sat the married women, their dark dresses decorous notes in the surrounding color and gaiety. Matrons, regardless of their ages, always grouped together apart from the bright eyed girls, beaux and laughter, for there were no married belles in the South. From Grandma Fontaine, who was belching frankly with the privilege of her age, to seventeen year old Alice Munroe, struggling against the nausea of a first pregnancy, they had their heads together in the endless genealogical and obstetrical discussions that made such gatherings very pleasant and instructive affairs.
Casting contemptuous glances at them, Scarlett thought that they looked like a clump of fat crows. Married women never had any fun. It did not occur to her that if she married Ashley she would automatically be relegated to arbors and front parlors with staid matrons in dull silks, as staid and dull as they and not a part of the fun and frolicking. Like most girls, her imagination carried her just as far as the altar and no further. Besides, she was too unhappy now to pursue an abstraction.
She dropped her eyes to her plate and nibbled daintily on a beaten biscuit with an elegance and an utter lack of appetite that would have won Mammy's approval. For all that she had a superfluity of beaux, she had never been more miserable in her life. In some way that she could not understand, her plans of last night had failed utterly so far as Ashley was concerned. She had attracted other beaux by the dozens, but not Ashley, and all the fears of yesterday afternoon were sweeping back upon her, making her heart beat fast and then slow, and color flame and whiten in her cheeks.
Ashley had made no attempt to join the circle about her, in fact she had not had a word alone with him since arriving, or even spoken to him since their first greeting. He had come forward to welcome her when she came into the back garden, but Melanie had been on his arm then, Melanie who hardly came up to his shoulder.
She was a tiny, frailly built girl, who gave the appearance of a child masquerading in her mother's enormous hoop skirts an illusion that was heightened by the shy, almost frightened look in her too large brown eyes. She had a cloud of curly dark hair which was so sternly repressed beneath its net that no vagrant tendrils escaped, and this dark mass, with its long widow's peak, accentuated the heart shape of her face. Too wide across the cheek bones, too pointed at the chin, it was a sweet, timid face but a plain face, and she had no feminine tricks of allure to make observers forget its plainness. She looked and was as simple as earth, as good as bread, as transparent as spring water. But for all her plainness of feature and smallness of stature, there was a sedate dignity about her movements that was oddly touching and far older than her seventeen years.
Her gray organdie dress, with its cherry colored satin sash, disguised with its billows and ruffles how childishly undeveloped her body was, and the yellow hat with long cherry streamers made her creamy skin glow. Her heavy earbobs with their long gold fringe hung down from loops of tidily netted hair, swinging close to her brown eyes, eyes that had the still gleam of a forest pool in winter when brown leaves shine up through quiet water.
She had smiled with timid liking when she greeted Scarlett and told her how pretty her green dress was, and Scarlett had been hard put to be even civil in reply, so violently did she want to speak alone with Ashley. Since then, Ashley had sat on a stool at Melanie's feet, apart from the other guests, and talked quietly with her, smiling the slow drowsy smile that Scarlett loved. What made matters worse was that under his smile a little sparkle had come into Melanie's eyes, so that even Scarlett had to admit that she looked almost pretty. As Melanie looked at Ashley, her plain face lit up as with an inner fire, for if ever a loving heart showed itself upon a face, it was showing now on Melanie Hamilton's.
Scarlett tried to keep her eyes from these two but could not, and after each glance she redoubled her gaiety with her cavaliers, laughing, saying daring things, teasing, tossing her head at their compliments until her earrings danced. She said "fiddle dee dee" many times, declared that the truth wasn't in any of them, and vowed that she'd never believe anything any man told her. But Ashley did not seem to notice her at all. He only looked up at Melanie and talked on, and Melanie looked down at him with an expression that radiated the fact that she belonged to him.
So, Scarlett was miserable.
To the outward eye, never had a girl less cause to be miserable. She was undoubtedly the belle of the barbecue, the center of attention. The furore she was causing among the men, coupled with the heart burnings of the other girls, would have pleased her enormously at any other time.
Charles Hamilton, emboldened by her notice, was firmly planted on her right, refusing to be dislodged by the combined efforts of the Tarleton twins. He held her fan in one hand and his untouched plate of barbecue in the other and stubbornly refused to meet the eyes of Honey, who seemed on the verge of an outburst of tears. Cade lounged gracefully on her left, plucking at her skirt to attract her attention and staring up with smoldering eyes at Stuart. Already the air was electric between him and the twins and rude words had passed. Frank Kennedy fussed about like a hen with one chick, running back and forth from the shade of the oak to the tables to fetch dainties to tempt Scarlett, as if there were not a dozen servants there for that purpose. As a result, Suellen's sullen resentment had passed beyond the point of ladylike concealment and she glowered at Scarlett. Small Carreen could have cried because, for all Scarlett's encouraging words that morning, Brent had done no more than say "Hello, Sis" and jerk her hair ribbon before turning his full attention to Scarlett. Usually he was so kind and treated her with a careless deference that made her feel grown up, and Carreen secretly dreamed of the day when she would put her hair up and her skirts down and receive him as a real beau. And now it seemed that Scarlett had him. The Munroe girls were concealing their chagrin at the defection of the swarthy Fontaine boys, but they were annoyed at the way Tony and Alex stood about the circle, jockeying for a position near Scarlett should any of the others arise from their places.
They telegraphed their disapproval of Scarlett's conduct to Hetty Tarleton by delicately raised eyebrows. "Fast" was the only word for Scarlett. Simultaneously, the three young ladies raised lacy parasols, said they had had quite enough to eat, thank you, and, laying light fingers on the arms of the men nearest them, clamored sweetly to see the rose garden, the spring and the summerhouse. This strategic retreat in good order was not lost on a woman present or observed by a man.
Scarlett giggled as she saw three men dragged out of the line of her charms to investigate landmarks familiar to the girls from childhood, and cut her eye sharply to see if Ashley had taken note. But he was playing with the ends of Melanie's sash and smiling up at her. Pain twisted Scarlett's heart. She felt that she could claw Melanie's ivory skin till the blood ran and take pleasure in doing it.
As her eyes wandered from Melanie, she caught the gaze of Rhett Butler, who was not mixing with the crowd but standing apart talking to John Wilkes. He had been watching her and when she looked at him he laughed outright. Scarlett had an uneasy feeling that this man who was not received was the only one present who knew what lay behind her wild gaiety and that it was affording him sardonic amusement. She could have clawed him with pleasure too.
"If I can just live through this barbecue till this afternoon," she thought, "all the girls will go upstairs to take naps to be fresh for tonight and I'll stay downstairs and get to talk to Ashley. Surely he must have noticed how popular I am." She soothed her heart with another hope: "Of course, he has to be attentive to Melanie because, after all, she is his cousin and she isn't popular at all, and if he didn't look out for her she'd just be a wallflower."
She took new courage at this thought and redoubled her efforts in the direction of Charles, whose brown eyes glowed down eagerly at her. It was a wonderful day for Charles, a dream day, and he had fallen in love with Scarlett with no effort at all. Before this new emotion, Honey receded into a dim haze. Honey was a shrill voiced sparrow and Scarlett a gleaming hummingbird. She teased him and favored him and asked him questions and answered them herself, so that he appeared very clever without having to say a word. The other boys were puzzled and annoyed by her obvious interest in him, for they knew Charles was too shy to hitch two consecutive words together, and politeness was being severely strained to conceal their growing rage. Everyone was smoldering, and it would have been a positive triumph for Scarlett, except for Ashley.
When the last forkful of pork and chicken and mutton had been eaten, Scarlett hoped the time had come when India would rise and suggest that the ladies retire to the house. It was two o'clock and the sun was warm overhead, but India, wearied with the three day preparations for the barbecue, was only too glad to remain sitting beneath the arbor, shouting remarks to a deaf old gentleman from Fayetteville.
A lazy somnolence descended on the crowd. The negroes idled about, clearing the long tables on which the food had been laid. The laughter and talking became less animated and groups here and there fell silent. All were waiting for their hostess to signal the end of the morning's festivities. Palmetto fans were wagging more slowly, and several gentlemen were nodding from the heat and overloaded stomachs. The barbecue was over and all were content to take their ease while sun was at its height.
In this interval between the morning party and the evening's ball, they seemed a placid, peaceful lot. Only the young men retained the restless energy which had filled the whole throng a short while before. Moving from group to group, drawling in their soft voices, they were as handsome as blooded stallions and as dangerous. The languor of midday had taken hold of the gathering, but underneath lurked tempers that could rise to killing heights in a second and flare out as quickly. Men and women, they were beautiful and wild, all a little violent under their pleasant ways and only a little tamed.
Some time dragged by while the sun grew hotter, and Scarlett and others looked again toward India. Conversation was dying out when, in the lull, everyone in the grove heard Gerald's voice raised in furious accents. Standing some little distance away from the barbecue tables, he was at the peak of an argument with John Wilkes.
"God's nightgown, man! Pray for a peaceable settlement with the Yankees after we've fired on the rascals at Fort Sumter? Peaceable? The South should show by arms that she cannot be insulted and that she is not leaving the Union by the Union's kindness but by her own strength!"
"Oh, my God!" thought Scarlett. "He's done it! Now, we'll all sit here till midnight."
In an instant, the somnolence had fled from the lounging throng and something electric went snapping through the air. The men sprang from benches and chairs, arms in wide gestures, voices clashing for the right to be heard above other voices. There had been no talk of politics or impending war all during the morning, because of Mr. Wilkes' request that the ladies should not be bored. But now Gerald had bawled the words "Fort Sumter," and every man present forgot his host's admonition.
"Of course we'll fight " "Yankee thieves " "We could lick them in a month " "Why, one Southerner can lick twenty Yankees " "Teach them a lesson they won't soon forget " "Peaceably? They won't let us go in peace " "No, look how Mr. Lincoln insulted our Commissioners!" "Yes, kept them hanging around for weeks swearing he'd have Sumter evacuated!" "They want war; we'll make them sick of war " And above all the voices, Gerald's boomed. All Scarlett could hear was "States' rights, by God!" shouted over and over. Gerald was having an excellent time, but not his daughter.
Secession, war these words long since had become acutely boring to Scarlett from much repetition, but now she hated the sound of them, for they meant that the men would stand there for hours haranguing one another and she would have no chance to corner Ashley. Of course there would be no war and the men all knew it. They just loved to talk and hear themselves talk.
Charles Hamilton had not risen with the others and, finding himself comparatively alone with Scarlett, he leaned closer and, with the daring born of new love, whispered a confession.
"Miss O'Hara I I had already decided that if we did fight, I'd go over to South Carolina and join a troop there. It's said that Mr. Wade Hampton is organizing a cavalry troop, and of course I would want to go with him. He's a splendid person and was my father's best friend."
Scarlett thought, "What am I supposed to do give three cheers?" for Charles' expression showed that he was baring his heart's secrets to her. She could think of nothing to say and so merely looked at him, wondering why men were such fools as to think women interested in such matters. He took her expression to mean stunned approbation and went on rapidly, daringly
"If I went would would you be sorry, Miss O'Hara?"
"I should cry into my pillow every night," said Scarlett, meaning to be flippant, but he took the statement at face value and went red with pleasure. Her hand was concealed in the folds of her dress and he cautiously wormed his hand to it and squeezed it, overwhelmed at his own boldness and at her acquiescence.
"Would you pray for me?"
"What a fool!" thought Scarlett bitterly, casting a surreptitious glance about her in the hope of being rescued from the conversation.
"Oh yes, indeed, Mr. Hamilton. Three Rosaries a night, at least!"
Charles gave a swift look about him, drew in his breath, stiffened the muscles of his stomach. They were practically alone and he might never get another such opportunity. And, even given another such Godsent occasion, his courage might fail him.
"Miss O'Hara I must tell you something. I I love you!"
"Um?" said Scarlett absently, trying to peer through the crowd of arguing men to where Ashley still sat talking at Melanie's feet.
"Yes!" whispered Charles, in a rapture that she had neither laughed, screamed nor fainted, as he had always imagined young girls did under such circumstances. "I love you! You are the most the most " and he found his tongue for the first time in his life. "The most beautiful girl I've ever known and the sweetest and the kindest, and you have the dearest ways and I love you with all my heart. I cannot hope that you could love anyone like me but, my dear Miss O'Hara, if you can give me any encouragement, I will do anything in the world to make you love me. I will "
Charles stopped, for he couldn't think of anything difficult enough of accomplishment to really prove to Scarlett the depth of his feeling, so he said simply: "I want to marry you."
Scarlett came back to earth with a jerk, at the sound of the word "marry." She had been thinking of marriage and of Ashley, and she looked at Charles with poorly concealed irritation. Why must this calf like fool intrude his feelings on this particular day when she was so worried she was about to lose her mind? She looked into the pleading brown eyes and she saw none of the beauty of a shy boy's first love, of the adoration of an ideal come true or the wild happiness and tenderness that were sweeping through him like a flame. Scarlett was used to men asking her to marry them, men much more attractive than Charles Hamilton, and men who had more finesse than to propose at a barbecue when she had more important matters on her mind. She only saw a boy of twenty, red as a beet and looking very silly. She wished that she could tell him how silly he looked. But automatically, the words Ellen had taught her to say in such emergencies rose to her lips and casting down her eyes, from force of long habit, she murmured: "Mr. Hamilton, I am not unaware of the honor you have bestowed on me in wanting me to become your wife, but this is all so sudden that I do not know what to say."
That was a neat way of smoothing a man's vanity and yet keeping him on the string, and Charles rose to it as though such bait were new and he the first to swallow it.
"I would wait forever! I wouldn't want you unless you were quite sure. Please, Miss O'Hara, tell me that I may hope!"
"Um," said Scarlett, her sharp eyes noting that Ashley, who had not risen to take part in the war talk, was smiling up at Melanie. If this fool who was grappling for her hand would only keep quiet for a moment, perhaps she could hear what they were saying. She must hear what they said. What did Melanie say to him that brought that look of interest to his eyes?
Charles' words blurred the voices she strained to hear.
"Oh, hush!" she hissed at him, pinching his hand and not even looking at him.
Startled, at first abashed, Charles blush ed at the rebuff and then, seeing how her eyes were fastened on his sister, he smiled. Scarlett was afraid someone might hear his words. She was naturally embarrassed and shy, and in agony lest they be overheard. Charles felt a surge of masculinity such as he had never experienced, for this was the first time in his life that he had ever embarrassed any girl. The thrill was intoxicating. He arranged his face in what he fancied was an expression of careless unconcern and cautiously returned Scarlett's pinch to show that he was man of the world enough to understand and accept her reproof.
She did not even feel his pinch, for she could hear clearly the sweet voice that was Melanie's chief charm: "I fear I cannot agree with you about Mr. Thackeray's works. He is a cynic. I fear he is not the gentleman Mr. Dickens is."
What a silly thing to say to a man, thought Scarlett, ready to giggle with relief. Why, she's no more than a bluestocking and everyone knows what men think of bluestockings. . . . The way to get a man interested and to hold his interest was to talk about him, and then gradually lead the conversation around to yourself and keep it there. Scarlett would have felt some cause for alarm if Melanie had been saying: "How wonderful you are!" or "How do you ever think of such things? My little ole brain would bust if I even tried to think about them!" But here she was, with a man at her feet, talking as seriously as if she were in church. The prospect looked brighter to Scarlett, so bright in fact that she turned beaming eyes on Charles and smiled from pure joy. Enraptured at this evidence of her affection, he grabbed up her fan and plied it so enthusiastically her hair began to blow about untidily.
"Ashley, you have not favored us with your opinion," said Jim Tarleton, turning from the group of shouting men, and with an apology Ashley excused himself and rose. There was no one there so handsome, thought Scarlett, as she marked how graceful was his negligent pose and how the sun gleamed on his gold hair and mustache. Even the older men stopped to listen to his words.
"Why, gentlemen, if Georgia fights, I'll go with her. Why else would I have joined the Troop?" he said. His gray eyes opened wide and their drowsiness disappeared in an intensity that Scarlett had never seen before. "But, like Father, I hope the Yankees will let us go in peace and that there will be no fighting " He held up his hand with a smile, as a babel of voices from the Fontaine and Tarleton boys began. "Yes, yes, I know we've been insulted and lied to but if we'd been in the Yankees' shoes and they were trying to leave the Union, how would we have acted? Pretty much the same. We wouldn't have liked it."
"There he goes again," thought Scarlett. "Always putting himself in the other fellow's shoes." To her, there was never but one fair side to an argument. Sometimes, there was no understanding Ashley.
"Let's don't be too hot headed and let's don't have any war. Most of the misery of the world has been caused by wars. And when the wars were over, no one ever knew what they were all about."
Scarlett sniffed. Lucky for Ashley that he had an unassailable reputation for courage, or else there'd be trouble. As she thought this, the clamor of dissenting voices rose up about Ashley, indignant, fiery.
Under the arbor, the deaf old gentleman from Fayetteville punched India.
"What's it all about? What are they saying?"
"War!" shouted India, cupping her hand to his ear. "They want to fight the Yankees!"
"War, is it?" he cried, fumbling about him for his cane and heaving himself out of his chair with more energy than he had shown in years. "I'll tell 'um about war. I've been there." It was not often that Mr. McRae had the opportunity to talk about war, the way his women folks shushed him.
He stumped rapidly to the group, waving his cane and shouting and, because he could not hear the voices about him, he soon had undisputed possession of the field.
"You fire eating young bucks, listen to me. You don't want to fight. I fought and I know. Went out in the Seminole War and was a big enough fool to go to the Mexican War, too. You all don't know what war is. You think it's riding a pretty horse and having the girls throw flowers at you and coming home a hero. Well, it ain't. No, sir! It's going hungry, and getting the measles and pneumonia from sleeping in the wet. And if it ain't measles and pneumonia, it's your bowels. Yes sir, what war does to a man's bowels dysentery and things like that "
The ladies were pink with blush es. Mr. McRae was a reminder of a cruder era, like Grandma Fontaine and her embarrassingly loud belches, an era everyone would like to forget.
"Run get your grandpa," hissed one of the old gentleman's daughters to a young girl standing near by. "I declare," she whispered to the fluttering matrons about her, "he gets worse every day. Would you believe it, this very morning he said to Mary and she's only sixteen: 'Now, Missy . . .'" And the voice went off into a whisper as the granddaughter slipped out to try to induce Mr. McRae to return to his seat in the shade.
Of all the group that milled about under the trees, girls smiling excitedly, men talking impassionedly, there was only one who seemed calm. Scarlett's eyes turned to Rhett Butler, who leaned against a tree, his hands shoved deep in his trouser pockets. He stood alone, since Mr. Wilkes had left his side, and had uttered no word as the conversation grew hotter. The red lips under the close clipped black mustache curled down and there was a glint of amused contempt in his black eyes contempt, as if he listened to the braggings of children. A very disagreeable smile, Scarlett thought. He listened quietly until Stuart Tarleton, his red hair tousled and his eyes gleaming, repeated: "Why, we could lick them in a month! Gentlemen always fight better than rabble. A month why, one battle "
"Gentlemen," said Rhett Butler, in a flat drawl that bespoke his Charleston birth, not moving from his position against the tree or taking his hands from his pockets, "may I say a word?"
There was contempt in his manner as in his eyes, contempt overlaid with an air of courtesy that somehow burlesqued their own manners.
The group turned toward him and accorded him the politeness always due an outsider.
"Has any one of you gentlemen ever thought that there's not a cannon factory south of the Mason Dixon Line? Or how few iron foundries there are in the South? Or woolen mills or cotton factories or tanneries? Have you thought that we would not have a single warship and that the Yankee fleet could bottle up our harbors in a week, so that we could not sell our cotton abroad? But of course you gentlemen have thought of these things."
"Why, he means the boys are a passel of fools!" thought Scarlett indignantly, the hot blood coming to her cheeks.
Evidently, she was not the only one to whom this idea occurred, for several of the boys were beginning to stick out their chins. John Wilkes casually but swiftly came back to his place beside the speaker, as if to impress on all present that this man was his guest and that, moreover, there were ladies present.
"The trouble with most of us Southerners," continued Rhett Butler, "is that we either don't travel enough or we don't profit enough by our travels. Now, of course, all you gentlemen are well traveled. But what have you seen? Europe and New York and Philadelphia and, of course, the ladies have been to Saratoga" (he bowed slightly to the group under the arbor). "You've seen the hotels and the museums and the balls and the gambling houses. And you've come home believing that there's no place like the South. As for me, I was Charleston born, but I have spent the last few years in the North." His white teeth showed in a grin, as though he realized that everyone present knew just why he no longer lived in Charleston, and cared not at all if they did know. "I have seen many things that you all have not seen. The thousands of immigrants who'd be glad to fight for the Yankees for food and a few dollars, the factories, the foundries, the shipyards, the iron and coal mines all the things we haven't got. Why, all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance. They'd lick us in a month."
For a tense moment, there was silence. Rhett Butler removed a fine linen handkerchief from his coat pocket and idly flicked dust from his sleeve. Then an ominous murmuring arose in the crowd and from under the arbor came a humming as unmistakable as that of a hive of newly disturbed bees. Even while she felt the hot blood of wrath still in her cheeks, something in Scarlett's practical mind prompted the thought that what this man said was right, and it sounded like common sense. Why, she'd never even seen a factory, or known anyone who had seen a factory. But, even if it were true, he was no gentleman to make such a statement and at a party, too, where everyone was having a good time.
Stuart Tarleton, brows lowering, came forward with Brent close at his heels. Of course, the Tarleton twins had nice manners and they wouldn't make a scene at a barbecue, even though tremendously provoked. Just the same, all the ladies felt pleasantly excited, for it was so seldom that they actually saw a scene or a quarrel. Usually they had to hear of it third hand.
"Sir," said Stuart heavily, "what do you mean?"
Rhett looked at him with polite but mocking eyes.
"I mean," he answered, "what Napoleon perhaps you've heard of him? remarked once, 'God is on the side of the strongest battalion!'" and, turning to John Wilkes, he said with courtesy that was unfeigned: "You promised to show me your library, sir. Would it be too great a favor to ask to see it now? I fear I must go back to Jonesboro early this afternoon where a bit of business calls me."
He swung about, facing the crowd, clicked his heels together and bowed like a dancing master, a bow that was graceful for so powerful a man, and as full of impertinence as a slap in the face. Then he walked across the lawn with John Wilkes, his black head in the air, and the sound of his discomforting laughter floated back to the group about the tables.
There was a startled silence and then the buzzing broke out again. India rose tiredly from her seat beneath the arbor and went toward the angry Stuart Tarleton. Scarlett could not hear what she said, but the look in her eyes as she gazed up into his lowering face gave Scarlett something like a twinge of conscience. It was the same look of belonging that Melanie wore when she looked at Ashley, only Stuart did not see it. So India did love him. Scarlett thought for an instant that if she had not flirted so blatantly with Stuart at that political speaking a year ago, he might have married India long ere this. But then the twinge passed with the comforting thought that it wasn't her fault if other girls couldn't keep their men.
Finally Stuart smiled down at India, an unwilling smile, and nodded his head. Probably India had been pleading with him not to follow Mr. Butler and make trouble. A polite tumult broke out under the trees as the guests arose, shaking crumbs from laps. The married women called to nurses and small children and gathered their broods together to take their departure, and groups of girls started off, laughing and talking, toward the house to exchange gossip in the upstairs bedrooms and to take their naps.
All the ladies except Mrs. Tarleton moved out of the back yard, leaving the shade of oaks and arbor to the men. She was detained by Gerald, Mr. Calvert and the others who wanted an answer from her about the horses for the Troop.
Ashley strolled over to where Scarlett and Charles sat, a thoughtful and amused smile on his face.
"Arrogant devil, isn't he?" he observed, looking after Butler. "He looks like one of the Borgias."
Scarlett thought quickly but could remember no family in the County or Atlanta or Savannah by that name.
"I don't know them. Is he kin to them? Who are they?"
An odd look came over Charles' face, incredulity and shame struggling with love. Love triumphed as he realized that it was enough for a girl to be sweet and gentle and beautiful, without having an education to hamper her charms, and he made swift answer: "The Borgias were Italians."
"Oh," said Scarlett, losing interest, "foreigners."
She turned her prettiest smile on Ashley, but for some reason he was not looking at her. He was looking at Charles, and there was understanding in his face and a little pity.
