|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell Page 4|
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After sending up Melanie's breakfast tray, Scarlett dispatched Prissy for Mrs. Meade and sat down with Wade to eat her own breakfast. But for once she` had no appetite. Between her nervous apprehension over the thought that Melanie's time was approaching and her unconscious straining to hear the sound of the cannon, she` could hardly eat. Her heart acted very queerly, beating regularly for several minutes and then thumping so loudly and swiftly it almost made her sick at her stomach. The heavy hominy stuck in her throat like glue and never before had the mixture of parched corn and ground~ up yams that passed for coffee been so repulsive. Without sugar or cream it was bitter as gall, for the sorghum used for "long sweetening" did little to improve the taste. After one swallow she` pushe`d her cup away. If for no other reason she` hated the Yankees because they kept her from having real coffee with sugar and thick cream in it.
Wade was quieter than usual and did not set up his every morning complaint against the hominy that he so disliked. He ate silently the spoonfuls she` pushe`d into his mouth and washe`d them down with noisily gulped water. His soft brown eyes followed her every movement, large, round as dollars, a childish bewilderment in them as though her own scarce~ hidden fears had been communicated to him. When he had finishe`d she` sent him off to the back yard to play and watched him toddle across the straggling grass to his playhouse with great relief.
She arose and stood irresolutely at the foot of the stairs. She should go up and sit with Melanie and distract her mind from her coming ordeal but she` did not feel equal to it. Of all days in the world, Melanie had to pick this day to have the baby! And of all days to talk about dying!
She sat down on the bottom step of the stairs and tried to compose herself, wondering again how yesterday's battle had gone, wondering how today's fighting was going. How strange to have a big battle going on just a few miles away and to know nothing of it! How strange the quiet of this deserted end of town in contrast with the day of the fighting at Peachtree Creek! Aunt Pitty's house was one of the last on the north side of Atlanta and with the fighting somewhere to the far south, there were no reinforcements going by at double~ quick, no ambulances and staggering lines of walking wounded coming back. She wondered if such scenes were being enacted on the south side of town and thanked God she` was not there. If only everyone except the Meades and the Merriwethers had not refugeed from this north end of Peachtree! It made her feel forsaken and alone. She wishe`d fervently that Uncle Peter were with her so he could go down to headquarters and learn the news. If it wasn't for Melanie she`'d go to town this very minute and learn for herself, but she` couldn't leave until Mrs. Meade arrived. Mrs. Meade. Why didn't she` come on? And where was Prissy?
She rose and went out onto the front porch and looked for them impatiently, but the Meade house was around a shady bend in the street and she` could see no one. After a long while Prissy came into view, alone, switching her skirts from side to side and looking over her shoulder to observe the effect.
"You're as slow as molasses in January," snapped Scarlett as Prissy opened the gate. "What did Mrs. Meade say? How soon will she` be over here?"
"She warn't dar," said Prissy.
"Where is she`? When will she` be home?"
"Well'm," answered Prissy, dragging out her words pleasurably to give more weight to her message. "Dey Cookie say Miss Meade done got wud early dis mawnin' dat young Mist' Phil done been shot an' Miss Meade she` tuck de cah'ige an' Ole Talbot an' Betsy an' dey done gone ter fotch him home. Cookie say he bad hurt an' Miss Meade ain' gwine ter be studyin' 'bout comin' up hyah."
Scarlett stared at her and had an impulse to shake her. Negroes were always so proud of being the bearers of evil tidings.
"Well, don't stand there like a ninny. Go down to Mrs. Merriwether's and ask her to come up or send her mammy. Now, hurry."
"Dey ain' dar, Miss Scarlett. Ah drapped in ter pass time of de day wid Mammy on mah way home. Dey's done gone. House all locked up. Spec dey's at de horsepittle."
"So that's where you were so long! Whenever I send you somewhere you go where I tell you and don't stop to 'pass any time' with anybody. Go~ "
She stopped and racked her brain. Who was left in town among their friends who would be helpful? There was Mrs. Elsing. Of course, Mrs. Elsing didn't like her at all these days but she` had always been fond of Melanie.
"Go to Mrs. Elsing's, and explain everything very carefully and tell her to please come up here. And, Prissy, listen to me. Miss Melly's baby is due and she` may need you any minute now. Now you hurry right straight back."
"Yas'm," said Prissy and, turning, sauntered down the walk at snail's gait.
"Hurry, you slow poke!"
Prissy quickened her gait infinitesimally and Scarlett went back into the house. She hesitated again before going upstairs to Melanie. She would have to explain to her just why Mrs. Meade couldn't come and the knowledge that Phil Meade was badly wounded might upset her. Well, she`'d tell a lie about it.
She entered Melanie's room and saw that the breakfast tray was untouched. Melanie lay on her side, her face white.
"Mrs. Meade's over at the hospital," said Scarlett. "But Mrs. Elsing is coming. Do you feel bad?"
"Not very," lied Melanie. "Scarlett, how long did it take Wade to get born?"
"Less than no time," answered Scarlett with a cheerfulness she` was far from feeling. "I was out in the yard and I didn't hardly have time to get into the house. Mammy said it was scandalous~ just like one of the darkies."
"I hope I'll be like one of the darkies too," said Melanie, mustering a smile which suddenly disappeared as pain contorted her face.
Scarlett looked down at Melanie's tiny hips with none too sanguine hopes but said reassuringly: "Oh, it's not really so bad."
"Oh, I know it isn't. I'm afraid I'm a little coward. Is~ is Mrs. Elsing coming right away?"
"Yes, right away," said Scarlett. "I'll go down and get some fresh water and sponge you off. It's so hot today."
She took as long a time as possible in getting the water, running to the front door every two minutes to see if Prissy were coming. There was no sign of Prissy so she` went back upstairs, sponged Melanie's perspiring body and combed out her long dark hair.
When an hour had passed she` heard scuffing negro feet coming down the street, and looking out of the window, saw Prissy returning slowly, switching herself as before and tossing her head with as many airy affectations as if she` had a large and interested audience.
"Some day, I'm going to take a strap to that little wench," thought Scarlett savagely, hurrying down the stairs to meet her.
"Miss Elsing ober at de horsepittle. Dey Cookie 'lows a whole lot of wounded sojers come in on de early train. Cookie fixin' soup ter tek over dar. She say~ "
"Never mind what she` said," interrupted Scarlett, her heart sinking. "Put on a clean apron because I want you to go over to the hospital. I'm going to give you a note to Dr. Meade, and if he isn't there, give it to Dr. Jones or any of the other doctors. And if you don't hurry back this time, I'll skin you alive."
"And ask any of the gentlemen for news of the fighting. If they don't know, go by the depot and ask the engineers who brought the wounded in. Ask if they are fighting at Jonesboro or near there."
"Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett!" and sudden fright was in Prissy's black face. "De Yankees ain' at Tara, is dey?"
"I don't know. I'm telling you to ask for news."
"Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! Whut'll dey do ter Maw?"
Prissy began to bawl suddenly, loudly, the sound adding to Scarlett's own uneasiness.
"Stop bawling! Miss Melanie will hear you. Now go change your apron, quick."
Spurred to speed, Prissy hurried toward the back of the house while Scarlett scratched a hasty note on the margin of Gerald's last letter to her~ the only bit of paper in the house. As she` folded it, so that her note was uppermost, she` caught Gerald's words, "Your mother~ typhoid~ under no condition~ to come home~ " She almost sobbed. If it wasn't for Melanie, she`'d start home, right this minute, if she` had to walk every step of the way.
Prissy went off at a trot, the letter gripped in her hand, and Scarlett went back upstairs, trying to think of some plausible lie to explain Mrs. Elsing's failure to appear. But Melanie asked no questions. She lay upon her back, her face tranquil and sweet, and the sight of her quieted Scarlett for a while.
She sat down and tried to talk of inconsequential things, but the thoughts of Tara and a possible defeat by the Yankees prodded cruelly. She thought of Ellen dying and of the Yankees coming into Atlanta, burning everything, killing everybody. Through it all, the dull far~ off thundering persisted, rolling into her ears in waves of fear. Finally, she` could not talk at all and only stared out of the window at the hot still street and the dusty leaves hanging motionless on the trees. Melanie was silent too, but at intervals her quiet face was wrenched with pain.
She said, after each pain: "It wasn't very bad, really," and Scarlett knew she` was lying. She would have preferred a loud scream to silent endurance. She knew she` should feel sorry for Melanie, but somehow she` could not muster a spark of sympathy. Her mind was too torn with her own anguish. Once she` looked sharply at the pain~ twisted face and wondered why it should be that she`, of all people in the world, should be here with Melanie at this particular time~ she` who had nothing in common with her, who hated her, who would gladly have seen her dead. Well, maybe she`'d have her wish, and before the day was over too. A cold superstitious fear swept her at this thought. It was bad luck to wish that someone were dead, almost as bad luck as to curse someone. Curses came home to roost, Mammy said. She hastily prayed that Melanie wouldn't die and broke into feverish small talk, hardly aware of what she` said. At last, Melanie put a hot hand on her wrist.
"Don't bother about talking, dear. I know how worried you are. I'm so sorry I'm so much trouble."
Scarlett relapsed into silence but she` could not sit still. What would she` do if neither the doctor nor Prissy got there in time? She walked to the window and looked down the street and came back and sat down again. Then she` rose and looked out of the window on the other side of the room.
An hour went by and then another. Noon came and the sun was high and hot and not a breath of air stirred the dusty leaves. Melanie's pains were harder now. Her long hair was drenched in sweat and her gown stuck in wet spots to her body. Scarlett sponged her face in silence but fear was gnawing at her. God in Heaven, suppose the baby came before the doctor arrived! What would she` do? She knew less than nothing of midwifery. This was exactly the emergency she` had been dreading for weeks. She had been counting on Prissy to handle the situation if no doctor should be available. Prissy knew all about midwifery. She'd said so time and again. But where was Prissy? Why didn't she` come? Why didn't the doctor come? She went to the window and looked again. She listened hard and suddenly she` wondered if it were only her imagination or if the sound of cannon in the distance had died away. If it were farther away it would mean that the fighting was nearer Jonesboro and that would mean~
At last she` saw Prissy coming down the street at a quick trot and she` leaned out of the window. Prissy, looking up, saw her and her mouth opened to yell. Seeing the panic written on the little black face and fearing she` might alarm Melanie by crying out evil tidings, Scarlett hastily put her finger to her lips and left the window.
"I'll get some cooler water," she` said, looking down into Melanie's dark, deep~ circled eyes and trying to smile. Then she` hastily left the room, closing the door carefully behind her.
Prissy was sitting on the bottom step in the hall, panting.
"Dey's fightin' at Jonesboro, Miss Scarlett! Dey say our gempmums is gittin' beat. Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut'll happen ter Maw an' Poke? Oh, Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Whut'll happen ter us effen de Yankees gits hyah? Oh, Gawd~ "
Scarlett clapped a hand over the blubbery mouth.
"For God's sake, hush!"
Yes, what would happen to them if the Yankees came~ what would happen to Tara? She pushe`d the thought firmly back into her mind and grappled with the more pressing emergency. If she` thought of these things, she`'d begin to scream and bawl like Prissy.
"Where's Dr. Meade? When's he coming?"
"Ah ain' nebber seed him, Miss Scarlett."
"No'm, he ain' at de horsepittle. Miss Merriwether an' Miss Elsing ain' dar needer. A man he tole me de doctah down by de car she`d wid the wounded sojers jes' come in frum Jonesboro, but Miss Scarlett, Ah wuz sceered ter go down dar ter de she`d~ dey's folkses dyin' down dar. Ah's sceered of daid folkses~ "
"What about the other doctors?"
"Miss Scarlett, fo' Gawd, Ah couldn' sceercely git one of dem ter read yo' note. Dey wukin' in de horsepittle lak dey all done gone crazy. One doctah he say ter me, 'Damn yo' hide! Doan you come roun' hyah bodderin' me 'bout babies w'en we got a mess of men dyin' hyah. Git some woman ter he'p you.' An' den Ah went aroun' an' about an' ask fer news lak you done tole me an' dey all say 'fightin' at Jonesboro' an' Ah~ "
"You say Dr. Meade's at the depot?"
"Yas'm. He~ "
"Now, listen sharp to me. I'm going to get Dr. Meade and I want you to sit by Miss Melanie and do anything she` says. And if you so much as breathe to her where the fighting is, I'll sell you South as sure as gun's iron. And don't you tell her that the other doctors wouldn't come either. Do you hear?"
"Wipe your eyes and get a fresh pitcher of water and go on up. Sponge her off. Tell her I've gone for Dr. Meade."
"Is her time nigh, Miss Scarlett?"
"I don't know. I'm afraid it is but I don't know. You should know. Go on up."