Scarlett stood on the landing and peered cautiously over the banisters into the hall below. It was empty. From the bedrooms on the floor above came an unending hum of low voices, rising and falling, punctuated with squeaks of laughter and, "Now, you didn't, really!" and "What did he say then?" On the beds and couches of the six great bedrooms, the girls were resting, their dresses off, their stays loosed, their hair flowing down their backs. Afternoon naps were a custom of the country and never were they so necessary as on the all day parties, beginning early in the morning and culminating in a ball. For half an hour, the girls would chatter and laugh, and then servants would pull the shutters and in the warm half gloom the talk would die to whispers and finally expire in silence broken only by soft regular breathing.
Scarlett had made certain that Melanie was lying down on the bed with Honey and Hetty Tarleton before she slipped into the hall and started down the stairs. From the window on the landing, she could see the group of men sitting under the arbor, drinking from tall glasses, and she knew they would remain there until late afternoon. Her eyes searched the group but Ashley was not among them. Then she listened and she heard his voice. As she had hoped, he was still in the front driveway bidding good by to departing matrons and children.
Her heart in her throat, she went swiftly down the stairs. What if she should meet Mr. Wilkes? What excuse could she give for prowling about the house when all the other girls were getting their beauty naps? Well, that had to be risked.
As she reached the bottom step, she heard the servants moving about in the dining room under the butler's orders, lifting out the table and chairs in preparation for the dancing. Across the wide hall was the open door of the library and she sped into it noiselessly. She could wait there until Ashley finished his adieux and then call to him when he came into the house.
The library was in semidarkness, for the blinds had been drawn against the sun. The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. It was not the place which she would have chosen for a tryst such as she hoped this one would be. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books. That is all people except Ashley. The heavy furniture rose up at her in the half light, high backed chairs with deep seats and wide arms, made for the tall Wilkes men, squatty soft chairs of velvet with velvet hassocks before them for the girls. Far across the long room before the hearth, the seven foot sofa, Ashley's favorite seat, reared its high back, like some huge sleeping animal.
She closed the door except for a crack and tried to make her heart beat more slowly. She tried to remember just exactly what she had planned last night to say to Ashley, but she couldn't recall anything. Had she thought up something and forgotten it or had she only planned that Ashley should say something to her? She couldn't remember, and a sudden cold fright fell upon her. If her heart would only stop pounding in her ears, perhaps she could think of what to say. But the quick thudding only increased as she heard him call a final farewell and walk into the front hall.
All she could think of was that she loved him everything about him, from the proud lift of his gold head to his slender dark boots, loved his laughter even when it mystified her, loved his bewildering silences. Oh, if only he would walk in on her now and take her in his arms, so she would be spared the need of saying anything. He must love her "Perhaps if I prayed " She squeezed her eyes tightly and began gabbling to herself "Hail Mary, full of grace "
"Why, Scarlett!" said Ashley's voice, breaking in through the roaring in her ears and throwing her into utter confusion. He stood in the hall peering at her through the partly opened door, a quizzical smile on his face.
"Who are you hiding from Charles or the Tarletons?"
She gulped. So he had noticed how the men had swarmed about her! How unutterably dear he was standing there with his eyes twinkling, all unaware of her excitement. She could not speak, but she put out a hand and drew him into the room. He entered, puzzled but interested. There was a tenseness about her, a glow in her eyes that he had never seen before, and even in the dim light he could see the rosy flush on her cheeks. Automatically he closed the door behind him and took her hand.
"What is it?" he said, almost in a whisper.
At the touch of his hand, she began to tremble. It was going to happen now, just as she had dreamed it. A thousand incoherent thoughts shot through her mind, and she could not catch a single one to mold into a word. She could only shake and look up into his face. Why didn't he speak?
"What is it?" he repeated. "A secret to tell me?"
Suddenly she found her tongue and just as suddenly all the years of Ellen's teachings fell away, and the forthright Irish blood of Gerald spoke from his daughter's lips.
"Yes a secret. I love you."
For an instance there was a silence so acute it seemed that neither of them even breathed. Then the trembling fell away from her, as happiness and pride surged through her. Why hadn't she done this before? How much simpler than all the ladylike maneuverings she had been taught. And then her eyes sought his.
There was a look of consternation in them, of incredulity and something more what was it? Yes, Gerald had looked that way the day his pet hunter had broken his leg and he had had to shoot him. Why did she have to think of that now? Such a silly thought. And why did Ashley look so oddly and say nothing? Then something like a well trained mask came down over his face and he smiled gallantly.
"Isn't it enough that you've collected every other man's heart here today?" he said, with the old, teasing, caressing note in his voice. "Do you want to make it unanimous? Well, you've always had my heart, you know. You cut your teeth on it."
Something was wrong all wrong! This was not the way she had planned it. Through the mad tearing of ideas round and round in her brain, one was beginning to take form. Somehow for some reason Ashley was acting as if he thought she was just flirting with him. But he knew differently. She knew he did.
"Ashley Ashley tell me you must oh, don't tease me now! Have I your heart? Oh, my dear, I lo "
His hand went across her lips, swiftly. The mask was gone.
"You must not say these things, Scarlett! You mustn't. You don't mean them. You'll hate yourself for saying them, and you'll hate me for hearing them!"
She jerked her head away. A hot swift current was running through her.
"I couldn't ever hate you. I tell you I love you and I know you must care about me because " She stopped. Never before had she seen so much misery in anyone's face. "Ashley, do you care you do, don't you?"
"Yes," he said dully. "I care."
If he had said he loathed her, she could not have been more frightened. She plucked at his sleeve, speechless.
"Scarlett," he said, "can't we go away and forget that we have ever said these things?"
"No," she whispered. "I can't. What do you mean? Don't you want to to marry me?"
He replied, "I'm going to marry Melanie."
Somehow she found that she was sitting on the low velvet chair and Ashley, on the hassock at her feet, was holding both her hands in his, in a hard grip. He was saying things things that made no sense. Her mind was quite blank, quite empty of all the thoughts that had surged through it only a moment before, and his words made no more impression than rain on glass. They fell on unhearing ears, words that were swift and tender and full of pity, like a father speaking to a hurt child.
The sound of Melanie's name caught in her consciousness and she looked into his crystal gray eyes. She saw in them the old remoteness that had always baffled her and a look of self hatred.
"Father is to announce the engagement tonight. We are to be married soon. I should have told you, but I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew had known for years. I never dreamed that you You've so many beaux. I thought Stuart "
Life and feeling and comprehension were beginning to flow back into her.
"But you just said you cared for me."
His warm hands hurt hers.
"My dear, must you make me say things that will hurt you?"
Her silence pressed him on.
"How can I make you see these things, my dear. You who are so young and unthinking that you do not know what marriage means."
"I know I love you."
"Love isn't enough to make a successful marriage when two people are as different as we are. You would want all of a man, Scarlett, his body, his heart, his soul, his thoughts. And if you did not have them, you would be miserable. And I couldn't give you all of me. I couldn't give all of me to anyone. And I would not want all of your mind and your soul. And you would be hurt, and then you would come to hate me how bitterly! You would hate the books I read and the music I loved, because they took me away from you even for a moment. And I perhaps I "
"Do you love her?"
"She is like me, part of my blood, and we understand each other. Scarlett! Scarlett! Can't I make you see that a marriage can't go on in any sort of peace unless the two people are alike?"
Some one else had said that: "Like must marry like or there'll be no happiness." Who was it? It seemed a million years since she had heard that, but it still did not make sense.
"But you said you cared."
"I shouldn't have said it."
Somewhere in her brain, a slow fire rose and rage began to blot out everything else.
"Well, having been cad enough to say it "
His face went white.
"I was a cad to say it, as I'm going to marry Melanie. I did you a wrong and Melanie a greater one. I should not have said it, for I knew you wouldn't understand. How could I help caring for you you who have all the passion for life that I have not? You who can love and hate with a violence impossible to me? Why you are as elemental as fire and wind and wild things and I "
She thought of Melanie and saw suddenly her quiet brown eyes with their far off look, her placid little hands in their black lace mitts, her gentle silences. And then her rage broke, the same rage that drove Gerald to murder and other Irish ancestors to misdeeds that cost them their necks. There was nothing in her now of the well bred Robillards who could bear with white silence anything the world might cast.
"Why don't you say it, you coward! You're afraid to marry me! You'd rather live with that stupid little fool who can't open her mouth except to say 'Yes' or 'No' and raise a passel of mealy mouthed brats just like her! Why "
"You must not say these things about Melanie!"
"'I mustn't' be damned to you! Who are you to tell me I mustn't? You coward, you cad, you You made me believe you were going to marry me "
"Be fair," his voice pleaded. "Did I ever "
She did not want to be fair, although she knew what he said was true. He had never once crossed the borders of friendliness with her and, when she thought of this fresh anger rose, the anger of hurt pride and feminine vanity. She had run after him and he would have none of her. He preferred a whey faced little fool like Melanie to her. Oh, far better that she had followed Ellen and Mammy's precepts and never, never revealed that she even liked him better anything than to be faced with this scorching shame!
She sprang to her feet, her hands clenched and he rose towering over her, his face full of the mute misery of one forced to face realities when realities are agonies.
"I shall hate you till I die, you cad you lowdown lowdown " What was the word she wanted? She could not think of any word bad enough.
"Scarlett please "
He put out his hand toward her and, as he did, she slapped him across the face with all the strength she had. The noise cracked like a whip in the still room and suddenly her rage was gone, and there was desolation in her heart.
The red mark of her hand showed plainly on his white tired face. He said nothing but lifted her limp hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he was gone before she could speak again, closing the door softly behind him.
She sat down again very suddenly, the reaction from her rage making her knees feel weak. He was gone and the memory of his stricken face would haunt her till she died.
She heard the soft muffled sound of his footsteps dying away down the long hall, and the complete enormity of her actions came over her. She had lost him forever. Now he would hate her and every time he looked at her he would remember how she threw herself at him when he had given her no encouragement at all.
"I'm as bad as Honey Wilkes," she thought suddenly, and remembered how everyone, and she more than anyone else, had laughed contemptuously at Honey's forward conduct. She saw Honey's awkward wigglings and heard her silly titters as she hung onto boys' arms, and the thought stung her to new rage, rage at herself, at Ashley, at the world. Because she hated herself, she hated them all with the fury of the thwarted and humiliated love of sixteen. Only a little true tenderness had been mixed into her love. Mostly it had been compounded out of vanity and complacent confidence in her own charms. Now she had lost and, greater than her sense of loss, was the fear that she had made a public spectacle of herself. Had she been as obvious as Honey? Was everyone laughing at her? She began to shake at the thought.
Her hand dropped to a little table beside her, fingering a tiny china rose bowl on which two china cherubs smirked. The room was so still she almost screamed to break the silence. She must do something or go mad. She picked up the bowl and hurled it viciously across the room toward the fireplace. It barely cleared the tall back of the sofa and splintered with a little crash against the marble mantelpiece.
"This," said a voice from the depths of the sofa, "is too much."
Nothing had ever startled or frightened her so much, and her mouth went too dry for her to utter a sound. She caught hold of the back of the chair, her knees going weak under her, as Rhett Butler rose from the sofa where he had been lying and made her a bow of exaggerated politeness.
"It is bad enough to have an afternoon nap disturbed by such a passage as I've been forced to hear, but why should my life be endangered?"
He was real. He wasn't a ghost. But, saints preserve us, he had heard everything! She rallied her forces into a semblance of dignity.
"Sir, you should have made known your presence."
"Indeed?" His white teeth gleamed and his bold dark eyes laughed at her. "But you were the intruder. I was forced to wait for Mr. Kennedy, and feeling that I was perhaps persona non grata in the back yard, I was thoughtful enough to remove my unwelcome presence here where I thought I would be undisturbed. But, alas!" he shrugged and laughed softly.
Her temper was beginning to rise again at the thought that this rude and impertinent man had heard everything heard things she now wished she had died before she ever uttered.
"Eavesdroppers " she began furiously.
"Eavesdroppers often hear highly entertaining and instructive things," he grinned. "From a long experience in eavesdropping, I "
"Sir," she said, "you are no gentleman!"
"An apt observation," he answered airily. "And, you, Miss, are no lady." He seemed to find her very amusing, for he laughed softly again. "No one can remain a lady after saying and doing what I have just overheard. However, ladies have seldom held any charms for me. I know what they are thinking, but they never have the courage or lack of breeding to say what they think. And that, in time, becomes a bore. But you, my dear Miss O'Hara, are a girl of rare spirit, very admirable spirit, and I take off my hat to you. I fail to understand what charms the elegant Mr. Wilkes can hold for a girl of your tempestuous nature. He should thank God on bended knee for a girl with your how did he put it? 'passion for living,' but being a poor spirited wretch "
"You aren't fit to wipe his boots!" she shouted in rage.
"And you were going to hate him all your life!" He sank down on the sofa and she heard him laughing.
If she could have killed him, she would have done it. Instead, she walked out of the room with such dignity as she could summon and banged the heavy door behind her.
She went up the stairs so swiftly that when she reached the landing, she thought she was going to faint. She stopped, clutching the banisters, her heart hammering so hard from anger, insult and exertion that it seemed about to burst through her basque. She tried to draw deep breaths but Mammy's lacings were too tight. If she should faint and they should find her here on the landing, what would they think? Oh, they'd think everything. Ashley and that vile Butler man and those nasty girls who were so jealous! For once in her life, she wished that she carried smelling salts, like the other girls, but she had never even owned a vinaigrette. She had always been so proud of never feeling giddy. She simply could not let herself faint now!
Gradually the sickening feeling began to depart. In a minute, she'd feel all right and then she'd slip quietly into the little dressing room adjoining India's room, unloose her stays and creep in and lay herself on one of the beds beside the sleeping girls. She tried to quiet her heart and fix her face into more composed lines, for she knew she must look like a crazy woman. If any of the girls were awake, they'd know something was wrong. And no one must ever, ever know that anything had happened.
Through the wide bay window on the lawn she could see the men still lounging in their chairs under the trees and in the shade of the arbor. How she envied them! How wonderful to be a man and never have to undergo miseries such as she had just passed through. As she stood watching them, hot eyed and dizzy, she heard the rapid pounding of a horse's hooves on the front drive, the scattering of gravel and the sound of an excited voice calling a question to one of the negroes. The gravel flew again and across her vision a man on horseback galloped over the green lawn toward the lazy group under the trees.
Some late come guest, but why did he ride his horse across the turf that was India's pride? She could not recognize him, but as he flung himself from the saddle and clutched John Wilkes' arm, she could see that there was excitement in every line of him. The crowd swarmed about him, tall glasses and palmetto fans abandoned on tables and on the ground. In spite of the distance, she could hear the hubbub of voices, questioning, calling, feel the fever pitch tenseness of the men. Then above the confused sounds Stuart Tarleton's voice rose, in an exultant shout "Yee aay ee!" as if he were on the hunting field. And she heard for the first time, without knowing it, the Rebel yell.
As she watched, the four Tarletons followed by the Fontaine boys broke from the group and began hurrying toward the stable, yelling as they ran, "Jeems! You, Jeems! Saddle the horses!"
"Somebody's house must have caught fire," Scarlett thought. But fire or no fire, her job was to get herself back into the bedroom before she was discovered.
Her heart was quieter now and she tiptoed up the steps into the silent hall. A heavy warm somnolence lay over the house, as if it slept at ease like the girls, until night when it would burst into its full beauty with music and candle flames. Carefully, she eased open the door of the dressing room and slipped in. Her hand was behind her, still holding the knob, when Honey Wilkes' voice, low pitched, almost in a whisper, came to her through the crack of the opposite door leading into the bedroom.
"I think Scarlett acted as fast as a girl could act today."
Scarlett felt her heart begin its mad racing again and she clutched her hand against it unconsciously, as if she would squeeze it into submission. "Eavesdroppers often hear highly instructive things," jibed a memory. Should she slip out again? Or make herself known and embarrass Honey as she deserved? But the next voice made her pause. A team of mules could not have dragged her away when she heard Melanie's voice.
"Oh, Honey, no! Don't be unkind. She's just high spirited and vivacious. I thought her most charming."
"Oh," thought Scarlett, clawing her nails into her basque. "To have that mealymouthed little mess take up for me!"
It was harder to bear than Honey's out and out cattiness. Scarlett had never trusted any woman and had never credited any woman except her mother with motives other than selfish ones. Melanie knew she had Ashley securely, so she could well afford to show such a Christian spirit. Scarlett felt it was just Melanie's way of parading her conquest and getting credit for being sweet at the same time. Scarlett had frequently used the same trick herself when discussing other girls with men, and it had never failed to convince foolish males of her sweetness and unselfishness.
"Well, Miss," said Honey tartly, her voice rising, "you must be blind."
"Hush, Honey," hissed the voice of Sally Munroe. "They'll hear you all over the house!"
Honey lowered her voice but went on.
"Well, you saw how she was carrying on with every man she could get hold of even Mr. Kennedy and he's her own sister's beau. I never saw the like! And she certainly was going after Charles." Honey giggled self consciously. "And you know, Charles and I "
"Are you really?" whispered voices excitedly.
"Well, don't tell anybody, girls not yet!"
There were more gigglings and the bed springs creaked as someone squeezed Honey. Melanie murmured something about how happy she was that Honey would be her sister.
"Well, I won't be happy to have Scarlett for my sister, because she's a fast piece if ever I saw one," came the aggrieved voice of Hefty Tarleton. "But she's as good as engaged to Stuart. Brent says she doesn't give a rap about him, but, of course, Brent's crazy about her, too."
"If you should ask me," said Honey with mysterious importance, "there's only one person she does give a rap about. And that's Ashley!"
As the whisperings merged together violently, questioning, interrupting, Scarlett felt herself go cold with fear and humiliation. Honey was a fool, a silly, a simpleton about men, but she had a feminine instinct about other women that Scarlett had underestimated. The mortification and hurt pride that she had suffered in the library with Ashley and with Rhett Butler were pin pricks to this. Men could be trusted to keep their mouths shut, even men like Mr. Butler, but with Honey Wilkes giving tongue like a hound in the field, the entire County would know about it before six o'clock. And Gerald had said only last night that he wouldn't be having the County laughing at his daughter. And how they would all laugh now! Clammy perspiration, starting under her armpits, began to creep down her ribs.
Melanie's voice, measured and peaceful, a little reproving, rose above the others.
"Honey, you know that isn't so. And it's so unkind."
"It is too, Melly, and if you weren't always so busy looking for the good in people that haven't got any good in them, you'd see it. And I'm glad it's so. It serves her right. All Scarlett O'Hara has ever done has been to stir up trouble and try to get other girls' beaux. You know mighty well she took Stuart from India and she didn't want him. And today she tried to take Mr. Kennedy and Ashley and Charles "
"I must get home!" thought Scarlett. "I must get home!"
If she could only be transferred by magic to Tara and to safety. If she could only be with Ellen, just to see her, to hold onto her skirt, to cry and pour out the whole story in her lap. If she had to listen to another word, she'd rush in and pull out Honey's straggly pale hair in big handfuls and spit on Melanie Hamilton to show her just what she thought of her charity. But she'd already acted common enough today, enough like white trash that was where all her trouble lay.
She pressed her hands hard against her skirts, so they would not rustle and backed out as stealthily as an animal. Home, she thought, as she sped down the hall, past the closed doors and still rooms, I must go home.
She was already on the front porch when a new thought brought her up sharply she couldn't go home! She couldn't run away! She would have to see it through, bear all the malice of the girls and her own humiliation and heartbreak. To run away would only give them more ammunition.
She pounded her clenched fist against the tall white pillar beside her, and she wished that she were Samson, so that she could pull down all of Twelve Oaks and destroy every person in it. She'd make them sorry. She'd show them. She didn't quite see how she'd show them, but she'd do it all the same. She'd hurt them worse than they hurt her.
For the moment, Ashley as Ashley was forgotten. He was not the tall drowsy boy she loved but part and parcel of the Wilkeses, Twelve Oaks, the County and she hated them all because they laughed. Vanity was stronger than love at sixteen and there was no room in her hot heart now for anything but hate.
"I won't go home," she thought. "I'll stay here and I'll make them sorry. And I'll never tell Mother. No, I'll never tell anybody." She braced herself to go back into the house, to reclimb the stairs and go into another bedroom.
As she turned, she saw Charles coming into the house from the other end of the long hall. When he saw her, he hurried toward her. His hair was tousled and his face near geranium with excitement.
"Do you know what's happened?" he cried, even before he reached her. "Have you heard? Paul Wilson just rode over from Jonesboro with the news!"
He paused, breathless, as he came up to her. She said nothing and only stared at him.
"Mr. Lincoln has called for men, soldiers I mean volunteers seventy five thousand of them!"
Mr. Lincoln again! Didn't men ever think about anything that really mattered? Here was this fool expecting her to be excited about Mr. Lincoln's didoes when her heart was broken and her reputation as good as ruined.
Charles stared at her. Her face was paper white and her narrow eyes blazing like emeralds. He had never seen such fire in any girl's face, such a glow in anyone's eyes.
"I'm so clumsy," he said. "I should have told you more gently. I forgot how delicate ladies are. I'm sorry I've upset you so. You don't feel faint, do you? Can I get you a glass of water?"
"No," she said, and managed a crooked smile.
"Shall we go sit on the bench?" he asked, taking her arm.
She nodded and he carefully handed her down the front steps and led her across the grass to the iron bench beneath the largest oak in the front yard. How fragile and tender women are, he thought, the mere mention of war and harshness makes them faint. The idea made him feel very masculine and he was doubly gentle as he seated her. She looked so strangely, and there was a wild beauty about her white face that set his heart leaping. Could it be that she was distressed by the thought that he might go to the war? No, that was too conceited for belief. But why did she look at him so oddly? And why did her hands shake as they fingered her lace handkerchief. And her thick sooty lashes they were fluttering just like the eyes of girls in romances he had read, fluttering with timidity and love.
He cleared his throat three times to speak and failed each time. He dropped his eyes because her own green ones met his so piercingly, almost as if she were not seeing him.
"He has a lot of money," she was thinking swiftly, as a thought and a plan went through her brain. "And he hasn't any parents to bother me and he lives in Atlanta. And if I married him right away, it would show Ashley that I didn't care a rap that I was only flirting with him. And it would just kill Honey. She'd never, never catch another beau and everybody'd laugh fit to die at her. And it would hurt Melanie, because she loves Charles so much. And it would hurt Stu and Brent " She didn't quite know why she wanted to hurt them, except that they had catty sisters. "And they'd all be sorry when I came back here to visit in a fine carriage and with lots of pretty clothes and a house of my own. And they would never, never laugh at me."
"Of course, it will mean fighting," said Charles, after several more embarrassed attempts. "But don't you fret, Miss Scarlett, it'll be over in a month and we'll have them howling. Yes, sir! Howling! I wouldn't miss it for anything. I'm afraid there won't be much of a ball tonight, because the Troop is going to meet at Jonesboro. The Tarleton boys have gone to spread the news. I know the ladies will be sorry."
She said, "Oh," for want of anything better, but it sufficed.
Coolness was beginning to come back to her and her mind was collecting itself. A frost lay over all her emotions and she thought that she would never feel anything warmly again. Why not take this pretty, flush ed boy? He was as good as anyone else and she didn't care. No, she could never care about anything again, not if she lived to be ninety.
"I can't decide now whether to go with Mr. Wade Hampton's South Carolina Legion or with the Atlanta Gate City Guard."
She said, "Oh," again and their eyes met and the fluttering lashes were his undoing.
"Will you wait for me, Miss Scarlett? It it would be Heaven just knowing that you were waiting for me until after we licked them!" He hung breathless on her words, watching the way her lips curled up at the corners, noting for the first time the shadows about these corners and thinking what it would mean to kiss them. Her hand, with palm clammy with perspiration, slid into his.
"I wouldn't want to wait," she said and her eyes were veiled.
He sat clutching her hand, his mouth wide open. Watching him from under her lashes, Scarlett thought detachedly that he looked like a gigged frog. He stuttered several times, closed his mouth and opened it again, and again became geranium colored.
"Can you possibly love me?"
She said nothing but looked down into her lap, and Charles was thrown into new states of ecstasy and embarrassment. Perhaps a man should not ask a girl such a question. Perhaps it would be unmaidenly for her to answer it. Having never possessed the courage to get himself into such a situation before, Charles was at a loss as to how to act. He wanted to shout and to sing and to kiss her and to caper about the lawn and then run tell everyone, black and white, that she loved him. But he only squeezed her hand until he drove her rings into the flesh.
"You will marry me soon, Miss Scarlett?"
"Um," she said, fingering a fold of her dress.
"Shall we make it a double wedding with Mel "
"No," she said quickly, her eyes glinting up at him ominously. Charles knew again that he had made an error. Of course, a girl wanted her own wedding not shared glory. How kind she was to overlook his blunderings. If it were only dark and he had the courage of shadows and could kiss her hand and say the things he longed to say.
"When may I speak to your father?"
"The sooner the better," she said, hoping that perhaps he would release the crushing pressure on her rings before she had to ask him to do it.
He leaped up and for a moment she thought he was going to cut a caper, before dignity claimed him. He looked down at her radiantly, his whole clean simple heart in his eyes. She had never had anyone look at her thus before and would never have it from any other man, but in her queer detachment she only thought that he looked like a calf.
"I'll go now and find your father," he said, smiling all over his face. "I can't wait. Will you excuse me dear?" The endearment came hard but having said it once, he repeated it again with pleasure.
"Yes," she said. "I'll wait here. It's so cool and nice here."
He went off across the lawn and disappeared around the house, and she was alone under the rustling oak. From the stables, men were streaming out on horseback, negro servants riding hard behind their masters. The Munroe boys tore past waving their hats, and the Fontaines and Calverts went down the road yelling. The four Tarletons charged across the lawn by her and Brent shouted: "Mother's going to give us the horses! Yee aay ee!" Turf flew and they were gone, leaving her alone again.
The white house reared its tall columns before her, seeming to withdraw with dignified aloofness from her. It would never be her house now. Ashley would never carry her over the threshold as his bride. Oh, Ashley, Ashley! What have I done? Deep in her, under layers of hurt pride and cold practicality, something stirred hurtingly. An adult emotion was being born, stronger than her vanity or her willful selfishness. She loved Ashley and she knew she loved him and she had never cared so much as in that instant when she saw Charles disappearing around the curved graveled walk.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Within two weeks Scarlett had become a wife, and within two months more she was a widow. She was soon released from the bonds she had assumed with so much haste and so little thought, but she was never again to know the careless freedom of her unmarried days. Widowhood had crowded closely on the heels of marriage but, to her dismay, motherhood soon followed.
In after years when she thought of those last days of April, 1861, Scarlett could never quite remember details. Time and events were telescoped, jumbled together like a nightmare that had no reality or reason. Till the day she died there would be blank spots in her memories of those days. Especially vague were her recollections of the time between her acceptance of Charles and her wedding. Two weeks! So short an engagement would have been impossible in times of peace. Then there would have been a decorous interval of a year or at least six months. But the South was aflame with war, events roared along as swiftly as if carried by a mighty wind and the slow tempo of the old days was gone. Ellen had wrung her hands and counseled delay, in order that Scarlett might think the matter over at greater length. But to her pleadings, Scarlett turned a sullen face and a deaf ear. Marry she would! and quickly too. Within two weeks.
Learning that Ashley's wedding had been moved up from the autumn to the first of May, so he could leave with the Troop as soon as it was called into service, Scarlett set the date of her wedding for the day before his. Ellen protested but Charles pleaded with new found eloquence, for he was impatient to be off to South Carolina to join Wade Hampton's Legion, and Gerald sided with the two young people. He was excited by the war fever and pleased that Scarlett had made so good a match, and who was he to stand in the way of young love when there was a war? Ellen, distracted, finally gave in as other mothers throughout the South were doing. Their leisured world had been turned topsy turvy, and their pleadings, prayers and advice availed nothing against the powerful forces sweeping them along.
The South was intoxicated with enthusiasm and excitement. Everyone knew that one battle would end the war and every young man hastened to enlist before the war should end hastened to marry his sweetheart before he rushed off to Virginia to strike a blow at the Yankees. There were dozens of war weddings in the County and there was little time for the sorrow of parting, for everyone was too busy and excited for either solemn thoughts or tears. The ladies were making uniforms, knitting socks and rolling bandages, and the men were drilling and shooting. Train loads of troops passed through Jonesboro daily on their way north to Atlanta and Virginia. Some detachments were gaily uniformed in the scarlets and light blues and greens of select social militia companies; some small groups were in homespun and coonskin caps; others, ununiformed, were in broadcloth and fine linen; all were half drilled, half armed, wild with excitement and shouting as though en route to a picnic. The sight of these men threw the County boys into a panic for fear the war would be over before they could reach Virginia, and preparations for the Troop's departure were speeded.
In the midst of this turmoil, preparations went forward for Scarlett's wedding and, almost before she knew it, she was clad in Ellen's wedding dress and veil, coming down the wide stairs of Tara on her father's arm, to face a house packed full with guests. Afterward she remembered, as from a dream, the hundreds of candles flaring on the walls, her mother's face, loving, a little bewildered, her lips moving in a silent prayer for her daughter's happiness, Gerald flush ed with brandy and pride that his daughter was marrying both money, a fine name and an old one and Ashley, standing at the bottom of the steps with Melanie's arm through his.
When she saw the look on his face, she thought: "This can't be real. It can't be. It's a nightmare. I'll wake up and find it's all been a nightmare. I mustn't think of it now, or I'll begin screaming in front of all these people. I can't think now. I'll think later, when I can stand it when I can't see his eyes."
It was all very dreamlike, the passage through the aisle of smiling people, Charles' scarlet face and stammering voice and her own replies, so startlingly clear, so cold. And the congratulations afterward and the kissing and the toasts and the dancing all, all like a dream. Even the feel of Ashley's kiss upon her cheek, even Melanie's soft whisper, "Now, we're really and truly sisters," were unreal. Even the excitement caused by the swooning spell that overtook Charles' plump emotional aunt, Miss Pittypat Hamilton, had the quality of a nightmare.
But when the dancing and toasting were finally ended and the dawn was coming, when all the Atlanta guests who could be crowded into Tara and the overseer's house had gone to sleep on beds, sofas and pallets on the floor and all the neighbors had gone home to rest in preparation for the wedding at Twelve Oaks the next day, then the dreamlike trance shattered like crystal before reality. The reality was the blush ing Charles, emerging from her dressing room in his nightshirt, avoiding the startled look she gave him over the high pulled sheet.
Of course, she knew that married people occupied the same bed but she had never given the matter a thought before. It seemed very natural in the case of her mother and father, but she had never applied it to herself. Now for the first time since the barbecue she realized just what she had brought on herself. The thought of this strange boy whom she hadn't really wanted to marry getting into bed with her, when her heart was breaking with an agony of regret at her hasty action and the anguish of losing Ashley forever, was too much to be borne. As he hesitatingly approached the bed she spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"I'll scream out loud if you come near me. I will! I will at the top of my voice! Get away from me! Don't you dare touch me!"
So Charles Hamilton spent his wedding night in an armchair in the corner, not too unhappily, for he understood, or thought he understood, the modesty and delicacy of his bride. He was willing to wait until her fears subsided, only only He sighed as he twisted about seeking a comfortable position, for he was going away to the war so very soon.
Nightmarish as her own wedding had been, Ashley's wedding was even worse. Scarlett stood in her apple green "second day" dress in the parlor of Twelve Oaks amid the blaze of hundreds of candles, jostled by the same throng as the night before, and saw the plain little face of Melanie Hamilton glow into beauty as she became Melanie Wilkes. Now, Ashley was gone forever. Her Ashley. No, not her Ashley now. Had he ever been hers? It was all so mixed up in her mind and her mind was so tired, so bewildered. He had said he loved her, but what was it that had separated them? If she could only remember. She had stilled the County's gossiping tongue by marrying Charles, but what did that matter now? It had seemed so important once, but now it didn't seem important at all. All that mattered was Ashley. Now he was gone and she was married to a man she not only did not love but for whom she had an active contempt.
Oh, how she regretted it all. She had often heard of people cutting off their noses to spite their faces but heretofore it had been only a figure of speech. Now she knew just what it meant. And mingled with her frenzied desire to be free of Charles and safely back at Tara, an unmarried girl again, ran the knowledge that she had only herself to blame. Ellen had tried to stop her and she would not listen.
So she danced through the night of Ashley's wedding in a daze and said things mechanically and smiled and irrelevantly wondered at the stupidity of people who thought her a happy bride and could not see that her heart was broken. Well, thank God, they couldn't see!
That night after Mammy had helped her undress and had departed and Charles had emerged shyly from the dressing room, wondering if he was to spend a second night in the horsehair chair, she burst into tears. She cried until Charles climbed into bed beside her and tried to comfort her, cried without words until no more tears would come and at last she lay sobbing quietly on his shoulder.
If there had not been a war, there would have been a week of visiting about the County, with balls and barbecues in honor of the two newly married couples before they set off to Saratoga or White Sulphur for wedding trips. If there had not been a war, Scarlett would have had third day and fourth day and fifth day dresses to wear to the Fontaine and Calvert and Tarleton parties in her honor. But there were no parties now and no wedding trips. A week after the wedding Charles left to join Colonel Wade Hampton, and two weeks later Ashley and the Troop departed, leaving the whole County bereft.
In those two weeks, Scarlett never saw Ashley alone, never had a private word with him. Not even at the terrible moment of parting, when he stopped by Tara on his way to the train, did she have a private talk. Melanie, bonneted and shawled, sedate in newly acquired matronly dignity, hung on his arm and the entire personnel of Tara, black and white, turned out to see Ashley off to the war.
Melanie said: "You must kiss Scarlett, Ashley. She's my sister now," and Ashley bent and touched her cheek with cold lips, his face drawn and taut. Scarlett could hardly take any joy from that kiss, so sullen was her heart at Melly's prompting it. Melanie smothered her with an embrace at parting.
"You will come to Atlanta and visit me and Aunt Pittypat, won't you? Oh, darling, we want to have you so much! We want to know Charlie's wife better."
Five weeks passed during which letters, shy, ecstatic, loving, came from Charles in South Carolina telling of his love, his plans for the future when the war was over, his desire to become a hero for her sake and his worship of his commander, Wade Hampton. In the seventh week, there came a telegram from Colonel Hampton himself, and then a letter, a kind, dignified letter of condolence. Charles was dead. The colonel would have wired earlier, but Charles, thinking his illness a trifling one, did not wish to have his family worried. The unfortunate boy had not only been cheated of the love he thought he had won but also of his high hopes of honor and glory on the field of battle. He had died ignominiously and swiftly of pneumonia, following measles, without ever having gotten any closer to the Yankees than the camp in South Carolina.
In due time, Charles' son was born and, because it was fashionable to name boys after their fathers' commanding officers, he was called Wade Hampton Hamilton. Scarlett had wept with despair at the knowledge that she was pregnant and wished that she were dead. But she carried the child through its time with a minimum of discomfort, bore him with little distress and recovered so quickly that Mammy told her privately it was downright common ladies should suffer more. She felt little affection for the child, hide the fact though she might. She had not wanted him and she resented his coming and, now that he was here, it did not seem possible that he was hers, a part of her.
Though she recovered physically from Wade's birth in a disgracefully short time, mentally she was dazed and sick. Her spirits drooped, despite the efforts of the whole plantation to revive them. Ellen went about with a puckered, worried forehead and Gerald swore more frequently than usual and brought her useless gifts from Jonesboro. Even old Dr. Fontaine admitted that he was puzzled, after his tonic of sulphur, molasses and herbs failed to perk her up. He told Ellen privately that it was a broken heart that made Scarlett so irritable and listless by turns. But Scarlett, had she wished to speak, could have told them that it was a far different and more complex trouble. She did not tell them that it was utter boredom, bewilderment at actually being a mother and, most of all, the absence of Ashley that made her look so woebegone.
Her boredom was acute and ever present. The County had been devoid of any entertainment or social life ever since the Troop had gone away to war. All of the interesting young men were gone the four Tarletons, the two Calverts, the Fontaines, the Munroes and everyone from Jonesboro, Fayetteville and Lovejoy who was young and attractive. Only the older men, the cripples and the women were left, and they spent their time knitting and sewing, growing more cotton and corn, raising more hogs and sheep and cows for the army. There was never a sight of a real man except when the commissary troop under Suellen's middle aged beau, Frank Kennedy, rode by every month to collect supplies. The men in the commissary were not very exciting, and the sight of Frank's timid courting annoyed her until she found it difficult to be polite to him. If he and Suellen would only get it over with!
Even if the commissary troop had been more interesting, it would not have helped her situation any. She was a widow and her heart was in the grave. At least, everyone thought it was in the grave and expected her to act accordingly. This irritated her for, try as she would, she could recall nothing about Charles except the dying calf look on his face when she told him she would marry him. And even that picture was fading. But she was a widow and she had to watch her behavior. Not for her the pleasures of unmarried girls. She had to be grave and aloof. Ellen had stressed this at great length after catching Frank's lieutenant swinging Scarlett in the garden swing and making her squeal with laughter. Deeply distressed, Ellen had told her how easily a widow might get herself talked about. The conduct of a widow must be twice as circumspect as that of a matron.
"And God only knows," thought Scarlett, listening obediently to her mother's soft voice, "matrons never have any fun at all. So widows might as well be dead."
A widow had to wear hideous black dresses without even a touch of braid to enliven them, no flower or ribbon or lace or even jewelry, except onyx mourning brooches or necklaces made from the deceased's hair. And the black crepe veil on her bonnet had to reach to her knees, and only after three years of widowhood could it be shortened to shoulder length. Widows could never chatter vivaciously or laugh aloud. Even when they smiled, it must be a sad, tragic smile. And, most dreadful of all, they could in no way indicate an interest in the company of gentlemen. And should a gentleman be so ill bred as to indicate an interest in her, she must freeze him with a dignified but well chosen reference to her dead husband. Oh, yes, thought Scarlett, drearily, some widows do remarry eventually, when they are old and stringy. Though Heaven knows how they manage it, with their neighbors watching. And then it's generally to some desperate old widower with a large plantation and a dozen children.
Marriage was bad enough, but to be widowed oh, then life was over forever! How stupid people were when they talked about what a comfort little Wade Hampton must be to her, now that Charles was gone. How stupid of them to say that now she had something to live for! Everyone talked about how sweet it was that she had this posthumous token of her love and she naturally did not disabuse their minds. But that thought was farthest from her mind. She had very little interest in Wade and sometimes it was difficult to remember that he was actually hers.
Every morning she woke up and for a drowsy moment she was Scarlett O'Hara again and the sun was bright in the magnolia outside her window and the mockers were singing and the sweet smell of frying bacon was stealing to her nostrils. She was carefree and young again. Then she heard the fretful hungry wail and always always there was a startled moment when she thought: "Why, there's a baby in the house!" Then she remembered that it was her baby. It was all very bewildering.
And Ashley! Oh, most of all Ashley! For the first time in her life, she hated Tara, hated the long red road that led down the hill to the river, hated the red fields with springing green cotton. Every foot of ground, every tree and brook, every lane and bridle path reminded her of him. He belonged to another woman and he had gone to the war, but his ghost still haunted the roads in the twilight, still smiled at her from drowsy gray eyes in the shadows of the porch. She never heard the sound of hooves coming up the river road from Twelve Oaks that for a sweet moment she did not think Ashley!
She hated Twelve Oaks now and once she had loved it. She hated it but she was drawn there, so she could hear John Wilkes and the girls talk about him hear them read his letters from Virginia. They hurt her but she had to hear them. She disliked the stiff necked India and the foolish prattling Honey and knew they disliked her equally, but she could not stay away from them. And every time she came home from Twelve Oaks, she lay down on her bed morosely and refused to get up for supper.
It was this refusal of food that worried Ellen and Mammy more than anything else. Mammy brought up tempting trays, insinuating that now she was a widow she might eat as much as she pleased, but Scarlett had no appetite.
When Dr. Fontaine told Ellen gravely that heartbreak frequently led to a decline and women pined away into the grave, Ellen went white, for that fear was what she had carried in her heart.
"Isn't there anything to be done, Doctor?"
"A change of scene will be the best thing in the world for her," said the doctor, only too anxious to be rid of an unsatisfactory patient.
So Scarlett, unenthusiastic, went off with her child, first to visit her O'Hara and Robillard relatives in Savannah and then to Ellen's sisters, Pauline and Eulalie, in Charleston. But she was back at Tara a month before Ellen expected her, with no explanation of her return. They had been kind in Savannah, but James and Andrew and their wives were old and content to sit quietly and talk of a past in which Scarlett had no interest. It was the same with the Robillards, and Charleston was terrible, Scarlett thought.
Aunt Pauline and her husband, a little old man, with a formal, brittle courtesy and the absent air of one living in an older age, lived on a plantation on the river, far more isolated than Tara. Their nearest neighbor was twenty miles away by dark roads through still jungles of cypress swamp and oak. The live oaks with their waving curtains of gray moss gave Scarlett the creeps and always brought to her mind Gerald's stories of Irish ghosts roaming in shimmering gray mists. There was nothing to do but knit all day and at night listen to Uncle Carey read aloud from the improving works of Mr. Bulwer Lytton.
Eulalie, hidden behind a high walled garden in a great house on the Battery in Charleston, was no more entertaining. Scarlett, accustomed to wide vistas of rolling red hills, felt that she was in prison. There was more social life here than at Aunt Pauline's, but Scarlett did not like the people who called, with their airs and their traditions and their emphasis on family. She knew very well they all thought she was a child of a mesalliance and wondered how a Robillard ever married a newly come Irishman. Scarlett felt that Aunt Eulalie apologized for her behind her back. This aroused her temper, for she cared no more about family than her father. She was proud of Gerald and what he had accomplished unaided except by his shrewd Irish brain.
And the Charlestonians took so much upon themselves about Fort Sumter! Good Heavens, didn't they realize that if they hadn't been silly enough to fire the shot that started the war some other fools would have done it? Accustomed to the brisk voices of upland Georgia, the drawling flat voices of the low country seemed affected to her. She thought if she ever again heard voices that said "paams" for "palms" and "hoose" for "house" and "woon't" for "won't" and "Maa and Paa" for "Ma and Pa," she would scream. It irritated her so much that during one formal call she aped Gerald's brogue to her aunt's distress. Then she went back to Tara. Better to be tormented with memories of Ashley than Charleston accents.
Ellen, busy night and day, doubling the productiveness of Tara to aid the Confederacy, was terrified when her eldest daughter came home from Charleston thin, white and sharp tongued. She had known heartbreak herself, and night after night she lay beside the snoring Gerald, trying to think of some way to lessen Scarlett's distress. Charles' aunt, Miss Pittypat Hamilton, had written her several times, urging her to permit Scarlett to come to Atlanta for a long visit, and now for the first time Ellen considered it seriously.
She and Melanie were alone in a big house "and without male protection," wrote Miss Pittypat, "now that dear Charlie has gone. Of course, there is my brother Henry but he does not make his home with us. But perhaps Scarlett has told you of Henry. Delicacy forbids my putting more concerning him on paper. Melly and I would feel so much easier and safer if Scarlett were with us. Three lonely women are better than two. And perhaps dear Scarlett could find some ease for her sorrow, as Melly is doing, by nursing our brave boys in the hospitals here and, of course, Melly and I are longing to see the dear baby. . . ."
So Scarlett's trunk was packed again with her mourning clothes and off she went to Atlanta with Wade Hampton and his nurse Prissy, a headful of admonitions as to her conduct from Ellen and Mammy and a hundred dollars in Confederate bills from Gerald. She did not especially want to go to Atlanta. She thought Aunt Pitty the silliest of old ladies and the very idea of living under the same roof with Ashley's wife was abhorrent. But the County with its memories was impossible now, and any change was welcome.
|Femme Classic Art||Part 2||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell|
As the train carried Scarlett northward that May morning in 1862, she thought that Atlanta couldn't possibly be so boring as Charleston and Savannah had been and, in spite of her distaste for Miss Pittypat and Melanie, she looked forward with some curiosity toward seeing how the town had fared since her last visit, in the winter before the war began.
Atlanta had always interested her more than any other town because when she was a child Gerald had told her that she and Atlanta were exactly the same age. She discovered when she grew older that Gerald had stretched the truth somewhat, as was his habit when a little stretching would improve a story; but Atlanta was only nine years older than she was, and that still left the place amazingly young by comparison with any other town she had ever heard of. Savannah and Charleston had the dignity of their years, one being well along in its second century and the other entering its third, and in her young eyes they had always seemed like aged grandmothers fanning themselves placidly in the sun. But Atlanta was of her own generation, crude with the crudities of youth and as headstrong and impetuous as herself.
The story Gerald had told her was based on the fact that she and Atlanta were christened in the same year. In the nine years before Scarlett was born, the town had been called, first, Terminus and then Marthasville, and not until the year of Scarlett's birth had it become Atlanta.
When Gerald first moved to north Georgia, there had been no Atlanta at all, not even the semblance of a village, and wilderness rolled over the site. But the next year, in 1836, the State had authorized the building of a railroad northwestward through the territory which the Cherokees had recently ceded. The destination of the proposed railroad, Tennessee and the West, was clear and definite, but its beginning point in Georgia was somewhat uncertain until, a year later, an engineer drove a stake in the red clay to mark the southern end of the line, and Atlanta, born Terminus, had begun.
There were no railroads then in north Georgia, and very few anywhere else. But during the years before Gerald married Ellen, the tiny settlement, twenty five miles north of Tara, slowly grew into a village and the tracks slowly pushed northward. Then the railroad building era really began. From the old city of Augusta, a second railroad was extended westward across the state to connect with the new road to Tennessee. From the old city of Savannah, a third railroad was built first to Macon, in the heart of Georgia, and then north through Gerald's own county to Atlanta, to link up with the other two roads and give Savannah's harbor a highway to the West. From the same junction point, the young Atlanta, a fourth railroad was constructed southwestward to Montgomery and Mobile.
Born of a railroad, Atlanta grew as its railroads grew. With the completion of the four lines, Atlanta was now connected with the West, with the South, with the Coast and, through Augusta, with the North and East. It had become the crossroads of travel north and south and east and west, and the little village leaped to life.
In a space of time but little longer than Scarlett's seventeen years, Atlanta had grown from a single stake driven in the ground into a thriving small city of ten thousand that was the center of attention for the whole state. The older, quieter cities were wont to look upon the bustling new town with the sensations of a hen which has hatched a duckling. Why was the place so different from the other Georgia towns? Why did it grow so fast? After all, they thought, it had nothing whatever to recommend it only its railroads and a bunch of mighty pushy people.
The people who settled the town called successively Terminus, Marthasville and Atlanta, were a pushy people. Restless, energetic people from the older sections of Georgia and from more distant states were drawn to this town that sprawled itself around the junction of the railroads in its center. They came with enthusiasm. They built their stores around the five muddy red roads that crossed near the depot. They built their fine homes on Whitehall and Washington streets and along the high ridge of land on which countless generations of moccasined Indian feet had beaten a path called the Peachtree Trail. They were proud of the place, proud of its growth, proud of themselves for making it grow. Let the older towns call Atlanta anything they pleased. Atlanta did not care.
Scarlett had always liked Atlanta for the very same reasons that made Savannah, Augusta and Macon condemn it. Like herself, the town was a mixture of the old and new in Georgia, in which the old often came off second best in its conflicts with the self willed and vigorous new. Moreover, there was something personal, exciting about a town that was born or at least christened the same year she was christened.
The night before had been wild and wet with rain, but when Scarlett arrived in Atlanta a warm sun was at work, bravely attempting to dry the streets that were winding rivers of red mud. In the open space around the depot, the soft ground had been cut and churned by the constant flow of traffic in and out until it resembled an enormous hog wallow, and here and there vehicles were mired to the hubs in the ruts. A never ceasing line of army wagons and ambulances, loading and unloading supplies and wounded from the trains, made the mud and confusion worse as they toiled in and struggled out, drivers swearing, mules plunging and mud spattering for yards.
Scarlett stood on the lower step of the train, a pale pretty figure in her black mourning dress, her crepe veil fluttering almost to her heels. She hesitated, unwilling to soil her slippers and hems, and looked about in the shouting tangle of wagons, buggies and carriages for Miss Pittypat. There was no sign of that chubby pink cheeked lady, but as Scarlett searched anxiously a spare old negro, with grizzled kinks and an air of dignified authority, came toward her through the mud, his hat in his hand.