Scarlett caught up her wide straw bonnet from the console table and jammed it on her head. She looked in the mirror and automatically pushe`d up loose strands of hair but she` did not see her own reflection. Cold little ripples of fear that started in the pit of her stomach were radiating outward until the fingers that touched her cheeks were cold, though the rest of her body streamed perspiration. She hurried out of the house and into the heat of the sun. It was blindingly, glaring hot and as she` hurried down Peachtree Street her temples began to throb from the heat. From far down the street she` could hear the rise and fall and roar of many voices. By the time she` caught sight of the Leyden house, she` was beginning to pant, for her stays were tightly laced, but she` did not slow her gait. The roar of noise grew louder.
From the Leyden house down to Five Points, the street seethed with activity, the activity of an anthill just destroyed. Negroes were running up and down the street, panic in their faces; and on porches, white children sat crying untended. The street was crowded with army wagons and ambulances filled with wounded and carriages piled high with valises and pieces of furniture. Men on horseback dashe`d out of side streets pell~ mell down Peachtree toward Hood's headquarters. In front of the Bonnell house, old Amos stood holding the head of the carriage horse and he greeted Scarlett with rolling eyes.
"Ain't you gone yit, Miss Scarlett? We is goin' now. Ole Miss packin' her bag."
"Gawd knows, Miss. Somewheres. De Yankees is comin'!"
She hurried on, not even saying good~ by. The Yankees were coming! At Wesley Chapel, she` paused to catch her breath and wait for her hammering heart to subside. If she` did not quiet herself she` would certainly faint. As she` stood clutching a lamp post for support, she` saw an officer on horseback come charging up the street from Five Points and, on an impulse, she` ran out into the street and waved at him.
"Oh, stop! Please, stop!"
He reined in so suddenly the horse went back on its haunches, pawing the air. There were harsh lines of fatigue and urgency in his face but his tattered gray hat was off with a sweep.
"Tell me, is it true? Are the Yankees coming?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Do you know so?"
"Yes, Ma'm. I know so. A dispatch came in to headquarters half an hour ago from the fighting at Jonesboro."
"At Jonesboro? Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. There's no use telling pretty lies, Madam. The message was from General Hardee and it said: 'I have lost the battle and am in full retreat.'"
"Oh, my God!"
The dark face of the tired man looked down without emotion. He gathered the reins again and put on his hat.
"Oh, sir, please, just a minute. What shall we do?"
"Madam, I can't say. The army is evacuating Atlanta soon."
"Going off and leaving us to the Yankees?"
"I'm afraid so."
The spurred horse went off as though on springs and Scarlett was left standing in the middle of the street with the red dust thick upon her ankles.
The Yankees were coming. The army was leaving. The Yankees were coming. What should she` do? Where should she` run? No, she` couldn't run. There was Melanie back there in the bed expecting that baby. Oh, why did women have babies? If it wasn't for Melanie she` could take Wade and Prissy and hide in the woods where the Yankees could never find them. But she` couldn't take Melanie to the woods. No, not now. Oh, if she`'d only had the baby sooner, yesterday even, perhaps they could get an ambulance and take her away and hide her somewhere. But now~ she` must find Dr. Meade and make him come home with her. Perhaps he could hurry the baby.
She gathered up her skirts and ran down the street, and the rhythm of her feet was "The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!" Five Points was crowded with people who rushe`d here and there with unseeing eyes, jammed with wagons, ambulances, ox carts, carriages loaded with wounded. A roaring sound like the breaking of surf rose from the crowd.
Then a strangely incongruous sight struck her eyes. Throngs of women were coming up from the direction of the railroad tracks carrying hams across their shoulders. Little children hurried by their sides, staggering under buckets of steaming molasses. Young boys dragged sacks of corn and potatoes. One old man struggled along with a small barrel of flour on a wheelbarrow. Men, women and children, black and white, hurried, hurried with straining faces, lugging packages and sacks and boxes of food~ more food than she` had seen in a year. The crowd suddenly gave a lane for a careening carriage and through the lane came the frail and elegant Mrs. Elsing, standing up in the front of her victoria, reins in one hand, whip in the other. She was hatless and white faced and her long gray hair streamed down her back as she` lashe`d the horse like a Fury. Jouncing on the back seat of the carriage was her black mammy, Melissy, clutching a greasy side of bacon to her with one hand, while with the other and both feet she` attempted to hold the boxes and bags piled all about her. One bag of dried peas had burst and the peas strewed themselves into the street. Scarlett screamed to her, but the tumult of the crowd drowned her voice and the carriage rocked madly by.
For a moment she` could not understand what it all meant and then, remembering that the commissary warehouses were down by the railroad tracks, she` realized that the army had thrown them open to the people to salvage what they could before the Yankees came.
She pushe`d her way swiftly through the crowds, past the packed, hysterical mob surging in the open space of Five Points, and hurried as fast as she` could down the short block toward the depot. Through the tangle of ambulances and the clouds of dust, she` could see doctors and stretcher bearers bending, lifting, hurrying. Thank God, she`'d find Dr. Meade soon. As she` rounded the corner of the Atlanta Hotel and came in full view of the depot and the tracks, she` halted appalled.
Lying in the pitiless sun, shoulder to shoulder, head to feet, were hundreds of wounded men, lining the tracks, the sidewalks, stretched out in endless rows under the car she`d. Some lay stiff and still but many writhed under the hot sun, moaning. Everywhere, swarms of flies hovered over the men, crawling and buzzing in their faces, everywhere was blood, dirty bandages, groans, screamed curses of pain as stretcher bearers lifted men. The smell of sweat, of blood, of unwashe`d bodies, of excrement rose up in waves of blistering heat until the fetid stench almost nauseated her. The ambulance men hurrying here and there among the prostrate forms frequently stepped on wounded men, so thickly packed were the rows, and those trodden upon stared stolidly up, waiting their turn.
She shrank back, clapping her hand to her mouth feeling that she` was going to vomit. She couldn't go on. She had seen wounded men in the hospitals, wounded men on Aunt Pitty's lawn after the fighting at the creek, but never anything like this. Never anything like these stinking, bleeding bodies broiling under the glaring sun. This was an inferno of pain and smell and noise and hurry~ hurry~ hurry! The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!
She braced her shoulders and went down among them, straining her eyes among the upright figures to distinguish Dr. Meade. But she` discovered she` could not look for him, for if she` did not step carefully she` would tread on some poor soldier. She raised her skirts and tried to pick her way among them toward a knot of men who were directing the stretcher bearers.
As she` walked, feverish hands plucked at her skirt and voices croaked: "Lady~ water! Please, lady, water! For Christ's sake, water!"
Perspiration came down her face in streams as she` pulled her skirts from clutching hands. If she` stepped on one of these men, she`'d scream and faint. She stepped over dead men, over men who lay dull eyed with hands clutched to bellies where dried blood had glued torn uniforms to wounds, over men whose beards were stiff with blood and from whose broken jaws came sounds which must mean:
If she` did not find Dr. Meade soon, she` would begin screaming with hysteria. She looked toward the group of men under the car she`d and cried as loudly as she` could:
"Dr. Meade! Is Dr. Meade there?"
From the group one man detached himself and looked toward her. It was the doctor. He was coatless and his sleeves were rolled up to his shoulders. His shirt and trousers were as red as a butcher's and even the end of his iron~ gray beard was matted with blood. His face was the face of a man drunk with fatigue and impotent rage and burning pity. It was gray and dusty, and sweat had streaked long rivulets across his cheeks. But his voice was calm and decisive as he called to her.
"Thank God, you are here. I can use every pair of hands."
For a moment she` stared at him bewildered, dropping her skirts in dismay. They fell over the dirty face of a wounded man who feebly tried to turn his head to escape from their smothering folds. What did the doctor mean? The dust from the ambulances came into her face with choking dryness, and the rotten smells were like a foul liquid in her nostrils.
"Hurry, child! Come here."
She picked up her skirts and went to him as fast as she` could go across the rows of bodies. She put her hand on his arm and felt that it was trembling with weariness but there was no weakness in his face.
"Oh, Doctor!" she` cried. "You must come. Melanie is having her baby."
He looked at her as if her words did not register on his mind. A man who lay upon the ground at her feet, his head pillowed on his canteen, grinned up companionably at her words.
"They will do it," he said cheerfully.
She did not even look down but shook the doctor's arm.
"It's Melanie. The baby. Doctor, you must come. She~ the~ " This was no time for delicacy but it was hard to bring out the words with the ears of hundreds of strange men listening.
"The pains are getting hard. Please, Doctor!"
"A baby? Great God!" thundered the doctor and his face was suddenly contorted with hate and rage, a rage not directed at her or at anyone except a world wherein such things could happen. "Are you crazy? I can't leave these men. They are dying, hundreds of them. I can't leave them for a damned baby. Get some woman to help you. Get my wife."
She opened her mouth to tell him why Mrs. Meade could not come and then shut it abruptly. He did not know his own son was wounded! She wondered if he would still be here if he did know, and something told her that even if Phil were dying he would still be standing on this spot, giving aid to the many instead of the one.
"No, you must come, Doctor. You know you said she`'d have a hard time~ " Was it really she`, Scarlett, standing here saying these dreadful indelicate things at the top of her voice in this hell of heat and groans? "She'll die if you don't come!"
He shook off her hand roughly and spoke as though he hardly heard her, hardly knew what she` said.
"Die? Yes, they'll all die~ all these men. No bandages, no salves, no quinine, no chloroform. Oh, God, for some morphia! Just a little morphia for the worst ones. Just a little chloroform. God damn the Yankees! God damn the Yankees!"
"Give um hell, Doctor!" said the man on the ground, his teeth showing in his beard.
Scarlett began to shake and her eyes burned with tears of fright. The doctor wasn't coming with her. Melanie would die and she` had wishe`d that she` would die. The doctor wasn't coming.
"Name of God, Doctor! Please!"
Dr. Meade bit his lip and his jaw hardened as his face went cool again.
"Child, I'll try. I can't promise you. But I'll try. When we get these men tended to. The Yankees are coming and the troops are moving out of town. I don't know what they'll do with the wounded. There aren't any trains. The Macon line has been captured. . . . But I'll try. Run along now. Don't bother me. There's nothing much to bringing a baby. Just tie up the cord. . . ."
He turned as an orderly touched his arm and began firing directions and pointing to this and that wounded man. The man at her feet looked up at Scarlett compassionately. She turned away, for the doctor had forgotten her.
She picked her way rapidly through the wounded and back to Peachtree Street. The doctor wasn't coming. She would have to see it through herself. Thank God, Prissy knew all about midwifery. Her head ached from the heat and she` could feel her basque, soaking wet from perspiration, sticking to her. Her mind felt numb and so did her legs, numb as in a nightmare when she` tried to run and could not move them. She thought of the long walk back to the house and it seemed interminable.
Then, "The Yankees are coming!" began to beat its refrain in her mind again. Her heart began to pound and new life came into her limbs. She hurried into the crowd at Five Points, now so thick there was no room on the narrow sidewalks and she` was forced to walk in the street. Long lines of soldiers were passing, dust covered, sodden with weariness. There seemed thousands of them, bearded, dirty, their guns slung over their shoulders, swiftly passing at route step. Cannon rolled past, the drivers flaying the thin mules with lengths of rawhide. Commissary wagons with torn canvas covers rocked through the ruts. Cavalry raising clouds of choking dust went past endlessly. She had never seen so many soldiers together before. Retreat! Retreat! The army was moving out.
The hurrying lines pushe`d her back onto the packed sidewalk and she` smelled the reek of cheap corn whisky. There were women in the mob near Decatur Street, garishly dressed women whose bright finery and painted faces gave a discordant note of holiday. Most of them were drunk and the soldiers on whose arms they hung were drunker. She caught a fleeting glimpse of a head of red curls and saw that creature, Belle Watling, heard her shrill drunken laughter as she` clung for support to a one~ armed soldier who reeled and staggered.
When she` had shoved and pushe`d her way through the mob for a block beyond Five Points the crowd thinned a little and, gathering up her skirts, she` began to run again. When she` reached Wesley Chapel, she` was breathless and dizzy and sick at her stomach. Her stays were cutting her ribs in two. She sank down on the steps of the church and buried her head in her hands until she` could breathe more easily. If she` could only get one deep breath, way down in her abdomen. If her heart would only stop bumping and drumming and cavorting. If there were only someone in this mad place to whom she` could turn.
Why, she` had never had to do a thing for herself in all her life. There had always been someone to do things for her, to look after her, she`lter and protect her and spoil her. It was incredible that she` could be in such a fix. Not a friend, not a neighbor to help her. There had always been friends, neighbors, the competent hands of willing slaves. And now in this hour of greatest need, there was no one. It was incredible that she` could be so completely alone, and frightened, and far from home.
Home! If she` were only home, Yankees or no Yankees. Home, even if Ellen was sick. She longed for the sight of Ellen's sweet face, for Mammy's strong arms around her.
She rose dizzily to her feet and started walking again. When she` came in sight of the house, she` saw Wade swinging on the front gate. When he saw her, his face puckered and he began to cry, holding up a grubby bruised finger.
"Hurt!" he sobbed. "Hurt!"
"Hush! Hush! Hush! Or I'll spank you. Go out in the back yard and make mud pies and don't move from there."