"Dis Miss Scarlett, ain' it? Dis hyah Peter, Miss Pitty's coachman. Doan step down in dat mud," he ordered severely, as Scarlett gathered up her skirts preparatory to descending. "You is as bad as Miss Pitty an' she lak a chile 'bout gittin' her feets wet. Lemme cahy you."
He picked Scarlett up with ease despite his apparent frailness and age and, observing Prissy standing on the platform of the train, the baby in her arms, he paused: "Is dat air chile yo' nuss? Miss Scarlett, she too young ter be handlin' Mist' Charles' onlies' baby! But we ten' to dat later. You gal, foller me, an' doan you go drappin' dat baby."
Scarlett submitted meekly to being carried toward the carriage and also to the peremptory manner in which Uncle Peter criticized her and Prissy. As they went through the mud with Prissy sloshing, pouting, after them, she recalled what Charles had said about Uncle Peter.
"He went through all the Mexican campaigns with Father, nursed him when he was wounded in fact, he saved his life. Uncle Peter practically raised Melanie and me, for we were very young when Father and Mother died. Aunt Pitty had a falling out with her brother, Uncle Henry, about that time, so she came to live with us and take care of us. She is the most helpless soul just like a sweet grown up child, and Uncle Peter treats her that way. To save her life, she couldn't make up her mind about anything, so Peter makes it up for her. He was the one who decided I should have a larger allowance when I was fifteen, and he insisted that I should go to Harvard for my senior year, when Uncle Henry wanted me to take my degree at the University. And he decided when Melly was old enough to put up her hair and go to parties. He tells Aunt Pitty when it's too cold or too wet for her to go calling and when she should wear a shawl. . . . He's the smartest old darky I've ever seen and about the most devoted. The only trouble with him is that he owns the three of us, body and soul, and he knows it."
Charles' words were confirmed as Peter climbed onto the box and took the whip.
"Miss Pitty in a state bekase she din' come ter meet you. She's feared you mout not unnerstan' but Ah tole her she an' Miss Melly jes' git splashed wid mud an' ruin dey new dresses an' Ah'd 'splain ter you. Miss Scarlett, you better tek dat chile. Dat lil pickaninny gwine let it drap."
Scarlett looked at Prissy and sighed. Prissy was not the most adequate of nurses. Her recent graduation from a skinny pickaninny with brief skirts and stiffly wrapped braids into the dignity of a calico dress and starched white turban was an intoxicating affair. She would never have arrived at this eminence so early in life had not the exigencies of war and the demands of the commissary department on Tara made it impossible for Ellen to spare Mammy or Dilcey or even Rosa or Teena. Prissy had never been more than a mile away from Twelve Oaks or Tara before, and the trip on the train plus her elevation to nurse was almost more than the brain in her little black skull could bear. The twenty mile journey from Jonesboro to Atlanta had so excited her that Scarlett had been forced to hold the baby all the way. Now, the sight of so many buildings and people completed Prissy's demoralization. She twisted from side to side, pointed, bounced about and so jounced the baby that he wailed miserably.
Scarlett longed for the fat old arms of Mammy. Mammy had only to lay hands on a child and it hushed crying. But Mammy was at Tara and there was nothing Scarlett could do. It was useless for her to take little Wade from Prissy. He yelled just as loudly when she held him as when Prissy did. Besides, he would tug at the ribbons of her bonnet and, no doubt, rumple her dress. So she pretended she had not heard Uncle Peter's suggestion.
"Maybe I'll learn about babies sometime," she thought irritably, as the carriage jolted and swayed out of the morass surrounding the station, "but I'm never going to like fooling with them." And as Wade's face went purple with his squalling, she snapped crossly: "Give him that sugar tit in your pocket, Priss. Anything to make him hush. I know he's hungry, but I can't do anything about that now."
Prissy produced the sugar tit, given her that morning by Mammy, and the baby's wails subsided. With quiet restored and with the new sights that met her eyes, Scarlest's spirits began to rise a little. When Uncle Peter finally maneuvered the carriage out of the mudholes and onto Peachtree Street, she felt the first surge of interest she had known in months. How the town had grown! It was not much more than a year since she had last been here, and it did not seem possible that the little Atlanta she knew could have changed so much.
For the past year, she had been so engrossed in her own woes, so bored by any mention of war, she did not know that from the minute the fighting first began, Atlanta had been transformed. The same railroads which had made the town the crossroads of commerce in time of peace were now of vital strategic importance in time of war. Far from the battle lines, the town and its railroads provided the connecting link between the two armies of the Confederacy, the army in Virginia and the army in Tennessee and the West. And Atlanta likewise linked both of the armies with the deeper South from which they drew their supplies. Now, in response to the needs of war, Atlanta had become a manufacturing center, a hospital base and one of the South's chief depots for the collecting of food and supplies for the armies in the field.
Scarlett looked about her for the little town she remembered so well. It was gone. The town she was now seeing was like a baby grown overnight into a busy, sprawling giant.
Atlanta was humming like a beehive, proudly conscious of its importance to the Confederacy, and work was going forward night and day toward turning an agricultural section into an industrial one. Before the war there had been few cotton factories, woolen mills, arsenals and machine shops south of Maryland a fact of which all Southerners were proud. The South produced statesmen and soldiers, planters and doctors, lawyers and poets, but certainly not engineers or mechanics. Let the Yankees adopt such low callings. But now the Confederate ports were stoppered with Yankee gunboats, only a trickle of blockade run goods was slipping in from Europe, and the South was desperately trying to manufacture her own war materials. The North could call on the whole world for supplies and for soldiers, and thousands of Irish and Germans were pouring into the Union Army, lured by the bounty money offered by the North. The South could only turn in upon itself.
In Atlanta, there were machine factories tediously turning out machinery to manufacture war materials tediously, because there were few machines in the South from which they could model and nearly every wheel and cog had to be made from drawings that came through the blockade from England. There were strange faces on the streets of Atlanta now, and citizens who a year ago would have pricked up their ears at the sound of even a Western accent paid no heed to the foreign tongues of Europeans who had run the blockade to build machines and turn out Confederate munitions. Skilled men these, without whom the Confederacy would have been hard put to make pistols, rifles, cannon and powder.
Almost the pulsing of the town's heart could be felt as the work went forward night and day, pumping the materials of war up the railway arteries to the two battle fronts. Trains roared in and out of the town at all hours. Soot from the newly erected factories fell in showers on the white houses. By night, the furnaces glowed and the hammers clanged long after townsfolk were abed. Where vacant lots had been a year before, there were now factories turning out harness, saddles and shoes, ordnance supply plants making rifles and cannon, rolling mills and foundries producing iron rails and freight cars to replace those destroyed by the Yankees, and a variety of industries manufacturing spurs, bridle bits, buckles, tents, buttons, pistols and swords. Already the foundries were beginning to feel the lack of iron, for little or none came through the blockade, and the mines in Alabama were standing almost idle while the miners were at the front. There were no iron picket fences, iron summerhouses, iron gates or even iron statuary on the lawns of Atlanta now, for they had early found their way into the melting pots of the rolling mills.
Here along Peachtree Street and near by streets were the headquarters of the various army departments, each office swarming with uniformed men, the commissary, the signal corps, the mail service, the railway transport, the provost marshal. On the outskirts of town were the remount depots where horses and mules milled about in large corrals, and along side streets were the hospitals. As Uncle Peter told her about them, Scarlett felt that Atlanta must be a city of the wounded, for there were general hospitals, contagious hospitals, convalescent hospitals without number. And every day the trains just below Five Points disgorged more sick and more wounded.
The little town was gone and the face of the rapidly growing city was animated with never ceasing energy and bustle. The sight of so much hurrying made Scarlett, fresh from rural leisure and quiet, almost breathless, but she liked it. There was an exciting atmosphere about the place that uplifted her. It was as if she could actually feel the accelerated steady pulse of the town's heart beating in time with her own.
As they slowly made their way through the mudholes of the town's chief street, she noted with interest all the new buildings and the new faces. The sidewalks were crowded with men in uniform, bearing the insignia of all ranks and all service branches; the narrow street was jammed with vehicles carriages, buggies, ambulances, covered army wagons with profane drivers swearing as the mules struggled through the ruts; gray clad couriers dashed spattering through the streets from one headquarters to another, bearing orders and telegraphic dispatches; convalescents limped about on crutches, usually with a solicitous lady at either elbow; bugle and drum and barked orders sounded from the drill fields where the recruits were being turned into soldiers; and with her heart in her throat, Scarlett had her first sight of Yankee uniforms, as Uncle Peter pointed with his whip to a detachment of dejected looking bluecoats being shepherded toward the depot by a squad of Confederates with fixed bayonets, to entrain for the prison camp.
"Oh," thought Scarlett, with the first feeling of real pleasure she had experienced since the day of the barbecue, "I'm going to like it here! It's so alive and exciting!"
The town was even more alive than she realized, for there were new barrooms by the dozens; prostitutes, following the army, swarmed the town and bawdy houses were blossoming with women to the consternation of the church people. Every hotel, boarding house and private residence was crammed with visitors who had come to be near wounded relatives in the big Atlanta hospitals. There were parties and balls and bazaars every week and war weddings without number, with the grooms on furlough in bright gray and gold braid and the brides in blockade run finery, aisles of crossed swords, toasts drunk in blockaded champagne and tearful farewells. Nightly the dark tree lined streets resounded with dancing feet, and from parlors tinkled pianos where soprano voices blended with those of soldier guests in the pleasing melancholy of "The Bugles Sang Truce" and "Your Letter Came, but Came Too Late" plaintive ballads that brought exciting tears to soft eyes which had never known the tears of real grief.
As they progressed down the street, through the sucking mud, Scarlett bubbled over with questions and Peter answered them, pointing here and there with his whip, proud to display his knowledge.
"Dat air de arsenal. Yas'm, dey keeps guns an' sech lak dar. No'm, dem air ain' sto's, dey's blockade awfisses. Law, Miss Scarlett, doan you know whut blockade awfisses is? Dey's awfisses whar furriners stays dat buy us Confedruts' cotton an' ship it outer Cha'ston and Wilmin'ton an' ship us back gunpowder. No'm, Ah ain' sho whut kine of furriners dey is. Miss Pitty, she say dey is Inlish but kain nobody unnerstan a' wud dey says. Yas'm 'tis pow'ful smoky an' de soot jes' ruinin' Miss Pitty's silk cuttins. It' frum de foun'ry an' de rollin' mills. An' de noise dey meks at night! Kain nobody sleep. No'm, Ah kain stop fer you ter look around. Ah done promise Miss Pitty Ah bring you straight home. . . . Miss Scarlett, mek yo' cu'tsy. Dar's Miss Merriwether an' Miss Elsing a bowin' to you."
Scarlett vaguely remembered two ladies of those names who came from Atlanta to Tara to attend her wedding and she remembered that they were Miss Pittypat's best friends. So she turned quickly where Uncle Peter pointed and bowed. The two were sitting in a carriage outside a drygoods store. The proprietor and two clerks stood on the sidewalk with armfuls of bolts of cotton cloth they had been displaying. Mrs. Merriwether was a tall, stout woman and so tightly corseted that her bust jutted forward like the prow of a ship. Her iron gray hair was eked out by a curled false fringe that was proudly brown and disdained to match the rest of her hair. She had a round, highly colored face in which was combined good natured shrewdness and the habit of command. Mrs. Elsing was younger, a thin frail woman, who had been a beauty, and about her there still clung a faded freshness, a dainty imperious air.
These two ladies with a third, Mrs. Whiting, were the pillars of Atlanta. They ran the three churches to which they belonged, the clergy, the choirs and the parishioners. They organized bazaars and presided over sewing circles, they chaperoned balls and picnics, they knew who made good matches and who did not, who drank secretly, who were to have babies and when. They were authorities on the genealogies of everyone who was anyone in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia and did not bother their heads about the other states, because they believed that no one who was anybody ever came from states other than these three. They knew what was decorous behavior and what was not and they never failed to make their opinions known Mrs. Merriwether at the top of her voice, Mrs. Elsing in an elegant die away drawl and Mrs. Whiting in a distressed whisper which showed how much she hated to speak of such things. These three ladies disliked and distrusted one another as heartily as the First Triumvirate of Rome, and their close alliance was probably for the same reason.
"I told Pitty I had to have you in my hospital," called Mrs. Merriweather, smiling. "Don't you go promising Mrs. Meade or Mrs. Whiting!"
"I won't," said Scarlett, having no idea what Mrs. Merriwether was talking about but feeling a glow of warmth at being welcomed and wanted. "I hope to see you again soon."
The carriage plowed its way farther and halted for a moment to permit two ladies with baskets of bandages on their arms to pick precarious passages across the sloppy street on stepping stones. At the same moment, Scarlett's eye was caught by a figure on the sidewalk in a brightly colored dress too bright for street wear covered by a Paisley shawl with fringes to the heels. Turning she saw a tall handsome woman with a bold face and a mass of red hair, too red to be true. It was the first time she had ever seen any woman who she knew for certain had "done something to her hair" and she watched her, fascinated.
"Uncle Peter, who is that?" she whispered.
"Ah doan know."
"You do, too. I can tell. Who is she?"
"Her name Belle Watling," said Uncle Peter, his lower lip beginning to protrude.
Scarlett was quick to catch the fact that he had not preceded the name with "Miss" or "Mrs."
"Who is she?"
"Miss Scarlett," said Peter darkly, laying the whip on the startled horse, "Miss Pitty ain' gwine ter lak it you astin' questions dat ain' none of yo' bizness. Dey's a passel of no count folks in dis town now dat it ain' no use talkin' about."
"Good Heavens!" thought Scarlett, reproved into silence. "That must be a bad woman!"
She had never seen a bad woman before and she twisted her head and stared after her until she was lost in the crowd.
The stores and the new war buildings were farther apart now, with vacant lots between. Finally the business section fell behind and the residences came into view. Scarlett picked them out as old friends, the Leyden house, dignified and stately; the Bonnells', with little white columns and green blinds; the close lipped red brick Georgian home of the McLure family, behind its low box hedges. Their progress was slower now, for from porches and gardens and sidewalks ladies called to her. Some she knew slightly, others she vaguely remembered, but most of them she knew not at all. Pittypat had certainly broadcast her arrival. Little Wade had to be held up time and again, so that ladies who ventured as far through the ooze as their carriage blocks could exclaim over him. They all cried to her that she must join their knitting and sewing circles and their hospital committees, and no one else's, and she promised recklessly to right and left.
As they passed a rambling green clapboard house, a little black girl posted on the front steps cried, "Hyah she come," and Dr. Meade and his wife and little thirteen year old Phil emerged, calling greetings. Scarlett recalled that they too had been at her wedding. Mrs. Meade mounted her carriage block and craned her neck for a view of the baby, but the doctor, disregarding the mud, plowed through to the side of the carriage. He was tall and gaunt and wore a pointed beard of iron gray, and his clothes hung on his spare figure as though blown there by a hurricane. Atlanta considered him the root of all strength and all wisdom and it was not strange that he had absorbed something of their belief. But for all his habit of making oracular statements and his slightly pompous manner, he was as kindly a man as the town possessed.
After shaking her hand and prodding Wade in the stomach and complimenting him, the doctor announced that Aunt Pittypat had promised on oath that Scarlett should be on no other hospital and bandage rolling committee save Mrs. Meade's.
"Oh, dear, but I've promised a thousand ladies already!" said Scarlett.
"Mrs. Merriwether, I'll be bound!" cried Mrs. Meade indignantly. "Drat the woman! I believe she meets every train!"
"I promised because I hadn't a notion what it was all about," Scarlett confessed. "What are hospital committees anyway?"
Both the doctor and his wife looked slightly shocked at her ignorance.
"But, of course, you've been buried in the country and couldn't know," Mrs. Meade apologized for her. "We have nursing committees for different hospitals and for different days. We nurse the men and help the doctors and make bandages and clothes and when the men are well enough to leave the hospitals we take them into our homes to convalesce till they are able to go back in the army. And we look after the wives and families of some of the wounded who are destitute yes, worse than destitute. Dr. Meade is at the Institute hospital where my committee works, and everyone says he's marvelous and "
"There, there, Mrs. Meade," said the doctor fondly. "Don't go bragging on me in front of folks. It's little enough I can do, since you wouldn't let me go in the army."
"'Wouldn't let!'" she cried indignantly. "Me? The town wouldn't let you and you know it. Why, Scarlett, when folks heard he was intending to go to Virginia as an army surgeon, all the ladies signed a petition begging him to stay here. Of course, the town couldn't do without you."
"There, there, Mrs. Meade," said the doctor, basking obviously in the praise. "Perhaps with one boy at the front, that's enough for the time being."
"And I'm going next year!" cried little Phil hopping about excitedly. "As a drummer boy. I'm learning how to drum now. Do you want to hear me? I'll run get my drum."
"No, not now," said Mrs. Meade, drawing him closer to her, a sudden look of strain coming over her face. "Not next year, darling. Maybe the year after."
"But the war will be over then!" he cried petulantly, pulling away from her. "And you promised!"
Over his head the eyes of the parents met and Scarlett saw the look. Darcy Meade was in Virginia and they were clinging closer to the little boy that was left.
Uncle Peter cleared his throat.
"Miss Pitty were in a state when Ah lef' home an' ef Ah doan git dar soon, she'll done swooned."
"Good by. I'll be over this afternoon," called Mrs. Meade. "And you tell Pitty for me that if you aren't on my committee, she's going to be in a worse state."
The carriage slipped and slid down the muddy road and Scarlett leaned back on the cushions and smiled. She felt better now than she had felt in months. Atlanta, with its crowds and its hurry and its undercurrent of driving excitement, was very pleasant, very exhilarating, so very much nicer than the lonely plantation out from Charleston, where the bellow of alligators broke the night stillness; better than Charleston itself, dreaming in its gardens behind its high walls; better than Savannah with its wide streets lined with palmetto and the muddy river beside it. Yes, and temporarily even better than Tara, dear though Tara was.
There was something exciting about this town with its narrow muddy streets, lying among rolling red hills, something raw and crude that appealed to the rawness and crudeness underlying the fine veneer that Ellen and Mammy had given her. She suddenly felt that this was where she belonged, not in serene and quiet old cities, flat beside yellow waters.
The houses were farther and farther apart now, and leaning out Scarlett saw the red brick and slate roof of Miss Pittypat's house. It was almost the last house on the north side of town. Beyond it, Peachtree road narrowed and twisted under great trees out of sight into thick quiet woods. The neat wooden paneled fence had been newly painted white and the front yard it inclosed was yellow starred with the last jonquils of the season. On the front steps stood two women in black and behind them a large yellow woman with her hands under her apron and her white teeth showing in a wide smile. Plump Miss Pittypat was teetering excitedly on tiny feet, one hand pressed to her copious bosom to still her fluttering heart. Scarlett saw Melanie standing by her and, with a surge of dislike, she realized that the fly in the ointment of Atlanta would be this slight little person in black mourning dress, her riotous dark curls subdued to matronly smoothness and a loving smile of welcome and happiness on her heart shaped face.
When a Southerner took the trouble to pack a trunk and travel twenty miles for a visit, the visit was seldom of shorter duration than a month, usually much longer. Southerners were as enthusiastic visitors as they were hosts, and there was nothing unusual in relatives coming to spend the Christmas holidays and remaining until July. Often when newly married couples went on the usual round of honeymoon visits, they lingered in some pleasant home until the birth of their second child. Frequently elderly aunts and uncles came to Sunday dinner and remained until they were buried years later. Visitors presented no problem, for houses were large, servants numerous and the feeding of several extra mouths a minor matter in that land of plenty. All ages and sexes went visiting, honeymooners, young mothers showing off new babies, convalescents, the bereaved, girls whose parents were anxious to remove them from the dangers of unwise matches, girls who had reached the danger age without becoming engaged and who, it was hoped, would make suitable matches under the guidance of relatives in other places. Visitors added excitement and variety to the slow moving Southern life and they were always welcome.
So Scarlett had come to Atlanta with no idea as to how long she would remain. If her visit proved as dull as those in Savannah and Charleston, she would return home in a month. If her stay was pleasant, she would remain indefinitely. But no sooner had she arrived than Aunt Pitty and Melanie began a campaign to induce her to make her home permanently with them. They brought up every possible argument. They wanted her for her own self because they loved her. They were lonely and often frightened at night in the big house, and she was so brave she gave them courage. She was so charming that she cheered them in their sorrow. Now that Charles was dead, her place and her son's place were with his kindred. Besides, half the house now belonged to her, through Charles' will. Last, the Confederacy needed every pair of hands for sewing, knitting, bandage rolling and nursing the wounded.
Charles' Uncle Henry Hamilton, who lived in bachelor state at the Atlanta Hotel near the depot, also talked seriously to her on this subject. Uncle Henry was a short, pot bellied, irascible old gentleman with a pink face, a shock of long silver hair and an utter lack of patience with feminine timidities and vaporings. It was for the latter reason that he was barely on speaking terms with his sister, Miss Pittypat. From childhood, they had been exact opposites in temperament and they had been further estranged by his objections to the manner in which she had reared Charles "Making a damn sissy out of a soldier's son!" Years before, he had so insulted her that now Miss Pitty never spoke of him except in guarded whispers and with so great reticence that a stranger would have thought the honest old lawyer a murderer, at the least. The insult had occurred on a day when Pitty wished to draw five hundred dollars from her estate, of which he was trustee, to invest in a non existent gold mine. He had refused to permit it and stated heatedly that she had no more sense than a June bug and furthermore it gave him the fidgets to be around her longer than five minutes. Since that day, she only saw him formally, once a month, when Uncle Peter drove her to his office to get the housekeeping money. After these brief visits, Pitty always took to her bed for the rest of the day with tears and smelling salts. Melanie and Charles, who were on excellent terms with their uncle, had frequently offered to relieve her of this ordeal, but Pitty always set her babyish mouth firmly and refused. Henry was her cross and she must bear him. From this, Charles and Melanie could only infer that she took a profound pleasure in this occasional excitement, the only excitement in her sheltered life.
Uncle Henry liked Scarlett immediately because, he said, he could see that for all her silly affectations she had a few grains of sense. He was trustee, not only of Pitty's and Melanie's estates, but also of that left Scarlett by Charles. It came to Scarlett as a pleasant surprise that she was now a well to do young woman, for Charles had not only left her half of Aunt Pitty's house but farm lands and town property as well. And the stores and warehouses along the railroad track near the depot, which were part of her inheritance, had tripled in value since the war began. It was when Uncle Henry was giving her an account of her property that he broached the matter of her permanent residence in Atlanta.
"When Wade Hampton comes of age, he's going to be a rich young man," he said. "The way Atlanta is growing his property will be ten times more valuable in twenty years, and it's only right that the boy should be raised where his property is, so he can learn to take care of it yes, and of Pitty's and Melanie's, too. He'll be the only man of the Hamilton name left before long, for I won't be here forever."
As for Uncle Peter, he took it for granted that Scarlett had come to stay. It was inconceivable to him that Charles' only son should be reared where he could not supervise the rearing. To all these arguments, Scarlett smiled but said nothing, unwilling to commit herself before learning how she would like Atlanta and constant association with her in laws. She knew, too, that Gerald and Ellen would have to be won over. Moreover, now that she was away from Tara, she missed it dreadfully, missed the red fields and the springing green cotton and the sweet twilight silences. For the first time, she realized dimly what Gerald had meant when he said that the love of the land was in her blood.
So she gracefully evaded, for the time being, a definite answer as to the duration of her visit and slipped easily into the life of the red brick house at the quiet end of Peachtree Street.
Living with Charles' blood kin, seeing the home from which he came. Scarlett could now understand a little better the boy who had made her wife, widow and mother in such rapid succession. It was easy to see why he had been so shy, so unsophisticated, so idealistic. If Charles had inherited any of the qualities of the stern, fearless, hot tempered soldier who had been his father, they had been obliterated in childhood by the ladylike atmosphere in which he had been reared. He had been devoted to the childlike Pitty and closer than brothers usually are to Melanie, and two more sweet, unworldly women could not be found.
Aunt Pittypat had been christened Sarah Jane Hamilton sixty years before, but since the long past day when her doting father had fastened his nickname upon her, because of her airy, restless, pattering little feet, no one had called her anything else. In the years that followed that second christening, many changes had taken place in her that made the pet name incongruous. Of the swiftly scampering child, all that now remained were two tiny feet, inadequate to her weight, and a tendency to prattle happily and aimlessly. She was stout, pink cheeked and silver haired and always a little breathless from too tightly laced stays. She was unable to walk more than a block on the tiny feet which she crammed into too small slippers. She had a heart which fluttered at any excitement and she pampered it shamelessly, fainting at any provocation. Everyone knew that her swoons were generally mere ladylike pretenses but they loved her enough to refrain from saying so. Everyone loved her, spoiled her like a child and refused to take her seriously everyone except her brother Henry.
She liked gossip better than anything else in the world, even more than she liked the pleasures of the table, and she prattled on for hours about other people's affairs in a harmless kindly way. She had no memory for names, dates or places and frequently confused the actors in one Atlanta drama with the actors in another, which misled no one for no one was foolish enough to take seriously anything she said. No one ever told her anything really shocking or scandalous, for her spinster state must be protected even if she was sixty years old, and her friends were in a kindly conspiracy to keep her a sheltered and petted old child.
Melanie was like her aunt in many ways. She had her shyness, her sudden blush es, her modesty, but she did have common sense "Of a sort, I'll admit that," Scarlett thought grudgingly. Like Aunt Pitty, Melanie had the face of a sheltered child who had never known anything but simplicity and kindness, truth and love, a child who had never looked upon harshness or evil and would not recognize them if she saw them. Because she had always been happy, she wanted everyone about her to be happy or, at least, pleased with themselves. To this end, she always saw the best in everyone and remarked kindly upon it. There was no servant so stupid that she did not find some redeeming trait of loyalty and kind heartedness, no girl so ugly and disagreeable that she could not discover grace of form or nobility of character in her, and no man so worthless or so boring that she did not view him in the light of his possibilities rather than his actualities.
Because of these qualities that came sincerely and spontaneously from a generous heart, everyone flocked about her, for who can resist the charm of one who discovers in others admirable qualities undreamed of even by himself? She had more girl friends than anyone in town and more men friends too, though she had few beaux for she lacked the willfulness and selfishness that go far toward trapping men's hearts.
What Melanie did was no more than all Southern girls were taught to do to make those about them feel at ease and pleased with themselves. It was this happy feminine conspiracy which made Southern society so pleasant. Women knew that a land where men were contented, uncontradicted and safe in possession of unpunctured vanity was likely to be a very pleasant place for women to live. So, from the cradle to the grave, women strove to make men pleased with themselves, and the satisfied men repaid lavishly with gallantry and adoration. In fact, men willingly gave the ladies everything in the world except credit for having intelligence. Scarlett exercised the same charms as Melanie but with a studied artistry and consummate skill. The difference between the two girls lay in the fact that Melanie spoke kind and flattering words from a desire to make people happy, if only temporarily, and Scarlett never did it except to further her own aims.
From the two he loved best, Charles had received no toughening influences, learned nothing of harshness or reality, and the home in which he grew to manhood was as soft as a bird's nest. It was such a quiet, old fashioned, gentle home compared with Tara. To Scarlett, this house cried out for the masculine smells of brandy, tobacco and Macassar oil, for hoarse voices and occasional curses, for guns, for whiskers, for saddles and bridles and for hounds underfoot. She missed the sounds of quarreling voices that were always heard at Tara when Ellen's back was turned, Mammy quarreling with Pork, Rosa and Teena bickering, her own acrimonious arguments with Suellen, Gerald's bawling threats. No wonder Charles had been a sissy, coming from a home like this. Here, excitement never entered in, voices were never raised, everyone deferred gently to the opinions of others, and, in the end, the black grizzled autocrat in the kitchen had his way. Scarlett, who had hoped for a freer rein when she escaped Mammy's supervision, discovered to her sorrow that Uncle Peter's standards of ladylike conduct, especially for Mist' Charles' widow, were even stricter than Mammy's.
In such a household, Scarlett came back to herself, and almost before she realized it her spirits rose to normal. She was only seventeen, she had superb health and energy, and Charles' people did their best to make her happy. If they fell a little short of this, it was not their fault, for no one could take out of her heart the ache that throbbed whenever Ashley's name was mentioned. And Melanie mentioned it so often! But Melanie and Pitty were tireless in planning ways to soothe the sorrow under which they thought she labored. They put their own grief into the background in order to divert her. They fussed about her food and her hours for taking afternoon naps and for taking carriage rides. They not only admired her extravagantly, her high spiritedness, her figure, her tiny hands and feet, her white skin, but they said so frequently, petting, hugging and kissing her to emphasize their loving words.
Scarlett did not care for the caresses, but she basked in the compliments. No one at Tara had ever said so many charming things about her. In fact, Mammy had spent her time deflating her conceit. Little Wade was no longer an annoyance, for the family, black and white, and the neighbors idolized him and there was a never ceasing rivalry as to whose lap he should occupy. Melanie especially doted on him. Even in his worst screaming spells, Melanie thought him adorable and said so, adding, "Oh, you precious darling! I just wish you were mine!"
Sometimes Scarlett found it hard to dissemble her feelings, for she still thought Aunt Pitty the silliest of old ladies and her vagueness and vaporings irritated her unendurably. She disliked Melanie with a jealous dislike that grew as the days went by, and sometimes she had to leave the room abruptly when Melanie, beaming with loving pride, spoke of Ashley or read his letters aloud. But, all in all, life went on as happily as was possible under the circumstances. Atlanta was more interesting than Savannah or Charleston or Tara and it offered so many strange war time occupations she had little time to think or mope. But, sometimes, when she blew out the candle and burrowed her head into the pillow, she sighed and thought: "If only Ashley wasn't married! If only I didn't have to nurse in that plagued hospital! Oh, if only I could have some beaux!"
She had immediately loathed nursing but she could not escape this duty because she was on both Mrs. Meade's and Mrs. Merriwether's committees. That meant four mornings a week in the sweltering, stinking hospital with her hair tied up in a towel and a hot apron covering her from neck to feet. Every matron, old or young, in Atlanta nursed and did it with an enthusiasm that seemed to Scarlett little short of fanatic. They took it for granted that she was imbued with their own patriotic fervor and would have been shocked to know how slight an interest in the war she had. Except for the ever present torment that Ashley might be killed, the war interested her not at all, and nursing was something she did simply because she didn't know how to get out of it.
Certainly there was nothing romantic about nursing. To her, it meant groans, delirium, death and smells. The hospitals were filled with dirty, bewhiskered, verminous men who smelled terribly and bore on their bodies wounds hideous enough to turn a Christian's stomach. The hospitals stank of gangrene, the odor assaulting her nostrils long before the doors were reached, a sickish sweet smell that clung to her hands and hair and haunted her in her dreams. Flies, mosquitoes and gnats hovered in droning, singing swarms over the wards, tormenting the men to curses and weak sobs; and Scarlett, scratching her own mosquito bites, swung palmetto fans until her shoulders ached and she wished that all the men were dead.
Melanie, however, did not seem to mind the smells, the wounds or the nakedness, which Scarlett thought strange in one who was the most timorous and modest of women. Sometimes when holding basins and instruments while Dr. Meade cut out gangrened flesh, Melanie looked very white. And once, alter such an operation, Scarlett found her in the linen closet vomiting quietly into a towel. But as long as she was where the wounded could see her, she was gentle, sympathetic and cheerful, and the men in the hospitals called her an angel of mercy. Scarlett would have liked that title too, but it involved touching men crawling with lice, running fingers down throats of unconscious patients to see if they were choking on swallowed tobacco quids, bandaging stumps and picking maggots out of festering flesh. No, she did not like nursing!
Perhaps it might have been endurable if she had been permitted to use her charms on the convalescent men, for many of them were attractive and well born, but this she could not do in her widowed state. The young ladies of the town, who were not permitted to nurse for fear they would see sights unfit for virgin eyes, had the convalescent wards in their charge. Unhampered by matrimony or widowhood, they made vast inroads on the convalescents, and even the least attractive girls, Scarlett observed gloomily, had no difficulty in getting engaged.
With the exception of desperately ill and severely wounded men, Scarlett's was a completely feminized world and this irked her, for she neither liked nor trusted her own sex and, worse still, was always bored by it. But on three afternoons a week she had to attend sewing circles and bandage rolling committees of Melanie's friends. The girls who had all known Charles were very kind and attentive to her at these gatherings, especially Fanny Elsing and Maybelle Merriwether, the daughters of the town dowagers. But they treated her deferentially, as if she were old and finished, and their constant chatter of dances and beaux made her both envious of their pleasures and resentful that her widowhood barred her from such activities. Why, she was three times as attractive as Fanny and Maybelle! Oh, how unfair life was! How unfair that everyone should think her heart was in the grave when it wasn't at all! It was in Virginia with Ashley!
But in spite of these discomforts, Atlanta pleased her very well. And her visit lengthened as the weeks slipped by.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett sat in the window of her bedroom that midsummer morning and disconsolately watched the wagons and carriages full of girls, soldiers and chaperons ride gaily out Peachtree road in search of woodland decorations for the bazaar which was to be held that evening for the benefit of the hospitals. The red road lay checkered in shade and sun glare beneath the over arching trees and the many hooves kicked up little red clouds of dust. One wagon, ahead of the others, bore four stout negroes with axes to cut evergreens and drag down the vines, and the back of this wagon was piled high with napkin covered hampers, split oak baskets of lunch and a dozen watermelons. Two of the black bucks were equipped with banjo and harmonica and they were rendering a spirited version of "If You Want to Have a Good Time, Jine the Cavalry." Behind them streamed the merry cavalcade, girls cool in flowered cotton dresses, with light shawls, bonnets and mitts to protect their skins and little parasols held over their heads; elderly ladies placid and smiling amid the laughter and carriage to carriage calls and jokes; convalescents from the hospitals wedged in between stout chaperons and slender girls who made great fuss and to do over them; officers on horseback idling at snail's pace beside the carriages wheels creaking, spurs jingling, gold braid gleaming, parasols bobbing, fans swishing, negroes singing. Everybody was riding out Peachtree road to gather greenery and have a picnic and melon cutting. Everybody, thought Scarlett, morosely, except me.
They all waved and called to her as they went by and she tried to respond with a good grace, but it was difficult. A hard little pain had started in her heart and was traveling slowly up toward her throat where it would become a lump and the lump would soon become tears. Everybody was going to the picnic except her. And everybody was going to the bazaar and the ball tonight except her. That is everybody except her and Pittypat and Melly and the other unfortunates in town who were in mourning. But Melly and Pittypat did not seem to mind. It had not even occurred to them to want to go. It had occurred to Scarlett. And she did want to go, tremendously.
It simply wasn't fair. She had worked twice as hard as any girl in town, getting things ready for the bazaar. She had knitted socks and baby caps and afghans and mufflers and tatted yards of lace and painted china hair receivers and mustache cups. And she had embroidered half a dozen sofa pillow cases with the Confederate flag on them. (The stars were a bit lopsided, to be sure, some of them being almost round and others having six or even seven points, but the effect was good.) Yesterday she had worked until she was worn out in the dusty old barn of an Armory draping yellow and pink and green cheesecloth on the booths that lined the walls. Under the supervision of the Ladies' Hospital Committee, this was plain hard work and no fun at all. It was never fun to be around Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing and Mrs. Whiting and have them boss you like you were one of the darkies. And have to listen to them brag about how popular their daughters were. And, worst of all, she had burned two blisters on her fingers helping Pittypat and Cookie make layer cakes for raffling.
And now, having worked like a field hand, she had to retire decorously when the fun was just beginning. Oh, it wasn't fair that she should have a dead husband and a baby yelling in the next room and be out of everything that was pleasant. Just a little over a year ago, she was dancing and wearing bright clothes instead of this dark mourning and was practically engaged to three boys. She was only seventeen now and there was still a lot of dancing left in her feet. Oh, it wasn't fair! Life was going past her, down a hot shady summer road, life with gray uniforms and jingling spurs and flowered organdie dresses and banjos playing. She tried not to smile and wave too enthusiastically to the men she knew best, the ones she'd nursed in the hospital, but it was hard to subdue her dimples, hard to look as though her heart were in the grave when it wasn't.
Her bowing and waving were abruptly halted when Pittypat entered the room, panting as usual from climbing the stairs, and jerked her away from the window unceremoniously.
"Have you lost your mind, honey, waving at men out of your bedroom window? I declare, Scarlett, I'm shocked! What would your mother say?"
"Well, they didn't know it was my bedroom."
"But they'd suspect it was your bedroom and that's just as bad. Honey, you mustn't do things like that. Everybody will be talking about you and saying you are fast and anyway, Mrs. Merriwether knew it was your bedroom."
"And I suppose she'll tell all the boys, the old cat."
"Honey, hush! Dolly Merriwether's my best friend."
"Well, she's a cat just the same oh, I'm sorry, Auntie, don't cry! I forgot it was my bedroom window. I won't do it again I I just wanted to see them go by. I wish I was going."
"Well, I do. I'm so tired of sitting at home."
"Scarlett, promise me you won't say things like that. People would talk so. They'd say you didn't have the proper respect for poor Charlie "
"Oh, Auntie, don't cry!"
"Oh, now I've made you cry, too," sobbed Pittypat, in a pleased way, fumbling in her skirt pocket for her handkerchief.
The hard little pain had at last reached Scarlett's throat and she wailed out loud not, as Pittypat thought, for poor Charlie but because the last sounds of the wheels and the laughter were dying away. Melanie rustled in from her room, a worried frown puckering her forehead, a brush in her hands, her usually tidy black hair, freed of its net, fluffing about her face in a mass of tiny curls and waves.
"Darlings! What is the matter?"
"Charlie!" sobbed Pittypat, surrendering utterly to the pleasure of her grief and burying her head on Melly's shoulder.
"Oh," said Melly, her lip quivering at the mention of her brother's name. "Be brave, dear. Don't cry. Oh, Scarlett!"
Scarlett had thrown herself on the bed and was sobbing at the top of her voice, sobbing for her lost youth and the pleasures of youth that were denied her, sobbing with the indignation and despair of a child who once could get anything she wanted by sobbing and now knows that sobbing can no longer help her. She burrowed her head in the pillow and cried and kicked her feet at the tufted counterpane.
"I might as well be dead!" she sobbed passionate sexyly. Before such an exhibition of grief, Pittypat's easy tears ceased and Melly flew to the bedside to comfort her sister in law.
"Dear, don't cry! Try to think how much Charlie loved you and let that comfort you! Try to think of your darling baby."
Indignation at being misunderstood mingled with Scarlett's forlorn feeling of being out of everything and strangled all utterance. That was fortunate, for if she could have spoken she would have cried out truths couched in Gerald's forthright words. Melanie patted her shoulder and Pittypat tiptoed heavily about the room pulling down the shades.
"Don't do that!" shouted Scarlett, raising a red and swollen face from the pillow. "I'm not dead enough for you to pull down the shades though I might as well be. Oh, do go away and leave me alone!"
She sank her face into the pillow again and, after a whispered conference, the two standing over her tiptoed out. She heard Melanie say to Pittypat in a low voice as they went down the stairs:
"Aunt Pitty, I wish you wouldn't speak of Charles to her. You know how it always affects her. Poor thing, she gets that queer look and I know she's trying not to cry. We mustn't make it harder for her."
Scarlett kicked the coverlet in impotent rage, trying to think of something bad enough to say.
"God's nightgown!" she cried at last, and felt somewhat relieved. How could Melanie be content to stay at home and never have any fun and wear crepe for her brother when she was only eighteen years old? Melanie did not seem to know, or care, that life was riding by with jingling spurs.
"But she's such a stick," thought Scarlett, pounding the pillow. "And she never was popular like me, so she doesn't miss the things I miss. And and besides she's got Ashley and I I haven't got anybody!" And at this fresh woe, she broke into renewed outcries.
She remained gloomily in her room until afternoon and then the sight of the returning picnickers with wagons piled high with pine boughs, vines and ferns did not cheer her. Everyone looked happily tired as they waved to her again and she returned their greetings drearily. Life was a hopeless affair and certainly not worth living.
Deliverance came in the form she least expected when, during the after dinner nap period, Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing drove up. Startled at having callers at such an hour, Melanie, Scarlett and Aunt Pittypat roused themselves, hastily hooked their basques, smoothed their hair and descended to the parlor.
"Mrs. Bonnell's children have the measles," said Mrs. Merriwether abruptly, showing plainly that she held Mrs. Bonnell personally responsible for permitting such a thing to happen.
"And the McLure girls have been called to Virginia," said Mrs. Elsing in her die away voice, fanning herself languidly as if neither this nor anything else mattered very much. "Dallas McLure is wounded."
"How dreadful!" chorused their hostesses. "Is poor Dallas "
"No. Just through the shoulder," said Mrs. Merriwether briskly. "But it couldn't possibly have happened at a worse time. The girls are going North to bring him home. But, skies above, we haven't time to sit here talking. We must hurry back to the Armory and get the decorating done. Pitty, we need you and Melly tonight to take Mrs. Bonnell's and the McLure girls' places."
"Oh, but, Dolly, we can't go."
"Don't say 'can't' to me, Pittypat Hamilton," said Mrs. Merriwether vigorously. "We need you to watch the darkies with the refreshments. That was what Mrs. Bonnell was to do. And Melly, you must take the McLure girls' booth."
"Oh, we just couldn't with poor Charlie dead only a "
"I know how you feel but there isn't any sacrifice too great for the Cause," broke in Mrs. Elsing in a soft voice that settled matters.
"Oh, we'd love to help but why can't you get some sweet pretty girls to take the booths?"
Mrs. Merriwether snorted a trumpeting snort.
"I don't know what's come over the young people these days. They have no sense of responsibility. All the girls who haven't already taken booths have more excuses than you could shake a stick at. Oh, they don't fool me! They just don't want to be hampered in making up to the officers, that's all. And they're afraid their new dresses won't show off behind booth counters. I wish to goodness that blockade runner what's his name?"
"Captain Butler," supplied Mrs. Elsing.
"I wish he'd bring in more hospital supplies and less hoop skirts and lace. If I've had to look at one dress today I've had to look at twenty dresses that he ran in. Captain Butler I'm sick of the name. Now, Pitty, I haven't time to argue. You must come. Everybody will understand. Nobody will see you in the back room anyway, and Melly won't be conspicuous. The poor McLure girls' booth is way down at the end and not very pretty so nobody will notice you."
"I think we should go," said Scarlett, trying to curb her eagerness and to keep her face earnest and simple. "It is the least we can do for the hospital."
Neither of the visiting ladies had even mentioned her name, and they turned and looked sharply at her. Even in their extremity, they had not considered asking a widow of scarcely a year to appear at a social function. Scarlett bore their gaze with a wide eyed childlike expression.
"I think we should go and help to make it a success, all of us. I think I should go in the booth with Melly because well, I think it would look better for us both to be there instead of just one. Don't you think so, Melly?"
"Well," began Melly helplessly. The idea of appearing publicly at a social gathering while in mourning was so unheard of she was bewildered.
"Scarlett's right," said Mrs. Merriwether, observing signs of weakening. She rose and jerked her hoops into place. "Both of you all of you must come. Now, Pitty, don't start your excuses again. Just think how much the hospital needs money for new beds and drugs. And I know Charlie would like you to help the Cause he died for."
"Well," said Pittypat, helpless as always in the presence of a stronger personality, "if you think people will understand."
"Too good to be true! Too good to be true!" said Scarlett's joyful heart as she slipped unobtrusively into the pink and yellow draped booth that was to have been the McLure girls'. Actually she was at a party! After a year's seclusion, after crepe and hushed voices and nearly going crazy with boredom, she was actually at a party, the biggest party Atlanta had ever seen. And she could see people and many lights and hear music and view for herself the lovely laces and frocks and frills that the famous Captain Butler had run through the blockade on his last trip.
She sank down on one of the little stools behind the counter of the booth and looked up and down the long hall which, until this afternoon, had been a bare and ugly drill room. How the ladies must have worked today to bring it to its present beauty. It looked lovely. Every candle and candlestick in Atlanta must be in this hall tonight, she thought, silver ones with a dozen sprangling arms, china ones with charming figurines clustering their bases, old brass stands, erect and dignified, laden with candles of all sizes and colors, smelling fragrantly of bayberries, standing on the gun racks that ran the length of the hall, on the long flower decked tables, on booth counters, even on the sills of the open windows where the draughts of warm summer air were just strong enough to make them flare.
In the center of the hall the huge ugly lamp, hanging from the ceiling by rusty chains, was completely transformed by twining ivy and wild grapevines that were already withering from the heat. The walls were banked with pine branches that gave out a spicy smell, making the corners of the room into pretty bowers where the chaperons and old ladies would sit. Long graceful ropes of ivy and grapevine and smilax were hung everywhere, in looping festoons on the walls, draped above the windows, twined in scallops all over the brightly colored cheesecloth booths. And everywhere amid the greenery, on flags and bunting, blazed the bright stars of the Confederacy on their background of red and blue.
The raised platform for the musicians was especially artistic. It was completely hidden from view by the banked greenery and starry bunting and Scarlett knew that every potted and tubbed plant in town was there, coleus, geranium, hydrangea, oleander, elephant ear even Mrs. Elsing's four treasured rubber plants, which were given posts of honor at the four corners.
At the other end of the hall from the platform, the ladies had eclipsed themselves. On this wall hung large pictures of President Davis and Georgia's own "Little Alec" Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy. Above them was an enormous flag and, beneath, on long tables was the loot of the gardens of the town, ferns, banks of roses, crimson and yellow and white, proud sheaths of golden gladioli, masses of varicolored nasturtiums, tall stiff hollyhocks rearing deep maroon and creamy heads above the other flowers. Among them, candles burned serenely like altar fires. The two faces looked down on the scene, two faces as different as could be possible in two men at the helm of so momentous an undertaking: Davis with the flat cheeks and cold eyes of an ascetic, his thin proud lips set firmly; Stephens with dark burning eyes deep socketed in a face that had known nothing but sickness and pain and had triumphed over them with humor and with fire two faces that were greatly loved.
The elderly ladies of the committee in whose hands rested the responsibility for the whole bazaar rustled in as importantly as full rigged ships, hurried the belated young matrons and giggling girls into their booths, and then swept through the doors into the back rooms where the refreshments were being laid out. Aunt Pitty panted out after them.
The musicians clambered upon their platform, black, grinning, their fat cheeks already shining with perspiration, and began tuning their fiddles and sawing and whanging with their bows in anticipatory importance. Old Levi, Mrs. Merriwether's coachman, who had led the orchestras for every bazaar, ball and wedding since Atlanta was named Marthasville, rapped with his bow for attention. Few except the ladies who were conducting the bazaar had arrived yet, but all eyes turned toward him. Then the fiddles, bull fiddles, accordions, banjos and knuckle bones broke into a slow rendition of "Lorena" too slow for dancing, the dancing would come later when the booths were emptied of their wares. Scarlett felt her heart beat faster as the sweet melancholy of the waltz came to her:
"The years creep slowly by, Lorena! The snow is on the grass again. The sun's far down the sky, Lorena . . ."
One two three, one two three, dip sway three, turn two three. What a beautiful waltz! She extended her hands slightly, closed her eyes and swayed with the sad haunting rhythm. There was something about the tragic melody and Lorena's lost love that mingled with her own excitement and brought a lump into her throat.
Then, as if brought into being by the waltz music, sounds floated in from the shadowy moonlit street below, the trample of horses' hooves and the sound of carriage wheels, laughter on the warm sweet air and the soft acrimony of negro voices raised in argument over hitching places for the horses. There was confusion on the stairs and light hearted merriment, the mingling of girls' fresh voices with the bass notes of their escorts, airy cries of greeting and squeals of joy as girls recognized friends from whom they had parted only that afternoon.
Suddenly the hall burst into life. It was full of girls, girls who floated in butterfly bright dresses, hooped out enormously, lace pantalets peeping from beneath; round little white shoulders bare, and faintest traces of soft little bosoms showing above lace flounces; lace shawls carelessly hanging from arms; fans spangled and painted, fans of swan's down and peacock feathers, dangling at wrists by tiny velvet ribbons; girls with masses of golden curls about their necks and fringed gold earbobs that tossed and danced with their dancing curls. Laces and silks and braid and ribbons, all blockade run, all the more precious and more proudly worn because of it, finery flaunted with an added pride as an extra affront to the Yankees.