"Wade hungwy," he sobbed and put the hurt finger in his mouth.
"I don't care. Go in the back yard and~ "
She looked up and saw Prissy leaning out of the upstairs window, fright and worry written on her face; but in an instant they were wiped away in relief as she` saw her mistress. Scarlett beckoned to her to come down and went into the house. How cool it was in the hall. She untied her bonnet and flung it on the table, drawing her forearms across her wet forehead. She heard the upstairs door open and a low wailing moan, wrenched from the depths of agony, came to her ears. Prissy came down the stairs three at a time.
"Is de doctah come?"
"No. He can't come."
"Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly bad off!"
"The doctor can't come. Nobody can come. You've got to bring the baby and I'll help you."
Prissy's mouth fell open and her tongue wagged wordlessly. She looked at Scarlett sideways and scuffed her feet and twisted her thin body.
"Don't look so simple minded!" cried Scarlett, infuriated at her silly expression. "What's the matter?"
Prissy edged back up the stairs.
"Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett~ " Fright and shame were in her rolling eyes.
"Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett! We's got ter have a doctah. Ah~ Ah~ Miss Scarlett, Ah doan know nuthin' 'bout bringin' babies. Maw wouldn' nebber lemme be 'round folkses whut wuz havin' dem."
All the breath went out of Scarlett's lungs in one gasp of horror before rage swept her. Prissy made a lunge past her, bent on flight, but Scarlett grabbed her.
"You black liar~ what do you mean? You've been saying you knew everything about birthing babies. What is the truth? Tell me!" She shook her until the kinky head rocked drunkenly.
"Ah's lyin', Miss Scarlett! Ah doan know huccome Ah tell sech a lie. Ah jes' see one baby birthed, an' Maw she` lak ter wo' me out fer watchin'."
Scarlett glared at her and Prissy shrank back, trying to pull loose. For a moment her mind refused to accept the truth, but when realization finally came to her that Prissy knew no more about midwifery than she` did, anger went over her like a flame. She had never struck a slave in all her life, but now she` slapped the black cheek with all the force in her tired arm. Prissy screamed at the top of her voice, more from fright than pain, and began to dance up and down, writhing to break Scarlett's grip.
As she` screamed, the moaning from the second floor ceased and a moment later Melanie's voice, weak and trembling, called: "Scarlett? Is it you? Please come! Please!"
Scarlett dropped Prissy's arm and the wench sank whimpering to the steps. For a moment Scarlett stood still, looking up, listening to the low moaning which had begun again. As she` stood there, it seemed as though a yoke descended heavily upon her neck, felt as though a heavy load were harnessed to it, a load she` would feel as soon as she` took a step.
She tried to think of all the things Mammy and Ellen had done for her when Wade was born but the merciful blurring of the childbirth pains obscured almost everything in mist. She did recall a few things and she` spoke to Prissy rapidly, authority in her voice.
"Build a fire in the stove and keep hot water boiling in the kettle. And bring up all the towels you can find and that ball of twine. And get me the scissors. Don't come telling me you can't find them. Get them and get them quick. Now hurry."
She jerked Prissy to her feet and sent her kitchenwards with a shove. Then she` squared her shoulders and started up the stairs. It was going to be difficult, telling Melanie that she` and Prissy were to deliver her baby.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
There would never again be an afternoon as long as this one. Or as hot. Or as full of lazy insolent flies. They swarmed on Melanie despite the fan Scarlett kept in constant motion. Her arms ached from swinging the wide palmetto leaf. All her efforts seemed futile, for while she` brushe`d them from Melanie's moist face, they crawled on her clammy feet and legs and made her jerk them weakly and cry: "Please! On my feet!"
The room was in semigloom, for Scarlett had pulled down the shades to shut out the heat and brightness. Pin points of sunlight came in through minute holes in the shades and about the edges. The room was an oven and Scarlett's sweat~ drenched clothes never dried but became wetter and stickier as the hours went by. Prissy was crouched in a corner, sweating too, and smelled so abominably Scarlett would have sent her from the room had she` not feared the girl would take to her heels if once out of sight. Melanie lay on the bed on a she`et dark with perspiration and splotched with dampness where Scarlett had spilled water. She twisted endlessly, to one side, to the other, to left, to right and back again.
Sometimes she` tried to sit up and fell back and began twisting again. At first, she` had tried to keep from crying out, biting her lips until they were raw, and Scarlett, whose nerves were as raw as the lips, said huskily: "Melly, for God's sake, don't try to be brave. Yell if you want to. There's nobody to hear you but us."
As the afternoon wore on, Melanie moaned whether she` wanted to be brave or not, and sometimes she` screamed. When she` did, Scarlett dropped her head into her hands and covered her ears and twisted her body and wishe`d that she` herself were dead. Anything was preferable to being a helpless witness to such pain. Anything was better than being tied here waiting for a baby that took such a long time coming. Waiting, when for all she` knew the Yankees were actually at Five Points.
She fervently wishe`d she` had paid more attention to the whispered conversations of matrons on the subject of childbirth. If only she` had! If only she` had been more interested in such matters she`'d know whether Melanie was taking a long time or not. She had a vague memory of one of Aunt Pitty's stories of a friend who was in labor for two days and died without ever having the baby. Suppose Melanie should go on like this for two days! But Melanie was so delicate. She couldn't stand two days of this pain. She'd die soon if the baby didn't hurry. And how could she` ever face Ashley, if he were still alive, and tell him that Melanie had died~ after she` had promised to take care of her?
At first, Melanie wanted to hold Scarlett's hand when the pain was bad but she` clamped down on it so hard she` nearly broke the bones. After an hour of this, Scarlett's hands were so swollen and bruised she` could hardly flex them. She knotted two long towels together and tied them to the foot of the bed and put the knotted end in Melanie's hands. Melanie hung onto it as though it were a life line, straining, pulling it taut, slackening it, tearing it. Throughout the afternoon, her voice went on like an animal dying in a trap. Occasionally she` dropped the towel and rubbed her hands feebly and looked up at Scarlett with eyes enormous with pain.
"Talk to me. Please talk to me," she` whispered and Scarlett would gabble something until Melanie again gripped the knot and again began writhing.
The dim room swam with heat and pain and droning flies, and time went by on such dragging feet Scarlett could scarcely remember the morning. She felt as if she` had been in this steaming, dark, sweating place all her life. She wanted very much to scream every time Melanie did, and only by biting her lips so hard it infuriated her could she` restrain herself and drive off hysteria.
Once Wade came tiptoeing up the stairs and stood outside the door, wailing.
"Wade hungwy!" Scarlett started to go to him, but Melanie whispered: "Don't leave me. Please. I can stand it when you're here."
So Scarlett sent Prissy down to warm up the breakfast hominy and feed him. For herself, she` felt that she` could never eat again after this afternoon.
The clock on the mantel had stopped and she` had no way of telling the time but as the heat in the room lessened and the bright pin points of light grew duller, she` pulled the shade aside. She saw to her surprise that it was late afternoon and the sun, a ball of crimson, was far down the sky. Somehow, she` had imagined it would remain broiling hot noon forever.
She wondered passionately what was going on downtown. Had all the troops moved out yet? Had the Yankees come? Would the Confederates march away without even a fight? Then she` remembered with a sick dropping in her stomach how few Confederates there were and how many men Sherman had and how well fed they were. Sherman! The name of Satan himself did not frighten her half so much. But there was no time for thinking now, as Melanie called for water, for a cold towel on her head, to be fanned, to have the flies brushe`d away from her face.
When twilight came on and Prissy, scurrying like a black wraith, lit a lamp, Melanie became weaker. She began calling for Ashley, over and over, as if in a delirium until the hideous monotony gave Scarlett a fierce desire to smother her voice with a pillow. Perhaps the doctor would come after all. If he would only come quickly! Hope raising its head, she` turned to Prissy, and ordered her to run quickly to the Meades' house and see if he were there or Mrs. Meade.
"And if he's not there, ask Mrs. Meade or Cookie what to do. Beg them to come!"
Prissy was off with a clatter and Scarlett watched her hurrying down the street, going faster than she` had ever dreamed the worthless child could move. After a prolonged time she` was back, alone.
"De doctah ain' been home all day. Sont wud he mout go off wid de sojers. Miss Scarlett, Mist' Phil's 'ceased."
"Yas'm," said Prissy, expanding with importance. "Talbot, dey coachman, tole me. He wuz shot~ "
"Never mind that."
"Ah din' see Miss Meade. Cookie say Miss Meade she` washin' him an' fixin ter buhy him fo' de Yankees gits hyah. Cookie say effen de pain get too bad, jes' you put a knife unner Miss Melly's bed an' it cut de pain in two."
Scarlett wanted to slap her again for this helpful information but Melanie opened wide, dilated eyes and whispered: "Dear~ are the Yankees coming?"
"No," said Scarlett stoutly. "Prissy's a liar."
"Yas'm, Ah sho is," Prissy agreed fervently.
"They're coming," whispered Melanie undeceived and buried her face in the pillow. Her voice came out muffled.
"My poor baby. My poor baby." And, after a long interval: "Oh, Scarlett, you mustn't stay here. You must go and take Wade."
What Melanie said was no more than Scarlett had been thinking but hearing it put into words infuriated her, shamed her as if her secret cowardice was written plainly in her face.
"Don't be a goose. I'm not afraid. You know I won't leave you."
"You might as well. I'm going to die." And she` began moaning again.
Scarlett came down the dark stairs slowly, like an old woman, feeling her way, clinging to the banisters lest she` fall. Her legs were leaden, trembling with fatigue and strain, and she` shivered with cold from the clammy sweat that soaked her body. Feebly she` made her way onto the front porch and sank down on the top step. She sprawled back against a pillar of the porch and with a shaking hand unbuttoned her basque halfway down her bosom. The night was drenched in warm soft darkness and she` lay staring into it, dull as an ox.
It was all over. Melanie was not dead and the small baby boy who made noises like a young kitten was receiving his first bath at Prissy's hands. Melanie was asleep. How could she` sleep after that nightmare of screaming pain and ignorant midwifery that hurt more than it helped? Why wasn't she` dead? Scarlett knew that she` herself would have died under such handling. But when it was over, Melanie had even whispered, so weakly she` had to bend over her to hear: "Thank you." And then she` had gone to sleep. How could she` go to sleep? Scarlett forgot that she` too had gone to sleep after Wade was born. She forgot everything. Her mind was a vacuum; the world was a vacuum; there had been no life before this endless day and there would be none hereafter~ only a heavily hot night, only the sound of her hoarse tired breathing, only the sweat trickling coldly from armpit to waist, from hip to knee, clammy, sticky, chilling.
She heard her own breath pass from loud evenness to spasmodic sobbing but her eyes were dry and burning as though there would never be tears in them again. Slowly, laboriously, she` heaved herself over and pulled her heavy skirts up to her thighs. She was warm and cold and sticky all at the same time and the feel of the night air on her limbs was refreshing. She thought dully what Aunt Pitty would say, if she` could see her sprawled here on the front porch with her skirts up and her drawers showing, but she` did not care. She did not care about anything. Time had stood still. It might be just after twilight and it might be midnight. She didn't know or care.
She heard sounds of moving feet upstairs and thought "May the Lord damn Prissy," before her eyes closed and something like sleep descended upon her. Then after an indeterminate dark interval, Prissy was beside her, chattering on in a pleased way.
"We done right good, Miss Scarlett. Ah specs Maw couldn' a did no better."
From the shadows, Scarlett glared at her, too tired to rail, too tired to upbraid, too tired to enumerate Prissy's offenses~ her boastful assumption of experience she` didn't possess, her fright, her blundering awkwardness, her utter inefficiency when the emergency was hot, the misplacing of the scissors, the spilling of the basin of water on the bed, the dropping of the new born baby. And now she` bragged about how good she` had been.
And the Yankees wanted to free the negroes! Well, the Yankees were welcome to them.
She lay back against the pillar in silence and Prissy, aware of her mood, tiptoed away into the darkness of the porch. After a long interval in which her breathing finally quieted and her mind steadied, Scarlett heard the sound of faint voices from up the road, the tramping of many feet coming from the north. Soldiers! She sat up slowly, pulling down her skirts, although she` knew no one could see her in the darkness. As they came abreast the house, an indeterminate number, passing like shadows, she` called to them.
A shadow disengaged itself from the mass and came to the gate.
"Are you going? Are you leaving us?"
The shadow seemed to take off a hat and a quiet voice came from the darkness.
"Yes, Ma'm. That's what we're doing. We're the last of the men from the breastworks, 'bout a mile north from here."
"Are you~ is the army really retreating?"
"Yes, Ma'm. You see, the Yankees are coming."
The Yankees are coming! She had forgotten that. Her throat suddenly contracted and she` could say nothing more. The shadow moved away, merged itself with the other shadows and the feet tramped off into the darkness. "The Yankees are coming! The Yankees are coming!" That was what the rhythm of their feet said, that was what her suddenly bumping heart thudded out with each beat. The Yankees are coming!