Not all the flowers of the town were standing in tribute to the leaders of the Confederacy. The smallest, the most fragrant blossoms bedecked the girls. Tea roses tucked behind pink ears, cape jessamine and bud roses in round little garlands over cascades of side curls, blossoms thrust demurely into satin sashes, flowers that before the night was over would find their way into the breast pockets of gray uniforms as treasured souvenirs.
There were so many uniforms in the crowd so many uniforms on so many men whom Scarlett knew, men she had met on hospital cots, on the streets, at the drill ground. They were such resplendent uniforms, brave with shining buttons and dazzling with twined gold braid on cuffs and collars, the red and yellow and blue stripes on the trousers, for the different branches of the service, setting off the gray to perfection. Scarlet and gold sashes swung to and fro, sabers glittered and banged against shining boots, spurs rattled and jingled.
Such handsome men, thought Scarlett, with a swell of pride in her heart, as the men called greetings, waved to friends, bent low over the hands of elderly ladies. All of them were so young looking, even with their sweeping yellow mustaches and full black and brown beards, so handsome, so reckless, with their arms in slings, with head bandages startlingly white across sun browned faces. Some of them were on crutches and how proud were the girls who solicitously slowed their steps to their escorts' hopping pace! There was one gaudy splash of color among the uniforms that put the girls' bright finery to shame and stood out in the crowd like a tropical bird a Louisiana Zouave, with baggy blue and white striped pants, cream gaiters and tight little red jacket, a dark, grinning little monkey of a man, with his arm in a black silk sling. He was Maybelle Merriwether's especial beau, Rene Picard. The whole hospital must have turned out, at least everybody who could walk, and all the men on furlough and sick leave and all the railroad and mail service and hospital and commissary departments between here and Macon. How pleased the ladies would be! The hospital should make a mint of money tonight.
There was a ruffle of drums from the street below, the tramp of feet, the admiring cries of coachmen. A bugle blared and a bass voice shouted the command to break ranks. In a moment, the Home Guard and the militia unit in their bright uniforms shook the narrow stairs and crowded into the room, bowing, saluting, shaking hands. There were boys in the Home Guard, proud to be playing at war, promising themselves they would be in Virginia this time next year, if the war would just last that long; old men with white beards, wishing they were younger, proud to march in uniform in the reflected glory of sons at the front. In the militia, there were many middle aged men and some older men but there was a fair sprinkling of men of military age who did not carry themselves quite so jauntily as their elders or their juniors. Already people were beginning to whisper, asking why they were not with Lee.
How would they all get into the hall! It had seemed such a large place a few minutes before, and now it was packed, warm with summer night odors of sachet and cologne water and hair pomade and burning bayberry candles, fragrant with flowers, faintly dusty as many feet trod the old drill floors. The din and hubbub of voices made it almost impossible to hear anything and, as if feeling the joy and excitement of the occasion, old Levi choked off "Lorena" in mid bar, rapped sharply with his bow and, sawing away for dear life, the orchestra burst into "Bonnie Blue Flag."
A hundred voices took it up, sang it, shouted it like a cheer. The Home Guard bugler, climbing onto the platform, caught up with the music just as the chorus began, and the high silver notes soared out thrillingly above the massed singing, causing goose bumps to break out on bare arms and cold chills of deeply felt emotion to fly down spines:
"Hurrah! Hurrah! For the Southern Rights, hurrah! Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag That bears a single star!"
They crashed into the second verse and Scarlett, singing with the rest, heard the high sweet soprano of Melanie mounting behind her, clear and true and thrilling as the bugle notes. Turning, she saw that Melly was standing with her hands clasped to her breast, her eyes closed, and tiny tears oozing from the corners. She smiled at Scarlett, whimsically, as the music ended, making a little moue of apology as she dabbed with her handkerchief.
"I'm so happy," she whispered, "and so proud of the soldiers that I just can't help crying about it."
There was a deep, almost fanatic glow in her eyes that for a moment lit up her plain little face and made it beautiful.
The same look was on the faces of all the women as the song ended, tears of pride on cheeks, pink or wrinkled, smiles on lips, a deep hot glow in eyes, as they turned to their men, sweetheart to lover, mother to son, wife to husband. They were all beautiful with the blinding beauty that transfigures even the plainest woman when she is utterly protected and utterly loved and is giving back that love a thousandfold.
They loved their men, they believed in them, they trusted them to the last breaths of their bodies. How could disaster ever come to women such as they when their stalwart gray line stood between them and the Yankees? Had there ever been such men as these since the first dawn of the world, so heroic, so reckless, so gallant, so tender? How could anything but overwhelming victory come to a Cause as just and right as theirs? A Cause they loved as much as they loved their men, a Cause they served with their hands and their hearts, a Cause they talked about, thought about, dreamed about a Cause to which they would sacrifice these men if need be, and bear their loss as proudly as the men bore their battle flags.
It was high tide of devotion and pride in their hearts, high tide of the Confederacy, for final victory was at hand. Stonewall Jackson's triumphs in the Valley and the defeat of the Yankees in the Seven Days' Battle around Richmond showed that clearly. How could it be otherwise with such leaders as Lee and Jackson? One more victory and the Yankees would be on their knees yelling for peace and the men would be riding home and there would be kissing and laughter. One more victory and the war was over!
Of course, there were empty chairs and babies who would never see their fathers' faces and unmarked graves by lonely Virginia creeks and in the still mountains of Tennessee, but was that too great a price to pay for such a Cause? Silks for the ladies and tea and sugar were hard to get, but that was something to joke about. Besides, the dashing blockade runners were bringing in these very things under the Yankees' disgruntled noses, and that made the possession of them many times more thrilling. Soon Raphael Semmes and the Confederate Navy would tend to those Yankee gunboats and the ports would be wide open. And England was coming in to help the Confederacy win the war, because the English mills were standing idle for want of Southern cotton. And naturally the British aristocracy sympathized with the Confederacy, as one aristocrat with another, against a race of dollar lovers like the Yankees.
So the women swished their silks and laughed and, looking on their men with hearts bursting with pride, they knew that love snatched in the face of danger and death was doubly sweet for the strange excitement that went with it.
When first she looked at the crowd, Scarlett's heart had thump thumped with the unaccustomed excitement of being at a party, but as she half comprehendingly saw the high hearted look on the faces about her, her joy began to evaporate. Every woman present was blazing with an emotion she did not feel. It bewildered and depressed her. Somehow, the ball did not seem so pretty nor the girls so dashing, and the white heat of devotion to the Cause that was still shining on every face seemed why, it just seemed silly!
In a sudden flash of self knowledge that made her mouth pop open with astonishment, she realized that she did not share with these women their fierce pride, their desire to sacrifice themselves and everything they had for the Cause. Before horror made her think: "No no! I mustn't think such things! They're wrong sinful," she knew the Cause meant nothing at all to her and that she was bored with hearing other people talk about it with that fanatic look in their eyes. The Cause didn't seem sacred to her. The war didn't seem to be a holy affair, but a nuisance that killed men senselessly and cost money and made luxuries hard to get. She saw that she was tired of the endless knitting and the endless bandage rolling and lint picking that roughened the cuticle of her nails. And oh, she was so tired of the hospital! Tired and bored and nauseated with the sickening gangrene smells and the endless moaning, frightened by the look that coming death gave to sunken faces.
She looked furtively around her, as the treacherous, blasphemous thoughts rushed through her mind, fearful that someone might find them written clearly upon her face. Oh, why couldn't she feel like those other women! They were whole hearted and sincere in their devotion to the Cause. They really meant everything they said and did. And if anyone should ever suspect that she No, no one must ever know! She must go on making a pretense of enthusiasm and pride in the Cause which she could not feel, acting out her part of the widow of a Confederate officer who bears her grief bravely, whose heart is in the grave, who feels that her husband's death meant nothing if it aided the Cause to triumph.
Oh, why was she different, apart from these loving women? She could never love anything or anyone so selflessly as they did. What a lonely feeling it was and she had never been lonely either in body or spirit before. At first she tried to stifle the thoughts, but the hard self honesty that lay at the base of her nature would not permit it. And so, while the bazaar went on, while she and Melanie waited on the customers who came to their booth, her mind was busily working, trying to justify herself to herself a task which she seldom found difficult.
The other women were simply silly and hysterical with their talk of patriotism and the Cause, and the men were almost as bad with their talk of vital issues and States' Rights. She, Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton, alone had good hard headed Irish sense. She wasn't going to make a fool out of herself about the Cause, but neither was she going to make a fool out of herself by admitting her true feelings. She was hard headed enough to be practical about the situation, and no one would ever know how she felt. How surprised the bazaar would be if they knew what she really was thinking! How shocked if she suddenly climbed on the bandstand and declared that she thought the war ought to stop, so everybody could go home and tend to their cotton and there could be parties and beaux again and plenty of pale green dresses.
For a moment, her self justification buoyed her up but still she looked about the hall with distaste. The McLure girls' booth was inconspicuous, as Mrs. Merriwether had said, and there were long intervals when no one came to their corner and Scarlett had nothing to do but look enviously on the happy throng. Melanie sensed her moodiness but, crediting it to longing for Charlie, did not try to engage her in conversation. She busied herself arranging the articles in the booth in more attractive display, while Scarlett sat and looked glumly around the room. Even the banked flowers below the pictures of Mr. Davis and Mr. Stephens displeased her.
"It looks like an altar," she sniffed. "And the way they all carry on about those two, they might as well be the Father and the Son!" Then smitten with sudden fright at her irreverence she began hastily to cross herself by way of apology but caught herself in time.
"Well, it's true," she argued with her conscience. "Everybody carries on like they were holy and they aren't anything but men, and mighty unattractive looking ones at that."
Of course, Mr. Stephens couldn't help how he looked for he had been an invalid all his life, but Mr. Davis She looked up at the cameo clean, proud face. It was his goatee that annoyed her the most. Men should either be clean shaven, mustached or wear full beards.
"That little wisp looks like it was just the best he could do," she thought, not seeing in his face the cold hard intelligence that was carrying the weight of a new nation.
No, she was not happy now, and at first she had been radiant with the pleasure of being in a crowd. Now just being present was not enough. She was at the bazaar but not a part of it. No one paid her any attention and she was the only young unmarried woman present who did not have a beau. And all her life she had enjoyed the center of the stage. It wasn't fair! She was seventeen years old and her feet were patting the floor, wanting to skip and dance. She was seventeen years old and she had a husband lying at Oakland Cemetery and a baby in his cradle at Aunt Pittypat's and everyone thought she should be content with her lot. She had a whiter bosom and a smaller waist and a tinier foot than any girl present, but for all they mattered she might just as well be lying beside Charles with "Beloved Wife of" carved over her.
She wasn't a girl who could dance and flirt and she wasn't a wife who could sit with other wives and criticize the dancing and flirting girls. And she wasn't old enough to be a widow. Widows should be old so terribly old they didn't want to dance and flirt and be admired. Oh, it wasn't fair that she should have to sit here primly and be the acme of widowed dignity and propriety when she was only seventeen. It wasn't fair that she must keep her voice low and her eyes cast modestly down, when men, attractive ones, too, came to their booth.
Every girl in Atlanta was three deep in men. Even the plainest girls were carrying on like belles and, oh, worst of all, they were carrying on in such lovely, lovely dresses!
Here she sat like a crow with hot black taffeta to her wrists and buttoned up to her chin, with not even a hint of lace or braid, not a jewel except Ellen's onyx mourning brooch, watching tacky looking girls hanging on the arms of good looking men. All because Charles Hamilton had had the measles. He didn't even die in a fine glow of gallantry in battle, so she could brag about him.
Rebelliously she leaned her elbows on the counter and looked at the crowd, flouting Mammy's oft repeated admonition against leaning on elbows and making them ugly and wrinkled. What did it matter if they did get ugly? She'd probably never get a chance to show them again. She looked hungrily at the frocks floating by, butter yellow watered silks with garlands of rosebuds; pink satins with eighteen flounces edged with tiny black velvet ribbons; baby blue taffeta, ten yards in the skirt and foamy with cascading lace; exposed bosoms; seductive flowers. Maybelle Merriwether went toward the next booth on the arm of the Zouave, in an apple green tarlatan so wide that it reduced her waist to nothingness. It was showered and flounced with cream colored Chantilly lace that had come from Charleston on the last blockader, and Maybelle was flaunting it as saucily as if she and not the famous Captain Butler had run the blockade.
"How sweet I'd look in that dress," thought Scarlett, a savage envy in her heart. "Her waist is as big as a cow's. That green is just my color and it would make my eyes look Why will blondes try to wear that color? Her skin looks as green as an old cheese. And to think I'll never wear that color again, not even when I do get out of mourning. No, not even if I do manage to get married again. Then I'll have to wear tacky old grays and tans and lilacs."
For a brief moment she considered the unfairness of it all. How short was the time for fun, for pretty clothes, for dancing, for coquetting! Only a few, too few years! Then you married and wore dull colored dresses and had babies that ruined your waist line and sat in corners at dances with other sober matrons and only emerged to dance with your husband or with old gentlemen who stepped on your feet. If you didn't do these things, the other matrons talked about you and then your reputation was ruined and your family disgraced. It seemed such a terrible waste to spend all your little girlhood learning how to be attractive and how to catch men and then only use the knowledge for a year or two. When she considered her training at the hands of Ellen and Mammy, she knew it had been thorough and good because it had always reaped results. There were set rules to be followed, and if you followed them success crowned your efforts.
With old ladies you were sweet and guileless and appeared as simple minded as possible, for old ladies were sharp and they watched girls as jealously as cats, ready to pounce on any indiscretion of tongue or eye. With old gentlemen, a girl was pert and saucy and almost, but not quite, flirtatious, so that the old fools' vanities would be tickled. It made them feel devilish and young and they pinched your cheek and declared you were a minx. And, of course, you always blush ed on such occasions, otherwise they would pinch you with more pleasure than was proper and then tell their sons that you were fast.
With young girls and young married women, you slopped over with sugar and kissed them every time you met them, even if it was ten times a day. And you put your arms about their waists and suffered them to do the same to you, no matter how much you disliked it. You admired their frocks or their babies indiscriminately and teased about beaux and complimented husbands and giggled modestly and denied that you had any charms at all compared with theirs. And, above all, you never said what you really thought about anything, any more than they said what they really thought.
Other husbands you let severely alone, even if they were your own discarded beaux, and no matter how temptingly attractive they were. If you were too nice to young husbands, their wives said you were fast and you got a bad reputation and never caught any beaux of your own.
But with young bachelors ah, that was a different matter! You could laugh softly at them and when they came flying to see why you laughed, you could refuse to tell them and laugh harder and keep them around indefinitely trying to find out. You could promise, with your eyes, any number of exciting things that would make a man maneuver to get you alone. And, having gotten you alone, you could be very, very hurt or very, very angry when he tried to kiss you. You could make him apologize for being a cur and forgive him so sweetly that he would hang around trying to kiss you a second time. Sometimes, but not often, you did let him kiss you. (Ellen and Mammy had not taught her that but she learned it was effective.) Then you cried and declared you didn't know what had come over you and that he couldn't ever respect you again. Then he had to dry your eyes and usually he proposed, to show just how much he did respect you. And then there were Oh, there were so many things to do to bachelors and she knew them all, the nuance of the sidelong glance, the half smile behind the fan, the swaying of the hips so that skirts swung like a bell, the tears, the laughter, the flattery, the sweet sympathy. Oh, all the tricks that never failed to work except with Ashley.
No, it didn't seem right to learn all these smart tricks, use them so briefly and then put them away forever. How wonderful it would be never to marry but to go on being lovely in pale green dresses and forever courted by handsome men. But, if you went on too long, you got to be an old maid like India Wilkes and everyone said "poor thing" in that smug hateful way. No, after all it was better to marry and keep your self respect even if you never had any more fun.
Oh, what a mess life was! Why had she been such an idiot as to marry Charles of all people and have her life end at sixteen?
Her indignant and hopeless reverie was broken when the crowd began pushing back against the walls, the ladies carefully holding their hoops so that no careless contact should turn them up against their bodies and show more pantalets than was proper. Scarlett tiptoed above the crowd and saw the captain of the militia mounting the orchestra platform. He shouted orders and half of the Company fell into line. For a few minutes they went through a brisk drill that brought perspiration to their foreheads and cheers and applause from the audience. Scarlett clapped her hands dutifully with the rest and, as the soldiers pushed forward toward the punch and lemonade booths after they were dismissed, she turned to Melanie, feeling that she had better begin her deception about the Cause as soon as possible.
"They looked fine, didn't they?" she said.
Melanie was fussing about with the knitted things on the counter.
"Most of them would look a lot finer in gray uniforms and in Virginia," she said, and she did not trouble to lower her voice.
Several of the proud mothers of members of the militia were standing close by and overheard the remark. Mrs. Guinan turned scarlet and then white, for her twenty five year old Willie was in the company.
Scarlett was aghast at such words coming from Melly of all people.
"You know it's true, Scarlet. I don't mean the little boys and the old gentlemen. But a lot of the militia are perfectly able to tote a rifle and that's what they ought to be doing this minute."
"But but " began Scarlett, who had never considered the matter before. "Somebody's got to stay home to " What was it Willie Guinan had told her by way of excusing his presence in Atlanta? "Somebody's got to stay home to protect the state from invasion."
"Nobody's invading us and nobody's going to," said Melly coolly, looking toward a group of the militia. "And the best way to keep out invaders is to go to Virginia and beat the Yankees there. And as for all this talk about the militia staying here to keep the darkies from rising why, it's the silliest thing I ever heard of. Why should our people rise? It's just a good excuse for cowards. I'll bet we could lick the Yankees in a month if all the militia of all the states went to Virginia. So there!"
"Why, Melly!" cried Scarlett again, staring.
Melly's soft dark eyes were flashing angrily. "My husband wasn't afraid to go and neither was yours. And I'd rather they'd both be dead than here at home Oh, darling, I'm sorry. How thoughtless and cruel of me!"
She stroked Scarlett's arm appealingly and Scarlett stared at her. But it was not of dead Charles she was thinking. It was of Ashley. Suppose he too were to die? She turned quickly and smiled automatically as Dr. Meade walked up to their booth.
"Well, girls," he greeted them, "it was nice of you to come. I know what a sacrifice it must have been for you to come out tonight. But it's all for the Cause. And I'm going to tell you a secret. I've a surprise way for making some more money tonight for the hospital, but I'm afraid some of the ladies are going to be shocked about it."
He stopped and chuckled as he tugged at his gray goatee.
"Oh, what? Do tell!"
"On second thought I believe I'll keep you guessing, too. But you girls must stand up for me if the church members want to run me out of town for doing it. However, it's for the hospital. You'll see. Nothing like this has ever been done before."
He went off pompously toward a group of chaperons in one corner, and just as the two girls had turned to each other to discuss the possibilities of the secret, two old gentlemen bore down on the booth, declaring in loud voices that they wanted ten miles of tatting. Well, after all, old gentlemen were better than no gentlemen at all, thought Scarlett, measuring out the tatting and submitting demurely to being chucked under the chin. The old blades charged off toward the lemonade booth and others took their places at the counter. Their booth did not have so many customers as did the other booths where the tootling laugh of Maybelle Merriwether sounded and Fanny Elsing's giggles and the Whiting girls' repartee made merriment. Melly sold useless stuff to men who could have no possible use for it as quietly and serenely as a shopkeeper, and Scarlett patterned her conduct on Melly's.
There were crowds in front of every other counter but theirs, girls chattering, men buying. The few who came to them talked about how they went to the university with Ashley and what a fine soldier he was or spoke in respectful tones of Charles and how great a loss to Atlanta his death had been.
Then the music broke into the rollicking strains of "Johnny Booker, he'p dis Nigger!" and Scarlett thought she would scream. She wanted to dance. She wanted to dance. She looked across the floor and tapped her foot to the music and her green eyes blazed so eagerly that they fairly snapped. All the way across the floor, a man, newly come and standing in the doorway, saw them, started in recognition and watched closely the slanting eyes in the sulky, rebellious face. Then he grinned to himself as he recognized the invitation that any male could read.
He was dressed in black broadcloth, a tall man, towering over the officers who stood near him, bulky in the shoulders but tapering to a small waist and absurdly small feet in varnished boots. His severe black suit, with fine ruffled shirt and trousers smartly strapped beneath high insteps, was oddly at variance with his physique and face, for he was foppishly groomed, the clothes of a dandy on a body that was powerful and latently dangerous in its lazy grace. His hair was jet black, and his black mustache was small and closely clipped, almost foreign looking compared with the dashing, swooping mustaches of the cavalrymen near by. He looked, and was, a man of lusty and unashamed appetites. He had an air of utter assurance, of displeasing insolence about him, and there was a twinkle of malice in his bold eyes as he stared at Scarlett, until finally, feeling his gaze, she looked toward him.
Somewhere in her mind, the bell of recognition rang, but for the moment she could not recall who he was. But he was the first man in months who had displayed an interest in her, and she threw him a gay smile. She made a little curtsy as he bowed, and then, as he straightened and started toward her with a peculiarly lithe Indian like gait, her hand went to her mouth in horror, for she knew who he was.
Thunderstruck, she stood as if paralyzed while he made his way through the crowd. Then she turned blindly, bent on flight into the refreshment rooms, but her skirt caught on a nail of the booth. She jerked furiously at it, tearing it and, in an instant, he was beside her.
"Permit me," he said bending over and disentangling the flounce. "I hardly hoped that you would recall me, Miss O'Hara."
His voice was oddly pleasant to the ear, the well modulated voice of a gentleman, resonant and overlaid with the flat slow drawl of the Charlestonian.
She looked up at him imploringly, her face crimson with the shame of their last meeting, and met two of the blackest eyes she had ever seen, dancing in merciless merriment. Of all the people in the world to turn up here, this terrible person who had witnessed that scene with Ashley which still gave her nightmares; this odious wretch who ruined girls and was not received by nice people; this despicable man who had said, and with good cause, that she was not a lady.
At the sound of his voice, Melanie turned and for the first time in her life Scarlett thanked God for the existence of her sister in law.
"Why it's it's Mr. Rhett Butler, isn't it?" said Melanie with a little smile, putting out her hand. "I met you "
"On the happy occasion of the announcement of your betrothal," he finished, bending over her hand. "It is kind of you to recall me."
"And what are you doing so far from Charleston, Mr. Butler?"
"A boring matter of business, Mrs. Wilkes. I will be in and out of your town from now on. I find I must not only bring in goods but see to the disposal of them."
"Bring in " began Melly, her brow wrinkling, and then she broke into a delighted smile. "Why, you you must be the famous Captain Butler we've been hearing so much about the blockade runner. Why, every girl here is wearing dresses you brought in. Scarlett, aren't you thrilled what's the matter, dear? Are you faint? Do sit down."
Scarlett sank to the stool, her breath coming so rapidly she feared the lacings of her stays would burst. Oh, what a terrible thing to happen! She had never thought to meet this man again. He picked up her black fan from the counter and began fanning her solicitously, too solicitously, his face grave but his eyes still dancing.
"It is quite warm in here," he said. "No wonder Miss O'Hara is faint. May I lead you to a window?"
"No," said Scarlett, so rudely that Melly stared.
"She is not Miss O'Hara any longer," said Melly. "She is Mrs. Hamilton. She is my sister now," and Melly bestowed one of her fond little glances on her. Scarlett felt that she would strangle at the expression on Captain Butler's swarthy piratical face.
"I am sure that is a great gain to two charming ladies," said he, making a slight bow. That was the kind of remark all men made, but when he said it it seemed to her that he meant just the opposite.
"Your husbands are here tonight, I trust, on this happy occasion? It would be a pleasure to renew acquaintances."
"My husband is in Virginia," said Melly with a proud lift of her head. "But Charles " Her voice broke.
"He died in camp," said Scarlett flatly. She almost snapped the words. Would this creature never go away? Melly looked at her, startled, and the Captain made a gesture of self reproach.
"My dear ladies how could I! You must forgive me. But permit a stranger to offer the comfort of saying that to die for one's country is to live forever."
Melanie smiled at him through sparkling tears while Scarlett felt the fox of wrath and impotent hate gnaw at her vitals. Again he had made a graceful remark, the kind of compliment any gentleman would pay under such circumstances, but he did not mean a word of it. He was jeering at her. He knew she hadn't loved Charles. And Melly was just a big enough fool not to see through him. Oh, please God, don't let anybody else see through him, she thought with a start of terror. Would he tell what he knew? Of course he wasn't a gentleman and there was no telling what men would do when they weren't gentlemen. There was no standard to judge them by. She looked up at him and saw that his mouth was pulled down at the corners in mock sympathy, even while he swished the fan. Something in his look challenged her spirit and brought her strength back in a surge of dislike. Abruptly she snatched the fan from his hand.
"I'm quite all right," she said tartly. "There's no need to blow my hair out of place."
"Scarlett, darling! Captain Butler, you must forgive her. She she isn't herself when she hears poor Charlie's name spoken and perhaps, after all, we shouldn't have come here tonight. We're still in mourning, you see, and it's quite a strain on her all this gaiety and music, poor child."
"I quite understand," he said with elaborate gravity, but as he turned and gave Melanie a searching look that went to the bottom of her sweet worried eyes, his expression changed, reluctant respect and gentleness coming over his dark face. "I think you're a courageous little lady, Mrs. Wilkes."
"Not a word about me!" thought Scarlett indignantly, as Melly smiled in confusion and answered,
"Dear me, no, Captain Butler! The hospital committee just had to have us for this booth because at the last minute A pillow case? Here's a lovely one with a flag on it."
She turned to three cavalrymen who appeared at her counter. For a moment, Melanie thought how nice Captain Butler was. Then she wished that something more substantial than cheesecloth was between her skirt and the spittoon that stood just outside the booth, for the aim of the horsemen with amber streams of tobacco juice was not so unerring as with their long horse pistols. Then she forgot about the Captain, Scarlett and the spittoons as more customers crowded to her.
Scarlett sat quietly on the stool fanning herself, not daring to look up, wishing Captain Butler back on the deck of his ship where he belonged.
"Your husband has been dead long?"
"Oh, yes, a long time. Almost a year."
"An aeon, I'm sure."
Scarlett was not sure what an aeon was, but there was no mistaking the baiting quality of his voice, so she said nothing.
"Had you been married long? Forgive my questions but I have been away from this section for so long."
"Two months," said Scarlett, unwillingly.
"A tragedy, no less," his easy voice continued.
Oh, damn him, she thought violently. If he was any other man in the world I could simply freeze up and order him off. But he knows about Ashley and he knows I didn't love Charlie. And my hands are tied. She said nothing, still looking down at her fan.
"And this is your first social appearance?"
"I know it looks quite odd," she explained rapidly. "But the McLure girls who were to take this booth were called away and there was no one else, so Melanie and I "
"No sacrifice is too great for the Cause."
Why, that was what Mrs. Elsing had said, but when she said it it didn't sound the same way. Hot words started to her lips but she choked them back. After all, she was here, not for the Cause, but because she was tired of sitting home.
"I have always thought," he said reflectively, "that the system of mourning, of immuring women in crepe for the rest of their lives and forbidding them normal enjoyment is just as barbarous as the Hindu suttee."
He laughed and she blush ed for her ignorance. She hated people who used words unknown to her.
"In India, when a man dies he is burned, instead of buried, and his wife always climbs on the funeral pyre and is burned with him."
"How dreadful! Why do they do it? Don't the police do anything about it?"
"Of course not. A wife who didn't burn herself would be a social outcast. All the worthy Hindu matrons would talk about her for not behaving as a well bred lady should precisely as those worthy matrons in the corner would talk about you, should you appear tonight in a red dress and lead a reel. Personally, I think suttee much more merciful than our charming Southern custom of burying widows alive!"
"How dare you say I'm buried alive!"
"How closely women crutch the very chains that bind them! You think the Hindu custom barbarous but would you have had the courage to appear here tonight if the Confederacy hadn't needed you?"
Arguments of this character were always confusing to Scarlett. His were doubly confusing because she had a vague idea there was truth in them. But now was the time to squelch him.
"Of course, I wouldn't have come. It would have been well, disrespectful to it would have seemed as if I hadn't lov "
His eyes waited on her words, cynical amusement in them, and she could not go on. He knew she hadn't loved Charlie and he wouldn't let her pretend to the nice polite sentiments that she should express. What a terrible, terrible thing it was to have to do with a man who wasn't a gentleman. A gentleman always appeared to believe a lady even when he knew she was lying. That was Southern chivalry. A gentleman always obeyed the rules and said the correct things and made life easier for a lady. But this man seemed not to care for rules and evidently enjoyed talking of things no one ever talked about.
"I am waiting breathlessly."
"I think you are horrid," she said, helplessly, dropping her eyes.
He leaned down across the counter until his mouth was near her ear and hissed, in a very creditable imitation of the stage villains who appeared infrequently at the Athenaeum Hall: "Fear not, fair lady! Your guilty secret is safe with me!"
"Oh," she whispered, feverishly, "how can you say such things!"
"I only thought to ease your mind. What would you have me say? 'Be mine, beautiful female, or I will reveal all?'"
She met his eyes unwillingly and saw they were as teasing as a small boy's. Suddenly she laughed. It was such a silly situation, after all. He laughed too, and so loudly that several of the chaperons in the corner looked their way. Observing how good a time Charles Hamilton's widow appeared to be having with a perfect stranger, they put their heads together disapprovingly.
There was a roll of drums and many voices cried "Sh!" as Dr. Meade mounted the platform and spread out his arms for quiet.
"We must all give grateful thanks to the charming ladies whose indefatigable and patriotic efforts have made this bazaar not only a pecuniary success," he began, "but have transformed this rough hall into a bower of loveliness, a fit garden for the charming rosebuds I see about me."
Everyone clapped approvingly.
"The ladies have given their best, not only of their time but of the labor of their hands, and these beautiful objects in the booths are doubly beautiful, made as they are by the fair hands of our charming Southern women."
There were more shouts of approval, and Rhett Butler who had been lounging negligently against the counter at Scarlett's side whispered: "Pompous goat, isn't he?"
Startled, at first horrified, at this lese majesty toward Atlanta's most beloved citizen, she stared reprovingly at him. But the doctor did look like a goat with his gray chin whiskers wagging away at a great rate, and with difficulty she stifled a giggle.
"But these things are not enough. The good ladies of the hospital committee, whose cool hands have soothed many a suffering brow and brought back from the jaws of death our brave men wounded in the bravest of all Causes, know our needs. I will not enumerate them. We must have more money to buy medical supplies from England, and we have with us tonight the intrepid captain who has so successfully run the blockade for a year and who will run it again to bring us the drugs we need. Captain Rhett Butler!"
Though caught unawares, the blockader made a graceful bow too graceful, thought Scarlett, trying to analyze it. It was almost as if he overdid his courtesy because his contempt for everybody present was so great. There was a loud burst of applause as he bowed and a craning of necks from the ladies in the corner. So that was who poor Charles Hamilton's widow was carrying on with! And Charlie hardly dead a year!
"We need more gold and I am asking you for it," the doctor continued. "I am asking a sacrifice but a sacrifice so small compared with the sacrifices our gallant men in gray are making that it will seem laughably small. Ladies, I want your jewelry. _I_ want your jewelry? No, the Confederacy wants your jewelry, the Confederacy calls for it and I know no one will hold back. How fair a gem gleams on a lovely wrist! How beautifully gold brooches glitter on the bosoms of our patriotic women! But how much more beautiful is sacrifice than all the gold and gems of the Ind. The gold will be melted and the stones sold and the money used to buy drugs and other medical supplies. Ladies, there will pass among you two of our gallant wounded, with baskets and " But the rest of his speech was lost in the storm and tumult of clapping hands and cheering voices.
Scarlett's first thought was one of deep thankfulness that mourning forbade her wearing her precious earbobs and the heavy gold chain that had been Grandma Robillard's and the gold and black enameled bracelets and the garnet brooch. She saw the little Zouave, a split oak basket over his unwounded arm, making the rounds of the crowd on her side of the hall and saw women, old and young, laughing, eager, tugging at bracelets, squealing in pretended pain as earrings came from pierced flesh, helping each other undo stiff necklace clasps, unpinning brooches from bosoms. There was a steady little clink clink of metal on metal and cries of "Wait wait! I've got it unfastened now. There!" Maybelle Merriwether was pulling off her lovely twin bracelets from above and below her elbows. Fanny Elsing, crying "Mamma, may I?" was tearing from her curls the seed pearl ornament set in heavy gold which had been in the family for generations. As each offering went into the basket, there was applause and cheering.
The grinning little man was coming to their booth now, his basket heavy on his arm, and as he passed Rhett Butler a handsome gold cigar case was thrown carelessly into the basket. When he came to Scarlett and rested his basket upon the counter, she shook her head throwing wide her hands to show that she had nothing to give. It was embarrassing to be the only person present who was giving nothing. And then she saw the bright gleam of her wide gold wedding ring.
For a confused moment she tried to remember Charles' face how he had looked when he slipped it on her finger. But the memory was blurred, blurred by the sudden feeling of irritation that memory of him always brought to her. Charles he was the reason why life was over for her, why she was an old woman.
With a sudden wrench she seized the ring but it stuck. The Zouave was moving toward Melanie.
"Wait!" cried Scarlett. "I have something for you!" The ring came off and, as she started to throw it into the basket, heaped up with chains, watches, rings, pins and bracelets, she caught Rhett Butler's eye. His lips were twisted in a slight smile. Defiantly, she tossed the ring onto the top of the pile.
"Oh, my darling!" whispered Molly, clutching her arm, her eyes blazing with love and pride. "You brave, brave girl! Wait please, wait, Lieutenant Picard! I have something for you, too!"
She was tugging at her own wedding ring, the ring Scarlett knew had never once left that finger since Ashley put it there. Scarlett knew, as no one did, how much it meant to her. It came off with difficulty and for a brief instant was clutched tightly in the small palm. Then it was laid gently on the pile of jewelry. The two girls stood looking after the Zouave who was moving toward the group of elderly ladies in the corner, Scarlett defiant, Melanie with a look more pitiful than tears. And neither expression was lost on the man who stood beside them.
"If you hadn't been brave enough to do it, I would never have been either," said Melly, putting her arm about Scarlett's waist and giving her a gentle squeeze. For a moment Scarlett wanted to shake her off and cry "Name of God!" at the top of her lungs, as Gerald did when he was irritated, but she caught Rhett Butler's eye and managed a very sour smile. It was annoying the way Melly always misconstrued her motives but perhaps that was far preferable to having her suspect the truth.
"What a beautiful gesture," said Rhett Butler, softly. "It is such sacrifices as yours that hearten our brave lads in gray."
Hot words bubbled to her lips and it was with difficulty that she checked them. There was mockery in everything he said. She disliked him heartily, lounging there against the booth. But there was something stimulating about him, something warm and vital and electric. All that was Irish in her rose to the challenge of his black eyes. She decided she was going to take this man down a notch or two. His knowledge of her secret gave him an advantage over her that was exasperating, so she would have to change that by putting him at a disadvantage somehow. She stifled her impulse to tell him exactly what she thought of him. Sugar always caught more flies than vinegar, as Mammy often said, and she was going to catch and subdue this fly, so he could never again have her at his mercy.
"Thank you," she said sweetly, deliberately misunderstanding his jibe. "A compliment like that coming from so famous a man as Captain Butler is appreciated."
He threw back his head and laughed freely yelped, was what Scarlett thought fiercely, her face becoming pink again.
"Why don't you say what you really think?" he demanded, lowering his voice so that in the clatter and excitement of the collection, it came only to her ears. "Why don't you say I'm a damned rascal and no gentleman and that I must take myself off or you'll have one of these gallant boys in gray call me out?"
It was on the tip of her tongue to answer tartly, but she managed by heroic control to say: "Why, Captain Butler! How you do run on! As if everybody didn't know how famous you are and how brave and what a what a
"I am disappointed in you," he said.
"Yes. On the occasion of our first eventful meeting I thought to myself that I had at last met a girl who was not only beautiful but who had courage. And now I see that you are only beautiful."
"Do you mean to call me a coward?" She was ruffling like a hen.
"Exactly. You lack the courage to say what you really think. When I first met you, I thought: There is a girl in a million. She isn't like these other silly little fools who believe everything their mammas tell them and act on it, no matter how they feel. And conceal all their feelings and desires and little heartbreaks behind a lot of sweet words. I thought: Miss O'Hara is a girl of rare spirit. She knows what she wants and she doesn't mind speaking her mind or throwing vases."
"Oh," she said, rage breaking through. "Then I'll speak my mind right this minute. If you'd had any raising at all you'd never have come over here and talked to me. You'd have known I never wanted to lay eyes on you again! But you aren't a gentleman! You are just a nasty ill bred creature! And you think that because your rotten little boats can outrun the Yankees, you've the right to come here and jeer at men who are brave and women who are sacrificing everything for the Cause "
"Stop, stop " he begged with a grin. "You started off very nicely and said what you thought, but don't begin talking to me about the Cause. I'm tired of hearing about it and I'll bet you are, too "
"Why, how did " she began, caught off her balance, and then checked herself hastily, boiling with anger at herself for falling into his trap.
"I stood there in the doorway before you saw me and I watched you," he said. "And I watched the other girls. And they all looked as though their faces came out of one mold. Yours didn't. You have an easy face to read. You didn't have your mind on your business and I'll wager you weren't thinking about our Cause or the hospital. It was all over your face that you wanted to dance and have a good time and you couldn't. So you were mad clean through. Tell the truth. Am I not right?"
"I have nothing more to say to you, Captain Butler," she said as formally as she could, trying to draw the rags of her dignity about her. "Just because you're conceited at being the 'great blockader' doesn't give you the right to insult women."
"The great blockader! That's a joke. Pray give me only one moment more of your precious time before you cast me into darkness. I wouldn't want so charming a little patriot to be left under a misapprehension about my contribution to the Confederate Cause."
"I don't care to listen to your brags."
"Blockading is a business with me and I'm making money out of it. When I stop making money out of it, I'll quit. What do you think of that?"
"I think you're a mercenary rascal just like the Yankees."
"Exactly," he grinned. "And the Yankees help me make my money. Why, last month I sailed my boat right into New York harbor and took on a cargo."
"What!" cried Scarlett, interested and excited in spite of herself. "Didn't they shell you?"
"My poor innocent! Of course not. There are plenty of sturdy Union patriots who are not averse to picking up money selling goods to the Confederacy. I run my boat into New York, buy from Yankee firms, sub rosa, of course, and away I go. And when that gets a bit dangerous, I go to Nassau where these same Union patriots have brought powder and shells and hoop skirts for me. It's more convenient than going to England. Sometimes it's a bit difficult running it into Charleston or Wilmington but you'd be surprised how far a little gold goes."
"Oh, I knew Yankees were vile but I didn't know "
"Why quibble about the Yankees earning an honest penny selling out the Union? It won't matter in a hundred years. The result will be the same. They know the Confederacy will be licked eventually, so why shouldn't they cash in on it?"
"Will you please leave me or will it be necessary for me to call my carriage and go home to get rid of you?"
"A red hot little Rebel," he said, with another sudden grin. He bowed and sauntered off, leaving her with her bosom heaving with impotent rage and indignation. There was disappointment burning in her that she could not quite analyze, the disappointment of a child seeing illusions crumble. How dared he take the glamor from the blockaders! And how dared he say the Confederacy would be licked! He should be shot for that shot like a traitor. She looked about the hall at the familiar faces, so assured of success, so brave, so devoted, and somehow a cold little chill set in at her heart. Licked? These people why, of course not! The very idea was impossible, disloyal.
"What were you two whispering about?" asked Melanie, turning to Scarlett as her customers drifted off. "I couldn't help seeing that Mrs. Merriwether had her eye on you all the time and, dear, you know how she talks."
"Oh, the man's impossible an ill bred boor," said Scarlett. "And as for old lady Merriwether, let her talk. I'm sick of acting like a ninny, just for her benefit."
"Why, Scarlett!" cried Melanie, scandalized.
"Sh sh," said Scarlett. "Dr. Meade is going to make another announcement."
The gathering quieted again as the doctor raised his voice, at first in thanks to the ladies who had so willingly given their jewelry.
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, I am going to propose a surprise an innovation that may shock some of you, but I ask you to remember that all this is done for the hospital and for the benefit of our boys lying there."
Everyone edged forward, in anticipation, trying to imagine what the sedate doctor could propose that would be shocking.
"The dancing is about to begin and the first number will, of course, be a reel, followed by a waltz. The dances following, the polkas, the schottisches, the mazurkas, will be preceded by short reels. I know the gentle rivalry to lead the reels very well and so " The doctor mopped his brow and cast a quizzical glance at the corner, where his wife sat among the chaperons. "Gentlemen, if you wish to lead a reel with the lady of your choice, you must bargain for her. I will be auctioneer and the proceeds will go to the hospital."
Fans stopped in mid swish and a ripple of excited murmuring ran through the hall. The chaperons' corner was in tumult and Mrs. Meade, anxious to support her husband in an action of which she heartily disapproved, was at a disadvantage. Mrs. Elsing, Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Whiting were red with indignation. But suddenly the Home Guard gave a cheer and it was taken up by the other uniformed guests. The young girls clapped their hands and jumped excitedly.
"Don't you think it's it's just just a little like a slave auction?" whispered Melanie, staring uncertainly at the embattled doctor who heretofore had been perfect in her eyes.
Scarlett said nothing but her eyes glittered and her heart contracted with a little pain. If only she were not a widow. If only she were Scarlett O'Hara again, out there on the floor in an apple green dress with dark green velvet ribbons dangling from her bosom and tuberoses in her black hair she'd lead that reel. Yes, indeed! There'd be a dozen men battling for her and paying over money to the doctor. Oh, to have to sit here, a wallflower against her will and see Fanny or Maybelle lead the first reel as the belle of Atlanta!
Above the tumult sounded the voice of the little Zouave, his Creole accent very obvious: "Eef I may twenty dollars for Mees Maybelle Merriwether."
Maybelle collapsed with blush es against Fanny's shoulder and the two girls hid their faces in each other's necks and giggled, as other voices began calling other names, other amounts of money. Dr. Meade had begun to smile again, ignoring completely the indignant whispers that came from the Ladies' Hospital Committee in the corner.
At first, Mrs. Merriwether had stated flatly and loudly that her Maybelle would never take part in such a proceeding; but as Maybelle's name was called most often and the amount went up to seventy five dollars, her protests began to dwindle. Scarlett leaned her elbows on the counter and almost glared at the excited laughing crowd surging about the platform, their hands full of Confederate paper money.
Now, they would all dance except her and the old ladies. Now everyone would have a good time, except her. She saw Rhett Butler standing just below the doctor and, before she could change the expression of her face, he saw her and one corner of his mouth went down and one eyebrow went up. She jerked her chin up and turned away from him and suddenly she heard her own name called called in an unmistakable Charleston voice that rang out above the hubbub of other names.
"Mrs. Charles Hamilton one hundred and fifty dollars in gold."
A sudden hush fell on the crowd both at the mention of the sum and at the name. Scarlett was so startled she could not even move. She remained sitting with her chin in her hands, her eyes wide with astonishment. Everybody turned to look at her. She saw the doctor lean down from the platform and whisper something to Rhett Butler. Probably telling him she was in mourning and it was impossible for her to appear on the floor. She saw Rhett's shoulders shrug lazily.
"Another one of our belles, perhaps?" questioned the doctor.
"No," said Rhett clearly, his eyes sweeping the crowd carelessly. "Mrs. Hamilton."
"I tell you it is impossible," said the doctor testily. "Mrs. Hamilton will not "
Scarlett heard a voice which, at first, she did not recognize as her own.
"Yes, I will!"
She leaped to her feet, her heart hammering so wildly she feared she could not stand, hammering with the thrill of being the center of attention again, of being the most highly desired girl present and oh, best of all, at the prospect of dancing again.
"Oh, I don't care! I don't care what they say!" she whispered, as a sweet madness swept over her. She tossed her head and sped out of the booth, tapping her heels like castanets, snapping open her black silk fan to its widest.
For a fleeting instant she saw Melanie's incredulous face, the look on the chaperons' faces, the petulant girls, the enthusiastic approval of the soldiers.
Then she was on the floor and Rhett Butler was advancing toward her through the aisle of the crowd, that nasty mocking smile on his face. But she didn't care didn't care if he were Abe Lincoln himself! She was going to dance again. She was going to lead the reel. She swept him a low curtsy and a dazzling smile and he bowed, one hand on his frilled bosom. Levi, horrified, was quick to cover the situation and bawled: "Choose yo' padners fo' de Ferginny reel!"
And the orchestra crashed into that best of all reel tunes, "Dixie."
"How dare you make me so conspicuous, Captain Butler?"
"But, my dear Mrs. Hamilton, you so obviously wanted to be conspicuous!"
"How could you call my name out in front of everybody?"
"You could have refused."
"But I owe it to the Cause I I couldn't think of myself when you were offering so much in gold. Stop laughing, everyone is looking at us."
"They will look at us anyway. Don't try to palm off that twaddle about the Cause to me. You wanted to dance and I gave you the opportunity. This march is the last figure of the reel, isn't it?"
"Yes really, I must stop and sit down now."
"Why? Have I stepped on your feet?"
"No but they'll talk about me."
"Do you really care down in your heart?"
"You aren't committing any crime, are you? Why not dance the waltz with me?"
"But if Mother ever "
"Still tied to mamma's apronstrings."
"Oh, you have the nastiest way of making virtues sound so stupid."
"But virtues are stupid. Do you care if people talk?"
"No but well, let's don't talk about it. Thank goodness the waltz is beginning. Reels always leave me breathless."
"Don't dodge my questions. Has what other women said ever mattered to you?"
"Oh, if you're going to pin me down no! But a girl is supposed to mind. Tonight, though, I don't care."
"Bravo! Now you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting others think for you. That's the beginning of wisdom."
"Oh, but "
"When you've been talked about as much as I have, you'll realize how little it matters. Just think, there's not a home in Charleston where I am received. Not even my contribution to our just and holy Cause lifts the ban."
"Oh, not at all. Until you've lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is."
"You do talk scandalous!"
"Scandalously and truly. Always providing you have enough courage or money you can do without a reputation."
"Money can't buy everything."
"Someone must have told you that. You'd never think of such a platitude all by yourself. What can't it buy?"
"Oh, well, I don't know not happiness or love, anyway."
"Generally it can. And when it can't, it can buy some of the most remarkable substitutes."
"And have you so much money, Captain Butler?"
"What an ill bred question, Mrs. Hamilton. I'm surprised. But, yes. For a young man cut off without a shilling in early youth, I've done very well. And I'm sure I'll clean up a million on the blockade."
"Oh, yes! What most people don't seem to realize is that there is just as much money to be made out of the wreckage of a civilization as from the upbuilding of one."
"And what does all that mean?"
"Your family and my family and everyone here tonight made their money out of changing a wilderness into a civilization. That's empire building. There's good money in empire building. But, there's more in empire wrecking."
"What empire are you talking about?"
"This empire we're living in the South the Confederacy the Cotton Kingdom it's breaking up right under our feet. Only most fools won't see it and take advantage of the situation created by the collapse. I'm making my fortune out of the wreckage."
"Then you really think we're going to get licked?"
"Yes. Why be an ostrich?"
"Oh, dear, it bores me to talk about such like. Don't you ever say pretty things, Captain Butler?"
"Would it please you if I said your eyes were twin goldfish bowls filled to the brim with the clearest green water and that when the fish swim to the top, as they are doing now, you are devilishly charming?"
"Oh, I don't like that. . . . Isn't the music gorgeous? Oh, I could waltz forever! I didn't know I had missed it so!"
"You are the most beautiful dancer I've ever held in my arms."
"Captain Butler, you must not hold me so tightly. Everybody is looking."
"If no one were looking, would you care?"
"Captain Butler, you forget yourself."
"Not for a minute. How could I, with you in my arms? . . . What is that tune? Isn't it new?"
"Yes. Isn't it divine? It's something we captured from the Yankees."
"What's the name of it?"
"'When This Cruel War Is Over.'"