"De Yankees is comin'!" bawled Prissy, shrinking close to her. "Oh, Miss Scarlett, dey'll kill us all! Dey'll run dey baynits in our stummicks! Dey'll~ "
"Oh, hush!" It was terrifying enough to think these things without hearing them put into trembling words. Renewed fear swept her. What could she` do? How could she` escape? Where could she` turn for help? Every friend had failed her.
Suddenly she` thought of Rhett Butler and calm dispelled her fears. Why hadn't she` thought of him this morning when she` had been tearing about like a chicken with its head off? She hated him, but he was strong and smart and he wasn't afraid of the Yankees. And he was still in town. Of course, she` was mad at him. But she` could overlook such things at a time like this. And he had a horse and carriage, too. Oh, why hadn't she` thought of him before! He could take them all away from this doomed place, away from the Yankees, somewhere, anywhere.
She turned to Prissy and spoke with feverish urgency.
"You know where Captain Butler lives~ at the Atlanta Hotel?"
"Yas'm, but~ "
"Well, go there, now, as quick as you can run and tell him I want him. I want him to come quickly and bring his horse and carriage or an ambulance if he can get one. Tell him about the baby. Tell him I want him to take us out of here. Go, now. Hurry!"
She sat upright and gave Prissy a push to speed her feet.
"Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett! Ah's sceered ter go runnin' roun' in de dahk by mahseff! Spose de Yankees gits me?"
"If you run fast you can catch up with those soldiers and they won't let the Yankees get you. Hurry!"
"Ah's sceered! Sposin' Cap'n Butler ain' at de hotel?"
"Then ask where he is. Haven't you any gumption? If he isn't at the hotel, go to the barrooms on Decatur Street and ask for him. Go to Belle Watling's house. Hunt for him. You fool, don't you see that if you don't hurry and find him the Yankees will surely get us all?"
"Miss Scarlett, Maw would weah me out wid a cotton stalk, did Ah go in a bahroom or a ho' house."
Scarlett pulled herself to her feet.
"Well, I'll wear you out if you don't. You can stand outside in the street and yell for him, can't you? Or ask somebody if he's inside. Get going."
When Prissy still lingered, shuffling her feet and mouthing, Scarlett gave her another push which nearly sent her headlong down the front steps.
"You'll go or I'll sell you down the river. You'll never see your mother again or anybody you know and I'll sell you for a field hand too. Hurry!"
"Gawdlmighty, Miss Scarlett~ "
But under the determined pressure of her mistress' hand she` started down the steps. The front gate clicked and Scarlett cried: "Run, you goose!"
She heard the patter of Prissy's feet as she` broke into a trot, and then the sound died away on the soft earth.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
After Prissy had gone, Scarlett went wearily into the downstairs hall and lit a lamp. The house felt steamingly hot, as though it held in its walls all the heat of the noontide. Some of her dullness was passing now and her stomach was clamoring for food. She remembered she` had had nothing to eat since the night before except a spoonful of hominy, and picking up the lamp she` went into the kitchen. The fire in the oven had died but the room was stifling hot. She found half a pone of hard corn bread in the skillet and gnawed hungrily on it while she` looked about for other food. There was some hominy left in the pot and she` ate it with a big cooking spoon, not waiting to put it on a plate. It needed salt badly but she` was too hungry to hunt for it. After four spoonfuls of it, the heat of the room was too much and, taking the lamp in one hand and a fragment of pone in the other, she` went out into the hall.
She knew she` should go upstairs and sit beside Melanie. If anything went wrong, Melanie would be too weak to call. But the idea of returning to that room where she` had spent so many nightmare hours was repulsive to her. Even if Melanie were dying, she` couldn't go back up there. She never wanted to see that room again. She set the lamp on the candle stand by the window and returned to the front porch. It was so much cooler here, and even the night was drowned in soft warmth. She sat down on the steps in the circle of faint light thrown by the lamp and continued gnawing on the corn bread.
When she` had finishe`d it, a measure of strength came back to her and with the strength came again the pricking of fear. She could hear a humming of noise far down the street, but what it portended she` did not know. She could distinguish nothing but a volume of sound that rose and fell. She strained forward trying to hear and soon she` found her muscles aching from the tension. More than anything in the world she` yearned to hear the sound of hooves and to see Rhett's careless, self~ confident eyes laughing at her fears. Rhett would take them away, somewhere. She didn't know where. She didn't care.
As she` sat straining her ears toward town, a faint glow appeared above the trees. It puzzled her. She watched it and saw it grow brighter. The dark sky became pink and then dull red, and suddenly above the trees, she` saw a huge tongue of flame leap high to the heavens. She jumped to her feet, her heart beginning again its sickening thudding and bumping.
The Yankees had come! She knew they had come and they were burning the town. The flames seemed to be off to the east of the center of town. They shot higher and higher and widened rapidly into a broad expanse of red before her terrified eyes. A whole block must be burning. A faint hot breeze that had sprung up bore the smell of smoke to her.
She fled up the stairs to her own room and hung out the window for a better view. The sky was a hideous lurid color and great swirls of black smoke went twisting up to hand in billowy clouds above the flames. The smell of smoke was stronger now. Her mind rushe`d incoherently here and there, thinking how soon the flames would spread up Peachtree Street and burn this house, how soon the Yankees would be rushing in upon her, where she` would run, what she` would do. All the fiends of hell seemed screaming in her ears and her brain swirled with confusion and panic so overpowering she` clung to the window sill for support.
"I must think," she` told herself over and over. "I must think."
But thoughts eluded her, darting in and out of her mind like frightened humming birds. As she` stood hanging to the sill, a deafening explosion burst on her ears, louder than any cannon she` had ever heard. The sky was rent with gigantic flame. Then other explosions. The earth shook and the glass in the panes above her head shivered and came down around her.
The world became an inferno of noise and flame and trembling earth as one explosion followed another in earsplitting succession. Torrents of sparks shot to the sky and descended slowly, lazily, through blood~ colored clouds of smoke. She thought she` heard a feeble call from the next room but she` paid it no heed. She had no time for Melanie now. No time for anything except a fear that licked through her veins as swiftly as the flames she` saw. She was a child and mad with fright and she` wanted to bury her head in her mother's lap and shut out this sight. If she` were only home! Home with Mother.
Through the nerve~ shivering sounds, she` heard another sound, that of fear~ sped feet coming up the stairs three at a time, heard a voice yelping like a lost hound. Prissy broke into the room and, flying to Scarlett, clutched her arm in a grip that seemed to pinch out pieces of flesh.
"The Yankees~ " cried Scarlett.
"No'm, its our gempmums!" yelled Prissy between breaths, digging her nails deeper into Scarlett's arm. "Dey's buhnin' de foun'ry an' de ahmy supply depots an' de wa'houses an', fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett, dey done set off dem sebenty freight cahs of cannon balls an' gunpowder an', Jesus, we's all gwine ter buhn up!"
She began yelping again shrilly and pinched Scarlett so hard she` cried out in pain and fury and shook off her hand.
The Yankees hadn't come yet! There was still time to get away! She rallied her frightened forces together.
"If I don't get a hold on myself," she` thought, "I'll be squalling like a scalded cat!" and the sight of Prissy's abject terror helped steady her. She took her by the shoulders and shook her.
"Shut up that racket and talk sense. The Yankees haven't come, you fool! Did you see Captain Butler? What did he say? Is he coming?"
Prissy ceased her yelling but her teeth chattered.
"Yas'm, ah finely foun' him. In a bahroom, lak you told me. He~ "
"Never mind where you found him. Is he coming? Did you tell him to bring his horse?"
"Lawd, Miss Scarlett, he say our gempmums done tuck his hawse an' cah'ige fer a amberlance."
"Dear God in Heaven!"
"But he comin'~ "
"What did he say?"
Prissy had recovered her breath and a small measure of control but her eyes still rolled.
"Well'm, lak you tole me, Ah foun' him in a bahroom. Ah stood outside an' yell fer him an' he come out. An' terreckly he see me an' Ah starts tell him, de sojers tech off a sto' house down Decatur Street an' it flame up an' he say Come on an' he grab me an' we runs ter Fibe Points an' he say den: What now? Talk fas'. An' Ah say you say, Cap'n Butler, come quick an' bring yo' hawse an' cah'ige. Miss Melly done had a chile an' you is bustin' ter get outer town. An' he say: Where all she` studyin' 'bout goin'? An' Ah say: Ah doan know, suh, but you is boun' ter go fo' de Yankees gits hyah an' wants him ter go wid you. An' he laugh an' say dey done tuck his hawse."
Scarlett's heart went leaden as the last hope left her. Fool that she` was, why hadn't she` thought that the retreating army would naturally take every vehicle and animal left in the city? For a moment she` was too stunned to hear what Prissy was saying but she` pulled herself together to hear the rest of the story.
"An' den he say, Tell Miss Scarlett ter res' easy. Ah'll steal her a hawse outer de ahmy crall effen dey's ary one lef. An' he say, Ah done stole hawses befo' dis night. Tell her Ah git her a hawse effen Ah gits shot fer it. Den he laugh agin an' say, Cut an' run home. An' befo' Ah gits started Ker~ bboom! Off goes a noise an' Ah lak ter drap in mah tracks an' he tell me twain't nuthin' but de ammernition our gempmums blown' up so's de Yankees don't git it an'~ "
"He is coming? He's going to bring a horse?"
"So he say."
She drew a long breath of relief. If there was any way of getting a horse, Rhett Butler would get one. A smart man, Rhett. She would forgive him anything if he got them out of this mess. Escape! And with Rhett she` would have no fear. Rhett would protect them. Thank God for Rhett! With safety in view she` turned practical.
"Wake Wade up and dress him and pack some clothes for all of us. Put them in the small trunk. And don't tell Miss Mellie we're going. Not yet. But wrap the baby in a couple of thick towels and be sure and pack his clothes."
Prissy still clung to her skirts and hardly anything showed in her eyes except the whites. Scarlett gave her a shove and loosened her grip.
"Hurry," she` cried, and Prissy went off like a rabbit.
Scarlett knew she` should go in and quiet Melanie's fear, knew Melanie must be frightened out of her senses by the thunderous noises that continued unabated and the glare that lighted the sky. It looked and sounded like the end of the world.
But she` could not bring herself to go back into that room just yet. She ran down the stairs with some idea of packing up Miss Pittypat's china and the little silver she` had left when she` refugeed to Macon. But when she` reached the dining room, her hands were shaking so badly she` dropped three plates and shattered them. She ran out onto the porch to listen and back again to the dining room and dropped the silver clattering to the floor. Everything she` touched she` dropped. In her hurry she` slipped on the rag rug and fell to the floor with a jolt but leaped up so quickly she` was not even aware of the pain. Upstairs she` could hear Prissy galloping about like a wild animal and the sound maddened her, for she` was galloping just as aimlessly.
For the dozenth time, she` ran out onto the porch but this time she` did not go back to her futile packing. She sat down. It was just impossible to pack anything. Impossible to do anything but sit with hammering heart and wait for Rhett. It seemed hours before he came. At last, far up the road, she` heard the protesting screech of unoiled axles and the slow uncertain plodding of hooves. Why didn't he hurry? Why didn't he make the horse trot?
The sounds came nearer and she` leaped to her feet and called Rhett's name. Then, she` saw him dimly as he climbed down from the seat of a small wagon, heard the clicking of the gate as he came toward her. He came into view and the light of the lamp showed him plainly. His dress was as debonaire as if he were going to a ball, well~ tailored white linen coat and trousers, embroidered gray watered~ silk waistcoat and a hint of ruffle on his shirt bosom. His wide Panama hat was set dashingly on one side of his head and in the belt of his trousers were thrust two ivory~ handled, long~ barreled dueling pistols. The pockets of his coat sagged heavily with ammunition.
He came up the walk with the springy stride of a savage and his fine head was carried like a pagan prince. The dangers of the night which had driven Scarlett into panic had affected him like an intoxicant. There was a carefully restrained ferocity in his dark face, a ruthlessness which would have frightened her had she` the wits to see it.
His black eyes danced as though amused by the whole affair, as though the earth~ splitting sounds and the horrid glare were merely things to frighten children. She swayed toward him as he came up the steps, her face white, her green eyes burning.
"Good evening," he said, in his drawling voice, as he removed his hat with a sweeping gesture. "Fine weather we're having. I hear you're going to take a trip."
"If you make any jokes, I shall never speak to you again," she` said with quivering voice.
"Don't tell me you are frightened!" He pretended to be surprised and smiled in a way that made her long to push him backwards down the steep steps.
"Yes, I am! I'm frightened to death and if you had the sense God gave a goat, you'd be frightened too. But we haven't got time to talk. We must get out of here."
"At your service, Madam. But just where were you figuring on going? I made the trip out here for curiosity, just to see where you were intending to go. You can't go north or east or south or west. The Yankees are all around. There's just one road out of town which the Yankees haven't got yet and the army is retreating by that road. And that road won't be open long. General Steve Lee's cavalry is fighting a rear~ guard action at Rough and Ready to hold it open long enough for the army to get away. If you follow the army down the McDonough road, they'll take the horse away from you and, while it's not much of a horse, I did go to a lot of trouble stealing it. Just where are you going?"
She stood shaking, listening to his words, hardly hearing them. But, at his question she` suddenly knew where she` was going, knew that all this miserable day she` had known where she` was going. The only place.
"I'm going home," she` said.
"Home? You mean to Tara?"
"Yes, yes! To Tara! Oh, Rhett, we must hurry!"
He looked at her as if she` had lost her mind.
"Tara? God Almighty, Scarlett! Don't you know they fought all day at Jonesboro? Fought for ten miles up and down the road from Rough and Ready even into the streets of Jonesboro? The Yankees may be all over Tara by now, all over the County. Nobody knows where they are but they're in that neighborhood. You can't go home! You can't go right through the Yankee army!"
"I will go home!" she` cried. "I will! I will!"
"You little fool," and his voice was swift and rough. "You can't go that way. Even if you didn't run into the Yankees, the woods are full of stragglers and deserters from both armies. And lots of our troops are still retreating from Jonesboro. They'd take the horse away from you as quickly as the Yankees would. Your only chance is to follow the troops down the McDonough road and pray that they won't see you in the dark. You can't go to Tara. Even if you got there, you'd probably find it burned down. I won't let you go home. It's insanity."
"I will go home!" she` cried and her voice broke and rose to a scream. "I will go home! You can't stop me! I will go home! I want my mother! I'll kill you if you try to stop me! I will go home!"
Tears of fright and hysteria streamed down her face as she` finally gave way under the long strain. She beat on his chest with her fists and screamed again: "I will! I will! If I have to walk every step of the way!"
Suddenly she` was in his arms, her wet cheek against the starched ruffle of his shirt, her beating hands stilled against him. His hands caressed her tumbled hair gently, soothingly, and his voice was gentle too. So gentle, so quiet, so devoid of mockery, it did not seem Rhett Butler's voice at all but the voice of some kind strong stranger who smelled of brandy and tobacco and horses, comforting smells because they reminded her of Gerald.
"There, there, darling," he said softly. "Don't cry. You shall go home, my brave little girl. You shall go home. Don't cry."
She felt something brush her hair and wondered vaguely through her tumult if it were his lips. He was so tender, so infinitely soothing, she` longed to stay in his arms forever. With such strong arms about her, surely nothing could harm her.
He fumbled in his pocket and produced a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
"Now, blow your nose like a good child," he ordered, a glint of a smile in his eyes, "and tell me what to do. We must work fast."
She blew her nose obediently, still trembling, but she` could not think what to tell him to do. Seeing how her lip quivered and her eyes looked up at him helplessly, he took command.
"Mrs. Wilkes has had her child? It will be dangerous to move her~ dangerous to drive her twenty~ five miles in that rickety wagon. We'd better leave her with Mrs. Meade."
"The Meades aren't home. I can't leave her."
"Very well. Into the wagon she` goes. Where is that simple~ minded little wench?"
"Upstairs packing the trunk."
"Trunk? You can't take any trunk in that wagon. It's almost too small to hold all of you and the wheels are ready to come off with no encouragement. Call her and tell her to get the smallest feather bed in the house and put it in the wagon."
Still Scarlett could not move. He took her arm in a strong grasp and some of the vitality which animated him seemed to flow into her body. If only she` could be as cool and casual as he was! He propelled her into the hall but she` still stood helplessly looking at him. His lip went down mockingly: "Can this be the heroic young woman who assured me she` feared neither God nor man?"
He suddenly burst into laughter and dropped her arm. Stung, she` glared at him, hating him.
"I'm not afraid," she` said.
"Yes, you are. In another moment you'll be in a swoon and I have no smelling salts about me."
She stamped her foot impotently because she` could not think of anything else to do~ and without a word picked up the lamp and started up the stairs. He was close behind her and she` could hear him laughing softly to himself. That sound stiffened her spine. She went into Wade's nursery and found him sitting clutched in Prissy's arms, half dressed, hiccoughing quietly. Prissy was whimpering. The feather tick on Wade's bed was small and she` ordered Prissy to drag it down the stairs and into the wagon. Prissy put down the child and obeyed. Wade followed her down the stairs, his hiccoughs stilled by his interest in the proceedings.
"Come," said Scarlett, turning to Melanie's door and Rhett followed her, hat in hand.
Melanie lay quietly with the she`et up to her chin. Her face was deathly white but her eyes, sunken and black circled, were serene. She showed no surprise at the sight of Rhett in her bedroom but seemed to take it as a matter of course. She tried to smile weakly but the smile died before it reached the corners of her mouth.
"We are going home, to Tara," Scarlett explained rapidly. "The Yankees are coming. Rhett is going to take us. It's the only way, Melly."
Melanie tried to nod her head feebly and gestured toward the baby. Scarlett picked up the small baby and wrapped him hastily in a thick towel. Rhett stepped to the bed.
"I'll try not to hurt you," he said quietly, tucking the she`et about her. "See if you can put your arms around my neck."
Melanie tried but they fell back weakly. He bent, slipped an arm under her shoulders and another across her knees and lifted her gently. She did not cry out but Scarlett saw her bite her lip and go even whiter. Scarlett held the lamp high for Rhett to see and started toward the door when Melanie made a feeble gesture toward the wall.
"What is it?" Rhett asked softly.
"Please," Melanie whispered, trying to point. "Charles."
Rhett looked down at her as if he thought her delirious but Scarlett understood and was irritated. She knew Melanie wanted the daguerreotype of Charles which hung on the wall below his sword and pistol.
"Please," Melanie whispered again, "the sword."
"Oh, all right," said Scarlett and, after she` had lighted Rhett's careful way down the steps, she` went back and unhooked the sword and pistol belts. It would be awkward, carrying them as well as the baby and the lamp. That was just like Melanie, not to be at all bothered over nearly dying and having the Yankees at her heels but to worry about Charles' things.
As she` took down the daguerreotype, she` caught a glimpse of Charles' face. His large brown eyes met hers and she` stopped for a moment to look at the picture curiously. This man had been her husband, had lain beside her for a few nights, had given her a child with eyes as soft and brown as his. And she` could hardly remember him.
The child in her arms waved small fists and mewed softly and she` looked down at him. For the first time, she` realized that this was Ashley's baby and suddenly wishe`d with all the strength left in her that he were her baby, hers and Ashley's.
Prissy came bounding up the stairs and Scarlett handed the child to her. They went hastily down, the lamp throwing uncertain shadows on the wall. In the hall, Scarlett saw a bonnet and put it on hurriedly, tying the ribbons under her chin. It was Melanie's black mourning bonnet and it did not fit Scarlett's head but she` could not recall where she` had put her own bonnet.
She went out of the house and down the front steps, carrying the lamp and trying to keep the saber from banging against her legs. Melanie lay full length in the back of the wagon, and, beside her, were Wade and the towel~ swathed baby. Prissy climbed in and took the baby in her arms.
The wagon was very small and the boards about the sides very low. The wheels leaned inward as if their first revolution would make them come off. She took one look at the horse and her heart sank. He was a small emaciated animal and he stood with his head dispiritedly low, almost between his forelegs. His back was raw with sores and harness galls and he breathed as no sound horse should.
"Not much of an animal, is it?" grinned Rhett. "Looks like he'll die in the shafts. But he's the best I could do. Some day I'll tell you with embellishments just where and how I stole him and how narrowly I missed getting shot. Nothing but my devotion to you would make me, at this stage of my career, turn horse thief~ and thief of such a horse. Let me help you in."
He took the lamp from her and set it on the ground. The front seat was only a narrow plank across the sides of the wagon. Rhett picked Scarlett up bodily and swung her to it. How wonderful to be a man and as strong as Rhett, she` thought, tucking her wide skirts about her. With Rhett beside her, she` did not fear anything, neither the fire nor the noise nor the Yankees.
He climbed onto the seat beside her and picked up the reins.
"Oh, wait!" she` cried. "I forgot to lock the front door."
He burst into a roar of laughter and slapped the reins upon the horse's back.
"What are you laughing at?"
"At you~ locking the Yankees out," he said and the horse started off, slowly, reluctantly. The lamp on the sidewalk burned on, making a tiny yellow circle of light which grew smaller and smaller as they moved away.
Rhett turned the horse's slow feet westward from Peachtree and the wobbling wagon jounced into the rutty lane with a violence that wrenched an abruptly stifled moan from Melanie. Dark trees interlaced above their heads, dark silent houses loomed up on either side and the white palings of fences gleamed faintly like a row of tombstones. The narrow street was a dim tunnel, but faintly through the thick leafy ceiling the hideous red glow of the sky penetrated and shadows chased one another down the dark way like mad ghosts. The smell of smoke came stronger and stronger, and on the wings of the hot breeze came a pandemonium of sound from the center of town, yells, the dull rumbling of heavy army wagons and the steady tramp of marching feet. As Rhett jerked the horse's head and turned him into another street, another deafening explosion tore the air and a monstrous skyrocket of flame and smoke shot up in the west.
"That must be the last of the ammunition trains," Rhett said calmly. "Why didn't they get them out this morning, the fools! There was plenty of time. Well, too bad for us. I thought by circling around the center of town, we might avoid the fire and that drunken mob on Decatur Street and get through to the southwest part of town without any danger. But we've got to cross Marietta Street somewhere and that explosion was near Marietta Street or I miss my guess."
"Must~ must we go through the fire?" Scarlett quavered.
"Not if we hurry," said Rhett and, springing from the wagon, he disappeared into the darkness of a yard. When he returned he had a small limb of a tree in his hand and he laid it mercilessly across the horse's galled back. The animal broke into a shambling trot, his breath panting and labored, and the wagon swayed forward with a jolt that threw them about like popcorn in a popper. The baby wailed, and Prissy and Wade cried out as they bruised themselves against the sides of the wagon. But from Melanie there was no sound.
As they neared Marietta Street, the trees thinned out and the tall flames roaring up above the buildings threw street and houses into a glare of light brighter than day, casting monstrous shadows that twisted as wildly as torn sails flapping in a gale on a sinking ship.
Scarlett's teeth chattered but so great was her terror she` was not even aware of it. She was cold and she` shivered, even though the heat of the flames was already hot against their faces. This was hell and she` was in it and, if she` could only have conquered her shaking knees, she` would have leaped from the wagon and run screaming back the dark road they had come, back to the refuge of Miss Pittypat's house. She shrank closer to Rhett, took his arm in fingers that trembled and looked up at him for words, for comfort, for something reassuring. In the unholy crimson glow that bathed them, his dark profile stood out as clearly as the head on an ancient coin, beautiful, cruel and decadent. At her touch he turned to her, his eyes gleaming with a light as frightening as the fire. To Scarlett, he seemed as exhilarated and contemptuous as if he got strong pleasure from the situation, as if he welcomed the inferno they were approaching.
"Here," he said, laying a hand on one of the long~ barreled pistols in his belt. "If anyone, black or white, comes up on your side of the wagon and tries to lay hand on the horse, shoot him and we'll ask questions later. But for God's sake, don't shoot the nag in your excitement."
"I~ I have a pistol," she` whispered, clutching the weapon in her lap, perfectly certain that if death stared her in the face, she` would be too frightened to pull the trigger.
"You have? Where did you get it?"
"Yes, Charles~ my husband."
"Did you ever really have a husband, my dear?" he whispered and laughed softly.
If he would only be serious! If he would only hurry!
"How do you suppose I got my boy?" she` cried fiercely.
"Oh, there are other ways than husbands~ "
"Will you hush and hurry?"
But he drew rein abruptly, almost at Marietta Street, in the shadow of a warehouse not yet touched by the flames.
"Hurry!" It was the only word in her mind. Hurry! Hurry!
"Soldiers," he said.
The detachment came down Marietta Street, between the burning buildings, walking at route step, tiredly, rifles held any way, heads down, too weary to hurry, too weary to care if timbers were crashing to right and left and smoke billowing about them. They were all ragged, so ragged that between officers and men there were no distinguishing insignia except here and there a torn hat brim pinned up with a wreathed "C.S.A." Many were barefooted and here and there a dirty bandage wrapped a head or arm. They went past, looking neither to left nor right, so silent that had it not been for the steady tramp of feet they might all have been ghosts.
"Take a good look at them," came Rhett's gibing voice, "so you can tell your grandchildren you saw the rear guard of the Glorious Cause in retreat."
Suddenly she` hated him, hated him with a strength that momentarily overpowered her fear, made it seem petty and small. She knew her safety and that of the others in the back of the wagon depended on him and him alone, but she` hated him for his sneering at those ragged ranks. She thought of Charles who was dead and Ashley who might be dead and all the gay and gallant young men who were rotting in shallow graves and she` forgot that she`, too, had once thought them fools. She could not speak, but hatred and disgust burned in her eyes as she` stared at him fiercely.
As the last of the soldiers were passing, a small figure in the rear rank, his rifle butt dragging the ground, wavered, stopped and stared after the others with a dirty face so dulled by fatigue he looked like a sleepwalker. He was as small as Scarlett, so small his rifle was almost as tall as he was, and his grime~ smeared face was unbearded. Sixteen at the most, thought Scarlett irrelevantly, must be one of the Home Guard or a runaway schoolboy.
As she` watched, the boy's knees buckled slowly and he went down in the dust. Without a word, two men fell out of the last rank and walked back to him. One, a tall spare man with a black beard that hung to his belt, silently handed his own rifle and that of the boy to the other. Then, stooping, he jerked the boy to his shoulders with an ease that looked like sleight of hand. He started off slowly after the retreating column, his shoulders bowed under the weight, while the boy, weak, infuriated like a child teased by its elders, screamed out: "Put me down, damn you! Put me down! I can walk!"
The bearded man said nothing and plodded on out of sight around the bend of the road.
Rhett sat still, the reins lax in his hands, looking after them, a curious moody look on his swarthy face. Then, there was a crash of falling timbers near by and Scarlett saw a thin tongue of flame lick up over the roof of the warehouse in whose she`ltering shadow they sat. Then pennons and battle flags of flame flared triumphantly to the sky above them. Smoke burnt her nostrils and Wade and Prissy began coughing. The baby made soft sneezing sounds.
"Oh, name of God, Rhett! Are you crazy? Hurry! Hurry!"
Rhett made no reply but brought the tree limb down on the horse's back with a cruel force that made the animal leap forward. With all the speed the horse could summon, they jolted and bounced across Marietta Street. Ahead of them was a tunnel of fire where buildings were blazing on either side of the short, narrow street that led down to the railroad tracks. They plunged into it. A glare brighter than a dozen suns dazzled their eyes, scorching heat seared their skins and the roaring, cracking and crashing beat upon their ears in painful waves. For an eternity, it seemed, they were in the midst of flaming torment and then abruptly they were in semidarkness again.
As they dashe`d down the street and bumped over the railroad tracks, Rhett applied the whip automatically. His face looked set and absent, as though he had forgotten where he was. His broad shoulders were hunched forward and his chin jutted out as though the thoughts in his mind were not pleasant. The heat of the fire made sweat stream down his forehead and cheeks but he did not wipe it off.
They pulled into a side street, then another, then turned and twisted from one narrow street to another until Scarlett completely lost her bearings and the roaring of the flames died behind them. Still Rhett did not speak. He only laid on the whip with regularity. The red glow in the sky was fading now and the road became so dark, so frightening, Scarlett would have welcomed words, any words from him, even jeering, insulting words, words that cut. But he did not speak.
Silent or not, she` thanked Heaven for the comfort of his presence. It was so good to have a man beside her, to lean close to him and feel the hard swell of his arm and know that he stood between her and unnamable terrors, even though he merely sat there and stared.
"Oh, Rhett," she` whispered clasping his arm, "What would we ever have done without you? I'm so glad you aren't in the army!"
He turned his head and gave her one look, a look that made her drop his arm and shrink back. There was no mockery in his eyes now. They were naked and there was anger and something like bewilderment in them. His lip curled down and he turned his head away. For a long time they jounced along in a silence unbroken except for the faint wails of the baby and sniffles from Prissy. When she` was able to bear the sniffling noise no longer, Scarlett turned and pinched her viciously, causing Prissy to scream in good earnest before she` relapsed into frightened silence.
Finally Rhett turned the horse at right angles and after a while they were on a wider, smoother road. The dim shapes of houses grew farther and farther apart and unbroken woods loomed wall~ like on either side.
"We're out of town now," said Rhett briefly, drawing rein, "and on the main road to Rough and Ready."
"Hurry. Don't stop!"
"Let the animal breathe a bit." Then turning to her, he asked slowly: "Scarlett, are you still determined to do this crazy thing?"
"Do you still want to try to get through to Tara? It's suicidal. Steve Lee's cavalry and the Yankee Army are between you and Tara."
Oh, Dear God! Was he going to refuse to take her home, after all she`'d gone through this terrible day?
"Oh, yes! Yes! Please, Rhett, let's hurry. The horse isn't tired."
"Just a minute. You can't go down to Jonesboro on this road. You can't follow the train tracks. They've been fighting up and down there all day from Rough and Ready on south. Do you know any other roads, small wagon roads or lanes that don't go through Rough and Ready or Jonesboro?"
"Oh, yes," cried Scarlett in relief. "If we can just get near to Rough and Ready, I know a wagon trace that winds off from the main Jonesboro road and wanders around for miles. Pa and I used to ride it. It comes out right near the MacIntosh place and that's only a mile from Tara."
"Good. Maybe you can get past Rough and Ready all right. General Steve Lee was there during the afternoon covering the retreat. Maybe the Yankees aren't there yet. Maybe you can get through there, if Steve Lee's men don't pick up your horse."
"_I_ can get through?"
"Yes, YOU." His voice was rough.
"But Rhett~ You~ Aren't going to take us?"
"No. I'm leaving you here."
She looked around wildly, at the livid sky behind them, at the dark trees on either hand hemming them in like a prison wall, at the frightened figures in the back of the wagon~ and finally at him. Had she` gone crazy? Was she` not hearing right?
He was grinning now. She could just see his white teeth in the faint light and the old mockery was back in his eyes.
"Leaving us? Where~ where are you going?"
"I am going, dear girl, with the army."
She sighed with relief and irritation. Why did he joke at this time of all times? Rhett in the army! After all he'd said about stupid fools who were enticed into losing their lives by a roll of drums and brave words from orators~ fools who killed themselves that wise men might make money!
"Oh, I could choke you for scaring me so! Let's get on."
"I'm not joking, my dear. And I am hurt, Scarlett, that you do not take my gallant sacrifice with better spirit. Where is your patriotism, your love for Our Glorious Cause? Now is your chance to tell me to return with my shield or on it. But, talk fast, for I want time to make a brave speech before departing for the wars."
His drawling voice gibed in her ears. He was jeering at her and, somehow, she` knew he was jeering at himself too. What was he talking about? Patriotism, shields, brave speeches? It wasn't possible that he meant what he was saying. It just wasn't believable that he could talk so blithely of leaving her here on this dark road with a woman who might be dying, a new~ born infant, a foolish black wench and a frightened child, leaving her to pilot them through miles of battle fields and stragglers and Yankees and fire and God knows what.
Once, when she` was six years old, she` had fallen from a tree, flat on her stomach. She could still recall that sickening interval before breath came back into her body. Now, as she` looked at Rhett, she` felt the same way she` had felt then, breathless, stunned, nauseated.
"Rhett, you are joking!"
She grabbed his arm and felt her tears of fright splash down her wrist. He raised her hand and kissed it arily.
"Selfish to the end, aren't you, my dear? Thinking only of your own precious hide and not of the gallant Confederacy. Think how our troops will be heartened by my eleventh~ hour appearance." There was a malicious tenderness in his voice.
"Oh, Rhett," she` wailed, "how can you do this to me? Why are you leaving me?"
"Why?" he laughed jauntily. "Because, perhaps, of the betraying sentimentality that lurks in all of us Southerners. Perhaps~ perhaps because I am ashamed. Who knows?"
"Ashamed? You should die of shame. To desert us here, alone, helpless~ "
"Dear Scarlett! You aren't helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is never helpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you."
He stepped abruptly down from the wagon and, as she` watched him, stunned with bewilderment, he came around to her side of the wagon.
"Get out," he ordered.
She stared at him. He reached up roughly, caught her under the arms and swung her to the ground beside him. With a tight grip on her he dragged her several paces away from the wagon. She felt the dust and gravel in her slippers hurting her feet. The still hot darkness wrapped her like a dream.
"I'm not asking you to understand or forgive. I don't give a damn whether you do either, for I shall never understand or forgive myself for this idiocy. I am annoyed at myself to find that so much quixoticism still lingers in me. But our fair Southland needs every man. Didn't our brave Governor Brown say just that? Not matter. I'm off to the wars." He laughed suddenly, a ringing, free laugh that startled the echoes in the dark woods.
"'I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not Honour more.' That's a pat speech, isn't it? Certainly better than anything I can think up myself, at the present moment. For I do love you, Scarlett, in spite of what I said that night on the porch last month."
His drawl was caressing and his hands slid up her bare arms, warm strong hands. "I love you, Scarlett, because we are so much alike, renegades, both of us, dear, and selfish rascals. Neither of us cares a rap if the whole world goes to pot, so long as we are safe and comfortable."
His voice went on in the darkness and she` heard words, but they made no sense to her. Her mind was tiredly trying to take in the harsh truth that he was leaving her here to face the Yankees alone. Her mind said: "He's leaving me. He's leaving me." But no emotion stirred.
Then his arms went around her waist and shoulders and she` felt the hard muscles of his thighs against her body and the buttons of his coat pressing into her breast. A warm tide of feeling, bewildering, frightening, swept over her, carrying out of her mind the time and place and circumstances. She felt as limp as a rag doll, warm, weak and helpless, and his supporting arms were so pleasant.
"You don't want to change your mind about what I said last month? There's nothing like danger and death to give an added fillip. Be patriotic, Scarlett. Think how you would be sending a soldier to his death with beautiful memories."
He was kissing her now and his mustache tickled her mouth, kissing her with slow, hot lips that were so leisurely as though he had the whole night before him. Charles had never kissed her like this. Never had the kisses of the Tarleton and Calvert boys made her go hot and cold and shaky like this. He bent her body backward and his lips traveled down her throat to where the cameo fastened her basque.
"Sweet," he whispered. "Sweet."
She saw the wagon dimly in the dark and heard the treble piping of Wade's voice.
"Muvver! Wade fwightened!"
Into her swaying, darkened mind, cold sanity came back with a rush and she` remembered what she` had forgotten for the moment~ that she` was frightened too, and Rhett was leaving her, leaving her, the damned cad. And on top of it all, he had the consummate gall to stand here in the road and insult her with his infamous proposals. Rage and hate flowed into her and stiffened her spine and with one wrench she` tore herself loose from his arms.
"Oh, you cad!" she` cried and her mind leaped about, trying to think of worse things to call him, things she` had heard Gerald call Mr. Lincoln, the MacIntoshe`s and balky mules, but the words would not come. "You low~ down, cowardly, nasty, stinking thing!" And because she` could not think of anything crushing enough, she` drew back her arm and slapped him across the mouth with all the force she` had left. He took a step backward, his hand going to his face.
"Ah," he said quietly and for a moment they stood facing each other in the darkness. Scarlett could hear his heavy breathing, and her own breath came in gasps as if she` had been running hard.
"They were right! Everybody was right! You aren't a gentleman!"
"My dear girl," he said, "how inadequate."
She knew he was laughing and the thought goaded her.
"Go on! Go on now! I want you to hurry. I don't want to ever see you again. I hope a cannon ball lands right on you. I hope it blows you to a million pieces. I~ "
"Never mind the rest. I follow your general idea. When I'm dead on the altar of my country, I hope your conscience hurts you."
She heard him laugh as he turned away and walked back toward the wagon. She saw him stand beside it, heard him speak and his voice was changed, courteous and respectful as it always was when he spoke to Melanie.
Prissy's frightened voice made answer from the wagon.
"Gawdlmighty, Cap'n Butler! Miss Melly done fainted away back yonder."
"She's not dead? Is she` breathing?"
"Yassuh, she` breathin'."
"Then she`'s probably better off as she` is. If she` were conscious, I doubt if she` could live through all the pain. Take good care of her, Prissy. Here's a shinplaster for you. Try not to be a bigger fool than you are."
"Yassuh. Thankee suh."
"Good~ by, Scarlett."
She knew he had turned and was facing her but she` did not speak. Hate choked all utterance. His feet ground on the pebbles of the road and for a moment she` saw his big shoulders looming up in the dark. Then he was gone. She could hear the sound of his feet for a while and then they died away. She came slowly back to the wagon, her knees shaking.
Why had he gone, stepping off into the dark, into the war, into a Cause that was lost, into a world that was mad? Why had he gone, Rhett who loved the pleasures of women and liquor, the comfort of good food and soft beds, the feel of fine linen and good leather, who hated the South and jeered at the fools who fought for it? Now he had set his varnishe`d boots upon a bitter road where hunger tramped with tireless stride and wounds and weariness and heartbreak ran like yelping wolves. And the end of the road was death. He need not have gone. He was safe, rich, comfortable. But he had gone, leaving her alone in a night as black as blindness, with the Yankee Army between her and home.
Now she` remembered all the bad names she` had wanted to call him but it was too late. She leaned her head against the bowed neck of the horse and cried.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The bright glare of morning sunlight streaming through the trees overhead awakened Scarlett. For a moment, stiffened by the cramped position in which she` had slept, she` could not remember where she` was. The sun blinded her, the hard boards of the wagon under her were harsh against her body, and a heavy weight lay across her legs. She tried to sit up and discovered that the weight was Wade who lay sleeping with his head pillowed on her knees. Melanie's bare feet were almost in her face and, under the wagon seat, Prissy was curled up like a black cat with the small baby wedged in between her and Wade.
Then she` remembered everything. She popped up to a sitting position and looked hastily all around. Thank God, no Yankees in sight! Their hiding place had not been discovered in the night. It all came back to her now, the nightmare journey after Rhett's footsteps died away, the endless night, the black road full of ruts and boulders along which they jolted, the deep gullies on either side into which the wagon slipped, the fear~ crazed strength with which she` and Prissy had pushe`d the wheels out of the gullies. She recalled with a shudder how often she` had driven the unwilling horse into fields and woods when she` heard soldiers approaching, not knowing if they were friends or foes~ recalled, too, her anguish lest a cough, a sneeze or Wade's hiccoughing might betray them to the marching men.
Oh, that dark road where men went by like ghosts, voices stilled, only the muffled tramping of feet on soft dirt, the faint clicking of bridles and the straining creak of leather! And, oh, that dreadful moment when the sick horse balked and cavalry and light cannon rumbled past in the darkness, past where they sat breathless, so close she` could almost reach out and touch them, so close she` could smell the stale sweat on the soldiers' bodies!
When, at last, they had neared Rough and Ready, a few camp fires were gleaming where the last of Steve Lee's rear guard was awaiting orders to fall back. She had circled through a plowed field for a mile until the light of the fires died out behind her. And then she` had lost her way in the darkness and sobbed when she` could not find the little wagon path she` knew so well. Then finally having found it, the horse sank in the traces and refused to move, refused to rise even when she` and Prissy tugged at the bridle.
So she` had unharnessed him and crawled, sodden with fatigue, into the back of the wagon and stretched her aching legs. She had a faint memory of Melanie's voice before sleep clamped down her eyelids, a weak voice that apologized even as it begged: "Scarlett, can I have some water, please?"
She had said: "There isn't any," and gone to sleep before the words were out of her mouth.
Now it was morning and the world was still and serene and green and gold with dappled sunshine. And no soldiers in sight anywhere. She was hungry and dry with thirst, aching and cramped and filled with wonder that she`, Scarlett O'Hara, who could never rest well except between linen she`ets and on the softest of feather beds, had slept like a field hand on hard planks.
Blinking in the sunlight, her eyes fell on Melanie and she` gasped, horrified. Melanie lay so still and white Scarlett thought she` must be dead. She looked dead. She looked like a dead, old woman with her ravaged face and her dark hair snarled and tangled across it. Then Scarlett saw with relief the faint rise and fall of her shallow breathing and knew that Melanie had survived the night.
Scarlett shaded her eyes with her hand and looked about her. They had evidently spent the night under the trees in someone's front yard, for a sand and gravel driveway stretched out before her, winding away under an avenue of cedars.
"Why, it's the Mallory place!" she` thought, her heart leaping with gladness at the thought of friends and help.
But a stillness as of death hung over the plantation. The shrubs and grass of the lawn were cut to pieces where hooves and wheels and feet had torn frantically back and forth until the soil was churned up. She looked toward the house and instead of the old white clapboard place she` knew so well, she` saw there only a long rectangle of blackened granite foundation stones and two tall chimneys rearing smoke~ stained bricks into the charred leaves of still trees.
She drew a deep shuddering breath. Would she` find Tara like this, level with the ground, silent as the dead?
"I mustn't think about that now," she` told herself hurriedly. "I mustn't let myself think about it. I'll get scared again if I think about it." But, in spite of herself, her heart quickened and each beat seemed to thunder: "Home! Hurry! Home! Hurry!"
They must be starting on toward home again. But first they must find some food and water, especially water. She prodded Prissy awake. Prissy rolled her eyes as she` looked about her.
"Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett, Ah din' spec ter wake up agin 'cept in de Promise Lan'."
"You're a long way from there," said Scarlett, trying to smooth back her untidy hair. Her face was damp and her body was already wet with sweat. She felt dirty and messy and sticky, almost as if she` smelled bad. Her clothes were crushe`d and wrinkled from sleeping in them and she` had never felt more acutely tired and sore in all her life. Muscles she` did not know she` possessed ached from her unaccustomed exertions of the night before and every movement brought sharp pain.
She looked down at Melanie and saw that her dark eyes were opened. They were sick eyes, fever bright, and dark baggy circles were beneath them. She opened cracking lips and whispered appealingly: "Water."
"Get up, Prissy," ordered Scarlett. "We'll go to the well and get some water."
"But, Miss Scarlett! Dey mout be hants up dar. Sposin' somebody daid up dar?"
"I'll make a hant out of you if you don't get out of this wagon," said Scarlett, who was in no mood for argument, as she` climbed lamely down to the ground.
And then she` thought of the horse. Name of God! Suppose the horse had died in the night! He had seemed ready to die when she` unharnessed him. She ran around the wagon and saw him lying on his side. If he were dead, she` would curse God and die too. Somebody in the Bible had done just that thing. Cursed God and died. She knew just how that person felt. But the horse was alive~ breathing heavily, sick eyes half closed, but alive. Well, some water would help him too.
Prissy climbed reluctantly from the wagon with many groans and timorously followed Scarlett up the avenue. Behind the ruins the row of whitewashe`d slave quarters stood silent and deserted under the overhanging trees. Between the quarters and the smoked stone foundations, they found the well, and the roof of it still stood with the bucket far down the well. Between them, they wound up the rope, and when the bucket of cool sparkling water appeared out of the dark depths, Scarlett tilted it to her lips and drank with loud sucking noises, spilling the water all over herself.
She drank until Prissy's petulant: "Well, Ah's thusty, too, Miss Scarlett," made her recall the needs of the others.
"Untie the knot and take the bucket to the wagon and give them some. And give the rest to the horse. Don't you think Miss Melanie ought to nurse the baby? He'll starve."
"Law, Miss Scarlett, Miss Melly ain' got no milk~ ain' gwine have none."
"How do you know?"
"Ah's seed too many lak her."
"Don't go putting on any airs with me. A precious little you knew about babies yesterday. Hurry now. I'm going to try to find something to eat."
Scarlett's search was futile until in the orchard she` found a few apples. Soldiers had been there before her and there was none on the trees. Those she` found on the ground were mostly rotten. She filled her skirt with the best of them and came back across the soft earth, collecting small pebbles in her slippers. Why hadn't she` thought of putting on stouter shoes last night? Why hadn't she` brought her sun hat? Why hadn't she` brought something to eat? She'd acted like a fool. But, of course, she`'d thought Rhett would take care of them.
Rhett! She spat on the ground, for the very name tasted bad. How she` hated him! How contemptible he had been! And she` had stood there in the road and let him kiss her~ and almost liked it. She had been crazy last night. How despicable he was!
When she` came back, she` divided up the apples and threw the rest into the back of the wagon. The horse was on his feet now but the water did not seem to have refreshe`d him much. He looked far worse in the daylight than he had the night before. His hip bones stood out like an old cow's, his ribs showed like a washboard and his back was a mass of sores. She shrank from touching him as she` harnessed him. When she` slipped the bit into his mouth, she` saw that he was practically toothless. As old as the hills! While Rhett was stealing a horse, why couldn't he have stolen a good one?
She mounted the seat and brought down the hickory limb on his back. He wheezed and started, but he walked so slowly as she` turned him into the road she` knew she` could walk faster herself with no effort whatever. Oh, if only she` didn't have Melanie and Wade and the baby and Prissy to bother with! How swiftly she` could walk home! Why, she` would run home, run every step of the way that would bring her closer to Tara and to Mother.
They couldn't be more than fifteen miles from home, but at the rate this old nag traveled it would take all day, for she` would have to stop frequently to rest him. All day! She looked down the glaring red road, cut in deep ruts where cannon wheels and ambulances had gone over it. It would be hours before she` knew if Tara still stood and if Ellen were there. It would be hours before she` finishe`d her journey under the broiling September sun.
She looked back at Melanie who lay with sick eyes closed against the sun and jerked loose the strings of her bonnet and tossed it to Prissy.
"Put that over her face. It'll keep the sun out of her eyes." Then as the heat beat down upon her unprotected head, she` thought: "I'll be as freckled as a guinea egg before this day is over."
She had never in her life been out in the sunshine without a hat or veils, never handled reins without gloves to protect the white skin of her dimpled hands. Yet here she` was exposed to the sun in a broken~ down wagon with a broken~ down horse, dirty, sweaty, hungry, helpless to do anything but plod along at a snail's pace through a deserted land. What a few short weeks it had been since she` was safe and secure! What a little while since she` and everyone else had thought that Atlanta could never fall, that Georgia could never be invaded. But the small cloud which appeared in the northwest four months ago had blown up into a mighty storm and then into a screaming tornado, sweeping away her world, whirling her out of her she`ltered life, and dropping her down in the midst of this still, haunted desolation.
Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?
She laid the whip on the tired horse's back and tried to urge him on while the waggling wheels rocked them drunkenly from side to side.
There was death in the air. In the rays of the late afternoon sun, every well~ remembered field and forest grove was green and still, with an unearthly quiet that struck terror to Scarlett's heart. Every empty, she`ll~ pitted house they had passed that day, every gaunt chimney standing sentinel over smoke~ blackened ruins, had frightened her more. They had not seen a living human being or animal since the night before. Dead men and dead horses, yes, and dead mules, lying by the road, swollen, covered with flies, but nothing alive. No far~ off cattle lowed, no birds sang, no wind waved the trees. Only the tired plop~ plop of the horse's feet and the weak wailing of Melanie's baby broke the stillness.
The countryside lay as under some dread enchantment. Or worse still, thought Scarlett with a chill, like the familiar and dear face of a mother, beautiful and quiet at last, after death agonies. She felt that the once~ familiar woods were full of ghosts. Thousands had died in the fighting near Jonesboro. They were here in these haunted woods where the slanting afternoon sun gleamed eerily through unmoving leaves, friends and foes, peering at her in her rickety wagon, through eyes blinded with blood and red dust~ glazed, horrible eyes.
"Mother! Mother!" she` whispered. If she` could only win to Ellen! If only, by a miracle of God, Tara were still standing and she` could drive up the long avenue of trees and go into the house and see her mother's kind, tender face, could feel once more the soft capable hands that drove out fear, could clutch Ellen's skirts and bury her face in them. Mother would know what to do. She wouldn't let Melanie and her baby die. She would drive away all ghosts and fears with her quiet "Hush, hush." But Mother was ill, perhaps dying.
Scarlett laid the whip across the weary rump of the horse. They must go faster! They had crept along this never~ ending road all the long hot day. Soon it would be night and they would be alone in this desolation that was death. She gripped the reins tighter with hands that were blistered and slapped them fiercely on the horse's back, her aching arms burning at the movement.
If she` could only reach the kind arms of Tara and Ellen and lay down her burdens, far too heavy for her young shoulders~ the dying woman, the fading baby, her own hungry little boy, the frightened negro, all looking to her for strength, for guidance, all reading in her straight back courage she` did not possess and strength which had long since failed.
The exhausted horse did not respond to the whip or reins but shambled on, dragging his feet, stumbling on small rocks and swaying as if ready to fall to his knees. But, as twilight came, they at last entered the final lap of the long journey. They rounded the bend of the wagon path and turned into the main road. Tara was only a mile away!
Here loomed up the dark bulk of the mock~ orange hedge that marked the beginning of the MacIntosh property. A little farther on, Scarlett drew rein in front of the avenue of oaks that led from the road to old Angus MacIntosh's house. She peered through the gathering dusk down the two lines of ancient trees. All was dark. Not a single light showed in the house or in the quarters. Straining her eyes in the darkness she` dimly discerned a sight which had grown familiar through that terrible day~ two tall chimneys, like gigantic tombstones towering above the ruined second floor, and broken unlit windows blotching the walls like still, blind eyes.
"Hello!" she` shouted, summoning all her strength. "Hello!"
Prissy clawed at her in a frenzy of fright and Scarlett, turning, saw that her eyes were rolling in her head.
"Doan holler, Miss Scarlett! Please, doan holler agin!" she` whispered, her voice shaking. "Dey ain' no tellin' WHUT mout answer!"
"Dear God!" thought Scarlett, a shiver running through her. "Dear God! She's right. Anything might come out of there!"
She flapped the reins and urged the horse forward. The sight of the MacIntosh house had pricked the last bubble of hope remaining to her. It was burned, in ruins, deserted, as were all the plantations she` had passed that day. Tara lay only half a mile away, on the same road, right in the path of the army. Tara was leveled, too! She would find only the blackened bricks, starlight shining through the roofless walls, Ellen and Gerald gone, the girls gone, Mammy gone, the negroes gone, God knows where, and this hideous stillness over everything.
Why had she` come on this fool's errand, against all common sense, dragging Melanie and her child? Better that they had died in Atlanta than, tortured by this day of burning sun and jolting wagon, to die in the silent ruins of Tara.
But Ashley had left Melanie in her care. "Take care of her." Oh, that beautiful, heartbreaking day when he had kissed her good~ by before he went away forever! "You'll take care of her, won't you? Promise!" And she` had promised. Why had she` ever bound herself with such a promise, doubly binding now that Ashley was gone? Even in her exhaustion she` hated Melanie, hated the tiny mewing voice of her child which, fainter and fainter, pierced the stillness. But she` had promised and now they belonged to her, even as Wade and Prissy belonged to her, and she` must struggle and fight for them as long as she` had strength or breath. She could have left them in Atlanta, dumped Melanie into the hospital and deserted her. But had she` done that, she` could never face Ashley, either on this earth or in the hereafter and tell him she` had left his wife and child to die among strangers.
Oh, Ashley! Where was he tonight while she` toiled down this haunted road with his wife and baby? Was he alive and did he think of her as he lay behind the bars at Rock Island? Or was he dead of smallpox months ago, rotting in some long ditch with hundreds of other Confederates?
Scarlett's taut nerves almost cracked as a sudden noise sounded in the underbrush near them. Prissy screamed loudly, throwing herself to the floor of the wagon, the baby beneath her. Melanie stirred feebly, her hands seeking the baby, and Wade covered his eyes and cowered, too frightened to cry. Then the bushe`s beside them crashe`d apart under heavy hooves and a low moaning bawl assaulted their ears.
"It's only a cow," said Scarlett, her voice rough with fright. "Don't be a fool, Prissy. You've mashe`d the baby and frightened Miss Melly and Wade."
"It's a ghos'," moaned Prissy, writhing face down on the wagon boards.
Turning deliberately, Scarlett raised the tree limb she` had been using as a whip and brought it down across Prissy's back. She was too exhausted and weak from fright to tolerate weakness in anyone else.
"Sit up, you fool," she` said, "before I wear this out on you."
Yelping, Prissy raised her head and peering over the side of the wagon saw it was, indeed, a cow, a red and white animal which stood looking at them appealingly with large frightened eyes. Opening its mouth, it lowed again as if in pain.
"Is it hurt? That doesn't sound like an ordinary moo."
"Soun' ter me lak her bag full an' she` need milkin' bad," said Prissy, regaining some measure of control. "Spec it one of Mist' MacIntosh's dat de niggers driv in de woods an' de Yankees din' git."
"We'll take it with us," Scarlett decided swiftly. "Then we can have some milk for the baby."
"How all we gwine tek a cow wid us, Miss Scarlett? We kain tek no cow wid us. Cow ain' no good nohow effen she` ain' been milked lately. Dey bags swells up and busts. Dat's why she` hollerin'."
"Since you know so much about it, take off your petticoat and tear it up and tie her to the back of the wagon."
"Miss Scarlett, you knows Ah ain' had no petticoat fer a month an' did Ah have one, Ah wouldn' put it on her fer nuthin'. Ah nebber had no truck wid cows. Ah's sceered of cows."
Scarlett laid down the reins and pulled up her skirt. The lace~ trimmed petticoat beneath was the last garment she` possessed that was pretty~ and whole. She untied the waist tape and slipped it down over her feet, crushing the soft linen folds between her hands. Rhett had brought her that linen and lace from Nassau on the last boat he slipped through the blockade and she` had worked a week to make the garment. Resolutely she` took it by the hem and jerked, put it in her mouth and gnawed, until finally the material gave with a rip and tore the length. She gnawed furiously, tore with both hands and the petticoat lay in strips in her hands. She knotted the ends with fingers that bled from blisters and shook from fatigue.
"Slip this over her horns," she` directed. But Prissy balked.
"Ah's sceered of cows, Miss Scarlett. Ah ain' nebber had nuthin' ter do wid cows. Ah ain' no yard nigger. Ah's a house nigger."
"You're a fool nigger, and the worst day's work Pa ever did was to buy you," said Scarlett slowly, too tired for anger. "And if I ever get the use of my arm again, I'll wear this whip out on you."
There, she` thought, I've said "nigger" and Mother wouldn't like that at all.
Prissy rolled her eyes wildly, peeping first at the set face of her mistress and then at the cow which bawled plaintively. Scarlett seemed the less dangerous of the two, so Prissy clutched at the sides of the wagon and remained where she` was.
Stiffly, Scarlett climbed down from the seat, each movement of agony of aching muscles. Prissy was not the only one who was "sceered" of cows. Scarlett had always feared them, even the mildest cow seemed sinister to her, but this was no time to truckle to small fears when great ones crowded so thick upon her. Fortunately the cow was gentle. In its pain it had sought human companionship and help and it made no threatening gesture as she` looped one end of the torn petticoat about its horns. She tied the other end to the back of the wagon, as securely as her awkward fingers would permit. Then, as she` started back toward the driver's seat, a vast weariness assailed her and she` swayed dizzily. She clutched the side of the wagon to keep from falling.
Melanie opened her eyes and, seeing Scarlett standing beside her, whispered: "Dear~ are we home?"
Home! Hot tears came to Scarlett's eyes at the word. Home. Melanie did not know there was no home and that they were alone in a mad and desolate world.
"Not yet," she` said, as gently as the constriction of her throat would permit, "but we will be, soon. I've just found a cow and soon we'll have some milk for you and the baby."
"Poor baby," whispered Melanie, her hand creeping feebly toward the child and falling short.
Climbing back into the wagon required all the strength Scarlett could muster, but at last it was done and she` picked up the lines. The horse stood with head drooping dejectedly and refused to start. Scarlett laid on the whip mercilessly. She hoped God would forgive her for hurting a tired animal. If He didn't she` was sorry. After all, Tara lay just ahead, and after the next quarter of a mile, the horse could drop in the shafts if he liked.
Finally he started slowly, the wagon creaking and the cow lowing mournfully at every step. The pained animal's voice rasped on Scarlett's nerves until she` was tempted to stop and untie the beast. What good would the cow do them anyway if there should be no one at Tara? She couldn't milk her and, even if she` could, the animal would probably kick anyone who touched her sore udder. But she` had the cow and she` might as well keep her. There was little else she` had in this world now.
Scarlett's eyes grew misty when, at last, they reached the bottom of a gentle incline, for just over the rise lay Tara! Then her heart sank. The decrepit animal would never pull the hill. The slope had always seemed so slight, so gradual, in days when she` galloped up it on her fleet~ footed mare. It did not seem possible it could have grown so steep since she` saw it last. The horse would never make it with the heavy load.
Wearily she` dismounted and took the animal by the bridle.
"Get out, Prissy," she` commanded, "and take Wade. Either carry him or make him walk. Lay the baby by Miss Melanie."
Wade broke into sobs and whimperings from which Scarlett could only distinguish: "Dark~ dark~ Wade fwightened!"
"Miss Scarlett, Ah kain walk. Mah feets done blistered an' dey's thoo mah shoes, an' Wade an' me doan weigh so much an'~ "
"Get out! Get out before I pull you out! And if I do, I'm going to leave you right here, in the dark by yourself. Quick, now!"
Prissy moaned, peering at the dark trees that closed about them on both sides of the road~ trees which might reach out and clutch her if she` left the she`lter of the wagon. But she` laid the baby beside Melanie, scrambled to the ground and, reaching up, lifted Wade out. The little boy sobbed, shrinking close to his nurse.
"Make him hush. I can't stand it," said Scarlett, taking the horse by the bridle and pulling him to a reluctant start. "Be a little man, Wade, and stop crying or I will come over there and slap you."
Why had God invented children, she` thought savagely as she` turned her ankle cruelly on the dark road~ useless, crying nuisances they were, always demanding care, always in the way. In her exhaustion, there was no room for compassion for the frightened child, trotting by Prissy's side, dragging at her hand and sniffling~ only a weariness that she` had borne him, only a tired wonder that she` had ever married Charles Hamilton.
"Miss Scarlett," whispered Prissy, clutching her mistress' arm, "doan le's go ter Tara. Dey's not dar. Dey's all done gone. Maybe dey daid~ Maw an' all'm."
The echo of her own thoughts infuriated her and Scarlett shook off the pinching fingers.
"Then give me Wade's hand. You can sit right down here and stay."
How slowly the horse moved! The moisture from his slobbering mouth dripped down upon her hand. Through her mind ran a few words of the song she` had once sung with Rhett~ she` could not recall the rest:
"Just a few more days for to tote the weary load~ "
"Just a few more steps," hummed her brain, over and over, "just a few more steps for to tote the weary load."
Then they topped the rise and before them lay the oaks of Tara, a towering dark mass against the darkening sky. Scarlett looked hastily to see if there was a light anywhere. There was none.
"They are gone!" said her heart, like cold lead in her breast. "Gone!"
She turned the horse's head into the driveway, and the cedars, meeting over their heads cast them into midnight blackness. Peering up the long tunnel of darkness, straining her eyes she` saw ahead~ or did she` see? Were her tired eyes playing her tricks?~ the white bricks of Tara blurred and indistinct. Home! Home! The dear white walls, the windows with the fluttering curtains, the wide verandas~ were they all there ahead of her, in the gloom? Or did the darkness mercifully conceal such a horror as the MacIntosh house?
The avenue seemed miles long and the horse, pulling stubbornly at her hand, plopped slower and slower. Eagerly her eyes searched the darkness. The roof seemed to be intact. Could it be~ could it be~ ? No, it wasn't possible. War stopped for nothing, not even Tara, built to last five hundred years. It could not have passed over Tara.
Then the shadowy outline did take form. She pulled the horse forward faster. The white walls did show there through the darkness. And untarnishe`d by smoke. Tara had escaped! Home! She dropped the bridle and ran the last few steps, leaped forward with an urge to clutch the walls themselves in her arms. Then she` saw a form, shadowy in the dimness, emerging from the blackness of the front veranda and standing at the top of the steps. Tara was not deserted. Someone was home!
A cry of joy rose to her throat and died there. The house was so dark and still and the figure did not move or call to her. What was wrong? What was wrong? Tara stood intact, yet shrouded with the same eerie quiet that hung over the whole stricken countryside. Then the figure moved. Stiffly and slowly, it came down the steps.
"Pa?" she` whispered huskily, doubting almost that it was he. "It's me~ Katie Scarlett. I've come home."
Gerald moved toward her, silent as a sleepwalker, his stiff leg dragging. He came close to her, looking at her in a dazed way as if he believed she` was part of a dream. Putting out his hand, he laid it on her shoulder. Scarlett felt it tremble, tremble as if he had been awakened from a nightmare into a half~ sense of reality.
"Daughter," he said with an effort. "Daughter."
Then he was silent.
Why~ he's an old man! thought Scarlett.
Gerald's shoulders sagged. In the face which she` could only see dimly, there was none of the virility, the restless vitality of Gerald, and the eyes that looked into hers had almost the same fear~ stunned look that lay in little Wade's eyes. He was only a little old man and broken.
And now, fear of unknown things seized her, leaped swiftly out of the darkness at her and she` could only stand and stare at him, all the flood of questioning dammed up at her lips.
From the wagon the faint wailing sounded again and Gerald seemed to rouse himself with an effort.
"It's Melanie and her baby," whispered Scarlett rapidly. "She's very ill~ I brought her home."
Gerald dropped his hand from her arm and straightened his shoulders. As he moved slowly to the side of the wagon, there was a ghostly semblance of the old host of Tara welcoming guests, as if Gerald spoke words from out of shadowy memory.
Melanie's voice murmured indistinctly.
"Cousin Melanie, this is your home. Twelve Oaks is burned. You must stay with us."
Thoughts of Melanie's prolonged suffering spurred Scarlett to action. The present was with her again, the necessity of laying Melanie and her child on a soft bed and doing those small things for her that could be done.
"She must be carried. She can't walk."
There was a scuffle of feet and a dark figure emerged from the cave of the front hall. Pork ran down the steps.
"Miss Scarlett! Miss Scarlett!" he cried.
Scarlett caught him by the arms. Pork, part and parcel of Tara, as dear as the bricks and the cool corridors! She felt his tears stream down on her hands as he patted her clumsily, crying: "Sho is glad you back! Sho is~ "
Prissy burst into tears and incoherent mumblings: "Poke! Poke, honey!" And little Wade, encouraged by the weakness of his elders, began sniffling: "Wade thirsty!"
Scarlett caught them all in hand.
"Miss Melanie is in the wagon and her baby too. Pork, you must carry her upstairs very carefully and put her in the back company room. Prissy, take the baby and Wade inside and give Wade a drink of water. Is Mammy here, Pork? Tell her I want her."
Galvanized by the authority in her voice, Pork approached the wagon and fumbled at the backboard. A moan was wrenched from Melanie as he half~ lifted, half~ dragged her from the feather tick on which she` had lain so many hours. And then she` was in Pork's strong arms, her head drooping like a child's across his shoulder. Prissy, holding the baby and dragging Wade by the hand, followed them up the wide steps and disappeared into the blackness of the hall.
Scarlett's bleeding fingers sought her father's hand urgently.
"Did they get well, Pa?"
"The girls are recovering."
Silence fell and in the silence an idea too monstrous for words took form. She could not, could not force it to her lips. She swallowed and swallowed but a sudden dryness seemed to have stuck the sides of her throat together. Was this the answer to the frightening riddle of Tara's silence? As if answering the