"What are the words? Sing them to me."
"Dearest one, do you remember When we last did meet? When you told me how you loved me, Kneeling at my feet? Oh, how proud you stood before me In your suit of gray, When you vowed from me and country Ne'er to go astray. Weeping sad and lonely, Sighs and tears how vain! When this cruel war is over Pray that we meet again!"
"Of course, it was 'suit of blue' but we changed it to 'gray.' . . . Oh, you waltz so well, Captain Butler. Most big men don't, you know. And to think it will be years and years before I'll dance again."
"It will only be a few minutes. I'm going to bid you in for the next reel and the next and the next."
"Oh, no, I couldn't! You mustn't! My reputation will be ruined."
"It's in shreds already, so what does another dance matter? Maybe I'll give the other boys a chance after I've had five or six, but I must have the last one."
"Oh, all right. I know I'm crazy but I don't care. I don't care a bit what anybody says. I'm so tired of sitting at home. I'm going to dance and dance "
"And not wear black? I loathe funeral crepe."
"Oh, I couldn't take off mourning Captain Butler, you must not hold me so tightly. I'll be mad at you if you do."
"And you look gorgeous when you are mad. I'll squeeze you again there just to see if you will really get mad. You have no idea how charming you were that day at Twelve Oaks when you were mad and throwing things."
"Oh, please won't you forget that?"
"No, it is one of my most priceless memories a delicately nurtured Southern belle with her Irish up You are very Irish, you know."
"Oh, dear, there's the end of the music and there's Aunt Pittypat coming out of the back room. I know Mrs. Merriwether must have told her. Oh, for goodness' sakes, let's walk over and look out the window. I don't want her to catch me now. Her eyes are as big as saucers."
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|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Over the waffles next morning, Pittypat was lachrymose, Melanie was silent and Scarlett defiant.
"I don't care if they do talk. I'll bet I made more money for the hospital than any girl there more than all the messy old stuff we sold, too."
"Oh, dear, what does the money matter?" wailed Pittypat, wringing her hands. "I just couldn't believe my eyes, and poor Charlie hardly dead a year. . . . And that awful Captain Butler, making you so conspicuous, and he's a terrible, terrible person, Scarlett. Mrs. Whiting's cousin, Mrs. Coleman, whose husband came from Charleston, told me about him. He's the black sheep of a lovely family oh, how could any of the Butlers ever turn out anything like him? He isn't received in Charleston and he has the fastest reputation and there was something about a girl something so bad Mrs. Coleman didn't even know what it was "
"Oh, I can't believe he's that bad," said Melly gently. "He seemed a perfect gentleman and when you think how brave he's been, running the blockade "
"He isn't brave," said Scarlett perversely, pouring half a pitcher of syrup over her waffles. "He just does it for money. He told me so. He doesn't care anything about the Confederacy and he says we're going to get licked. But he dances divinely."
Her audience was speechless with horror.
"I'm tired of sitting at home and I'm not going to do it any longer. If they all talked about me about last night, then my reputation is already gone and it won't matter what else they say."
It did not occur to her that the idea was Rhett Butler's. It came so patly and fitted so well with what she was thinking.
"Oh! What will your mother say when she hears? What will she think of me?"
A cold qualm of guilt assailed Scarlett at the thought of Ellen's consternation, should she ever learn of her daughter's scandalous conduct. But she took heart at the thought of the twenty five miles between Atlanta and Tara. Miss Pitty certainly wouldn't tell Ellen. It would put her in such a bad light as a chaperon. And if Pitty didn't tattle, she was safe.
"I think " said Pitty, "yes, I think I'd better write Henry a letter about it much as I hate it but he's our only male relative, and make him go speak reprovingly to Captain Butler Oh, dear, if Charlie were only alive You must never, never speak to that man again, Scarlett."
Melanie had been sitting quietly, her hands in her lap, her waffles cooling on her plate. She arose and, coming behind Scarlett, put her arms about her neck.
"Darling," she said, "don't you get upset. I understand and it was a brave thing you did last night and it's going to help the hospital a lot. And if anybody dares say one little word about you, I'll tend to them. . . . Aunt Pitty, don't cry. It has been hard on Scarlett, not going anywhere. She's just a baby." Her fingers played in Scarlett's black hair. "And maybe we'd all be better off if we went out occasionally to parties. Maybe we've been very selfish, staying here with our grief. War times aren't like other times. When I think of all the soldiers in town who are far from home and haven't any friends to call on at night and the ones in the hospital who are well enough to be out of bed and not well enough to go back in the army Why, we have been selfish. We ought to have three convalescents in our house this minute, like everybody else, and some of the soldiers out to dinner every Sunday. There, Scarlett, don't you fret. People won't talk when they understand. We know you loved Charlie."
Scarlett was far from fretting and Melanie's soft hands in her hair were irritating. She wanted to jerk her head away and say "Oh, fiddle dee dee!" for the warming memory was still on her of how the Home Guard and the militia and the soldiers from the hospital had fought for her dances last night. Of all the people in the world, she didn't want Melly for a defender. She could defend herself, thank you, and if the old cats wanted to squall well, she could get along without the old cats. There were too many nice officers in the world for her to bother about what old women said.
Pittypat was dabbing at her eyes under Melanie's soothing words when Prissy entered with a bulky letter.
"Fer you. Miss Melly. A lil nigger boy brung it."
"For me?" said Melly, wondering, as she ripped open the envelope.
Scarlett was making headway with her waffles and so noticed nothing until she heard a burst of tears from Melly and, looking up, saw Aunt Pittypat's hand go to her heart.
"Ashley's dead!" screamed Pittypat, throwing her head back and letting her arms go limp.
"Oh, my God!" cried Scarlett, her blood turning to ice water.
"No! No!" cried Melanie. "Quick! Her smelling salts, Scarlett! There, there, honey, do you feel better? Breathe deep. No, it's not Ashley. I'm so sorry I scared you. I was crying because I'm so happy," and suddenly she opened her clenched palm and pressed some object that was in it to her lips. "I'm so happy," and burst into tears again.
Scarlett caught a fleeting glimpse and saw that it was a broad gold ring.
"Read it," said Melly, pointing to the letter on the floor. "Oh, how sweet, how kind, he is!"
Scarlett, bewildered, picked up the single sheet and saw written in a black, bold hand: "The Confederacy may need the lifeblood of its men but not yet does it demand the heart's blood of its women. Accept, dear Madam, this token of my reverence for your courage and do not think that your sacrifice has been in vain, for this ring has been redeemed at ten times its value. Captain Rhett Butler."
Melanie slipped the ring on her finger and looked at it lovingly.
"I told you he was a gentleman, didn't I?" she said turning to Pittypat, her smile bright through the teardrops on her face. "No one but a gentleman of refinement and thoughtfulness would ever have thought how it broke my heart to I'll send my gold chain instead. Aunt Pittypat, you must write him a note and invite him to Sunday dinner so I can thank him."
In the excitement, neither of the others seemed to have thought that Captain Butler had not returned Scarlett's ring, too. But she thought of it, annoyed. And she knew it had not been Captain Butler's refinement that had prompted so gallant a gesture. It was that he intended to be asked into Pittypat's house and knew unerringly how to get the invitation.
"I was greatly disturbed to hear of your recent conduct," ran Ellen's letter and Scarlett, who was reading it at the table, scowled. Bad news certainly traveled swiftly. She had often heard in Charleston and Savannah that Atlanta people gossiped more and meddled in other people's business more than any other people in the South, and now she believed it. The bazaar had taken place Monday night and today was only Thursday. Which of the old cats had taken it upon herself to write Ellen? For a moment she suspected Pittypat but immediately abandoned that thought. Poor Pittypat had been quaking in her number three shoes for fear of being blamed for Scarlett's forward conduct and would be the last to notify Ellen of her own inadequate chaperonage. Probably it was Mrs. Merriwether.
"It is difficult for me to believe that you could so forget yourself and your rearing. I will pass over the impropriety of your appearing publicly while in mourning, realizing your warm desire to be of assistance to the hospital. But to dance, and with such a man as Captain Butler! I have heard much of him (as who has not?) and Pauline wrote me only last week that he is a man of bad repute and not even received by his own family in Charleston, except of course by his heartbroken mother. He is a thoroughly bad character who would take advantage of your youth and innocence to make you conspicuous and publicly disgrace you and your family. How could Miss Pittypat have so neglected her duty to you?"
Scarlett looked across the table at her aunt. The old lady had recognized Ellen's handwriting and her fat little mouth was pursed in a frightened way, like a baby who fears a scolding and hopes to ward it off by tears.
"I am heartbroken to think that you could so soon forget your rearing. I have thought of calling you home immediately but will leave that to your father's discretion. He will be in Atlanta Friday to speak with Captain Butler and to escort you home. I fear he will be severe with you despite my pleadings. I hope and pray it was only youth and thoughtlessness that prompted such forward conduct. No one can wish to serve our Cause more than I, and I wish my daughters to feel the same way, but to disgrace "
There was more in the same vein but Scarlett did not finish it. For once, she was thoroughly frightened. She did not feel reckless and defiant now. She felt as young and guilty as when she was ten and had thrown a buttered biscuit at Suellen at the table. To think of her gentle mother reproving her so harshly and her father coming to town to talk to Captain Butler. The real seriousness of the matter grew on her. Gerald was going to be severe. This was one time when she knew she couldn't wiggle out of her punishment by sitting on his knee and being sweet and pert.
"Not not bad news?" quavered Pittypat.
"Pa is coming tomorrow and he's going to land on me like a duck on a June bug," answered Scarlett dolorously.
"Prissy, find my salts," fluttered Pittypat, pushing back her chair from her half eaten meal. "I I feel faint."
"Dey's in yo' skirt pocket," said Prissy, who had been hovering behind Scarlett, enjoying the sensational drama. Mist' Gerald in a temper was always exciting, providing his temper was not directed at her kinky head. Pitty fumbled at her skirt and held the vial to her nose.
"You all must stand by me and not leave me alone with him for one minute," cried Scarlett. "He's so fond of you both, and if you are with me he can't fuss at me."
"I couldn't," said Pittypat weakly, rising to her feet. "I I feel ill. I must go lie down. I shall lie down all day tomorrow. You must give him my excuses."
"Coward!" thought Scarlett, glowering at her.
Melly rallied to the defense, though white and frightened at the prospect of facing the fire eating Mr. O'Hara. "I'll I'll help you explain how you did it for the hospital. Surely he'll understand."
"No, he won't," said Scarlett. "And oh, I shall die if I have to go back to Tara in disgrace, like Mother threatens!"
"Oh, you can't go home," cried Pittypat, bursting into tears. "If you did I should be forced yes, forced to ask Henry to come live with us, and you know I just couldn't live with Henry. I'm so nervous with just Melly in the house at night, with so many strange men in town. You're so brave I don't mind being here without a man!"
"Oh, he couldn't take you to Tara!" said Melly, looking as if she too would cry in a moment. "This is your home now. What would we ever do without you?"
"You'd be glad to do without me if you knew what I really think of you," thought Scarlett sourly, wishing there were some other person than Melanie to help ward off Gerald's wrath. It was sickening to be defended by someone you disliked so much.
"Perhaps we should recall our invitation to Captain Butler " began Pittypat.
"Oh, we couldn't! It would be the height of rudeness!" cried Melly, distressed.
"Help me to bed. I'm going to be ill," moaned Pittypat. "Oh, Scarlett, how could you have brought this on me?"
Pittypat was ill and in her bed when Gerald arrived the next afternoon. She sent many messages of regret to him from behind her closed door and left the two frightened girls to preside over the supper table. Gerald was ominously silent although he kissed Scarlett and pinched Melanie's cheek approvingly and called her "Cousin Melly." Scarlett would have infinitely preferred bellowing oaths and accusations. True to her promise, Melanie clung to Scarlett's skirts like a small rustling shadow and Gerald was too much of a gentleman to upbraid his daughter in front of her. Scarlett had to admit that Melanie carried off things very well, acting as if she knew nothing was amiss, and she actually succeeded in engaging Gerald in conversation, once the supper had been served.
"I want to know all about the County," she said, beaming upon him. "India and Honey are such poor correspondents, and I know you know everything that goes on down there. Do tell us about Joe Fontaine's wedding."
Gerald warmed to the flattery and said that the wedding had been a quiet affair, "not like you girls had," for Joe had only a few days' furlough. Sally, the little Munroe chit, looked very pretty. No, he couldn't recall what she wore but he did hear that she didn't have a "second day" dress.
"She didn't!" exclaimed the girls, scandalized.
"Sure, because she didn't have a second day," Gerald explained and bawled with laughter before recalling that perhaps such remarks were not fit for female ears. Scarlett's spirits soared at his laugh and she blessed Melanie's tact.
"Back Joe went to Virginia the next day," Gerald added hastily. "There was no visiting about and dancing afterwards. The Tarleton twins are home."
"We heard that. Have they recovered?"
"They weren't badly wounded. Stuart had it in the knee and a minie ball went through Brent's shoulder. You had it, too, that they were mentioned in dispatches for bravery?"
"No! Tell us!"
"Hare brained both of them. I'm believing there's Irish in them," said Gerald complacently. "I forget what they did, but Brent is a lieutenant now."
Scarlett felt pleased at hearing of their exploits, pleased in a proprietary manner. Once a man had been her beau, she never lost the conviction that he belonged to her, and all his good deeds redounded to her credit.
"And I've news that'll be holding the both of you," said Gerald. "They're saying Stu is courting at Twelve Oaks again."
"Honey or India?" questioned Melly excitedly, while Scarlett stared almost indignantly.
"Oh, Miss India, to be sure. Didn't she have him fast till this baggage of mine winked at him?"
"Oh," said Melly, somewhat embarrassed at Gerald's outspokenness.
"And more than that, young Brent has taken to hanging about Tara. Now!"
Scarlett could not speak. The defection of her beaux was almost insulting. Especially when she recalled how wildly both the twins had acted when she told them she was going to marry Charles. Stuart had even threatened to shoot Charles, or Scarlett, or himself, or all three. It had been most exciting.
"Suellen?" questioned Melly, breaking into a pleased smile. "But I thought Mr. Kennedy "
"Oh, him?" said Gerald. "Frank Kennedy still pussyfoots about, afraid of his shadow, and I'll be asking him his intentions soon if he doesn't speak up. No, 'tis me baby."
"She's nothing but a child!" said Scarlett sharply, finding her tongue.
"She's little more than a year younger than you were, Miss, when you were married," retorted Gerald. "Is it you're grudging your old beau to your sister?"
Melly blush ed, unaccustomed to such frankness, and signaled Peter to bring in the sweet potato pie. Frantically she cast about in her mind for some other topic of conversation which would not be so personal but which would divert Mr. O'Hara from the purpose of his trip. She could think of nothing but, once started, Gerald needed no stimulus other than an audience. He talked on about the thievery of the commissary department which every month increased its demands, the knavish stupidity of Jefferson Davis and the blackguardery of the Irish who were being enticed into the Yankee army by bounty money.
When the wine was on the table and the two girls rose to leave him, Gerald cocked a severe eye at his daughter from under frowning brows and commanded her presence alone for a few minutes. Scarlett cast a despairing glance at Melly, who twisted her handkerchief helplessly and went out, softly pulling the sliding doors together.
"How now, Missy!" bawled Gerald, pouring himself a glass of port. "'Tis a fine way to act! Is it another husband you're trying to catch and you so fresh a widow?"
"Not so loud, Pa, the servants "
"They know already, to be sure, and everybody knows of our disgrace. And your poor mother taking to her bed with it and me not able to hold up me head. 'Tis shameful. No, Puss, you need not think to get around me with tears this time," he said hastily and with some panic in his voice as Scarlett's lids began to bat and her mouth to screw up. "I know you. You'd be flirting at the wake of your husband. Don't cry. There, I'll be saying no more tonight, for I'm going to see this fine Captain Butler who makes so light of me daughter's reputation. But in the morning There now, don't cry. Twill do you no good at all, at all. 'Tis firm that I am and back to Tara you'll be going tomorrow before you're disgracing the lot of us again. Don't cry, pet. Look what I've brought you! Isn't that a pretty present? See, look! How could you be putting so much trouble on me, bringing me all the way up here when 'tis a busy man I am? Don't cry!"
Melanie and Pittypat had gone to sleep hours before, but Scarlett lay awake in the warm darkness, her heart heavy and frightened in her breast. To leave Atlanta when life had just begun again and go home and face Ellen! She would rather die than face her mother. She wished she were dead, this very minute, then everyone would be sorry they had been so hateful. She turned and tossed on the hot pillow until a noise far up the quiet street reached her ears. It was an oddly familiar noise, blurred and indistinct though it was. She slipped out of bed and went to the window. The street with its over arching trees was softly, deeply black under a dim star studded sky. The noise came closer, the sound of wheels, the plod of a horse's hooves and voices. And suddenly she grinned for, as a voice thick with brogue and whisky came to her, raised in "Peg in a Low backed Car," she knew. This might not be Jonesboro on Court Day, but Gerald was coming home in the same condition.
She saw the dark bulk of a buggy stop in front of the house and indistinct figures alight. Someone was with him. Two figures paused at the gate and she heard the click of the latch and Gerald's voice came plain,
"Now I'll be giving you the 'Lament for Robert Emmet.' 'Tis a song you should be knowing, me lad. I'll teach it to you."
"I'd like to learn it," replied his companion, a hint of buried laughter in his flat drawling voice. "But not now, Mr. O'Hara."
"Oh, my God, it's that hateful Butler man!" thought Scarlett, at first annoyed. Then she took heart. At least they hadn't shot each other. And they must be on amicable terms to be coming home together at this hour and in this condition.
"Sing it I will and listen you will or I'll be shooting you for the Orangeman you are."
"Not Orangeman Charlestonian."
"'Tis no better. 'Tis worse. I have two sister in laws in Charleston and I know."
"Is he going to tell the whole neighborhood?" thought Scarlett panic stricken, reaching for her wrapper. But what could she do? She couldn't go downstairs at this hour of the night and drag her father in from the street.
With no further warning, Gerald, who was hanging on the gate, threw back his head and began the "Lament," in a roaring bass. Scarlett rested her elbows on the window sill and listened, grinning unwillingly. It would be a beautiful song, if only her father could carry a tune. It was one of her favorite songs and, for a moment, she followed the fine melancholy of those verses beginning:
"She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps And lovers are round her sighing."
The song went on and she heard stirrings in Pittypat's and Melly's rooms. Poor things, they'd certainly be upset. They were not used to full blooded males like Gerald. When the song had finished, two forms merged into one, came up the walk and mounted the steps. A discreet knock sounded at the door.
"I suppose I must go down," thought Scarlett. "After all he's my father and poor Pitty would die before she'd go." Besides, she didn't want the servants to see Gerald in his present condition. And if Peter tried to put him to bed, he might get unruly. Pork was the only one who knew how to handle him.
She pinned the wrapper close about her throat, lit her bedside candle and hurried down the dark stairs into the front hall. Setting the candle on the stand, she unlocked the door and in the wavering light she saw Rhett Butler, not a ruffle disarranged, supporting her small, thickset father. The "Lament" had evidently been Gerald's swan song for he was frankly hanging onto his companion's arm. His hat was gone, his crisp long hair was tumbled in a white mane, his cravat was under one ear, and there were liquor stains down his shirt bosom.
"Your father, I believe?" said Captain Butler, his eyes amused in his swarthy face. He took in her dishabille in one glance that seemed to penetrate through her wrapper.
"Bring him in," she said shortly, embarrassed at her attire, infuriated at Gerald for putting her in a position where this man could laugh at her.
Rhett propelled Gerald forward. "Shall I help you take him upstairs? You cannot manage him. He's quite heavy."
Her mouth fell open with horror at the audacity of his proposal. Just imagine what Pittypat and Melly cowering in their beds would think, should Captain Butler come upstairs!
"Mother of God, no! In here, in the parlor on that settee."
"The suttee, did you say?"
"I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head. Here. Now lay him down."
"Shall I take off his boots?"
"No. He's slept in them before."
She could have bitten off her tongue for that slip, for he laughed softly as he crossed Gerald's legs.
"Please go, now."
He walked out into the dim hall and picked up the hat he had dropped on the doorsill.
"I will be seeing you Sunday at dinner," he said and went out, closing the door noiselessly behind him.
Scarlett arose at five thirty, before the servants had come in from the back yard to start breakfast, and slipped down the steps to the quiet lower floor. Gerald was awake, sitting on the sofa, his hands gripping his bullet head as if he wished to crush it between his palms. He looked up furtively as she entered. The pain of moving his eyes was too excruciating to be borne and he groaned.
"Wurra the day!"
"It's a fine way you've acted, Pa," she began in a furious whisper. "Coming home at such an hour and waking all the neighbors with your singing."
"Sang! You woke the echoes singing the 'Lament.'"
"'Tis nothing I'm remembering."
"The neighbors will remember it till their dying day and so will Miss Pittypat and Melanie."
"Mother of Sorrows," moaned Gerald, moving a thickly furred tongue around parched lips. "'Tis little I'm remembering after the game started."
"That laddybuck Butler bragged that he was the best poker player in "
"How much did you lose?"
"Why, I won, naturally. A drink or two helps me game."
"Look in your wallet."
As if every movement was agony, Gerald removed his wallet from his coat and opened it. It was empty and he looked at it in forlorn bewilderment.
"Five hundred dollars," he said. "And 'twas to buy things from the blockaders for Mrs. O'Hara, and now not even fare left to Tara."
As she looked indignantly at the empty purse, an idea took form in Scarlett's mind and grew swiftly.
"I'll not be holding up my head in this town," she began. "You've disgraced us all."
"Hold your tongue, Puss. Can you not see me head is bursting?"
"Coming home drunk with a man like Captain Butler, and singing at the top of your lungs for everyone to hear and losing all that money."
"The man is too clever with cards to be a gentleman. He "
"What will Mother say when she hears?"
He looked up in sudden anguished apprehension. "You wouldn't be telling your mother a word and upsetting her, now would you?"
Scarlett said nothing but pursed her lips.
"Think now how 'twould hurt her and her so gentle."
"And to think, Pa, that you said only last night I had disgraced the family! Me, with my poor little dance to make money for the soldiers. Oh, I could cry."
"Well, don't," pleaded Gerald. "'Twould be more than me poor head could stand and sure 'tis bursting now."
"And you said that I "
"Now Puss, now Puss, don't you be hurt at what your poor old father said and him not meaning a thing and not understanding a thing! Sure, you're a fine well meaning girl, I'm sure."
"And wanting to take me home in disgrace."
"Ah, darling, I wouldn't be doing that. 'Twas to tease you. You won't be mentioning the money to your mother and her in a flutter about expenses already?"
"No," said Scarlett frankly, "I won't, if you'll let me stay here and if you'll tell Mother that 'twas nothing but a lot of gossip from old cats."
Gerald looked mournfully at his daughter.
"'Tis blackmail, no less."
"And last night was a scandal, no less."
"Well," he began wheedlingly, "we'll be forgetting all that. And do you think a fine pretty lady like Miss Pittypat would be having any brandy in the house? The hair of the dog "
Scarlett turned and tiptoed through the silent hall into the dining room to get the brandy bottle that she and Melly privately called the "swoon bottle" because Pittypat always took a sip from it when her fluttering heart made her faint or seem to faint. Triumph was written on her face and no trace of shame for her unfilial treatment of Gerald. Now Ellen would be soothed with lies if any other busybody wrote her. Now she could stay in Atlanta. Now she could do almost as she pleased, Pittypat being the weak vessel that she was. She unlocked the cellaret and stood for a moment with the bottle and glass pressed to her bosom.
She saw a long vista of picnics by the bubbling waters of Peachtree Creek and barbecues at Stone Mountain, receptions and balls, afternoon danceables, buggy rides and Sunday night buffet suppers. She would be there, right in the heart of things, right in the center of a crowd of men. And men fell in love so easily, after you did little things for them at the hospital. She wouldn't mind the hospital so much now. Men were so easily stirred when they had been ill. They fell into a clever girl's hand just like the ripe peaches at Tara when the trees were gently shaken.
She went back toward her father with the reviving liquor, thanking Heaven that the famous O'Hara head had not been able to survive last night's bout and wondering suddenly if Rhett Butler had had anything to do with that.
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|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell|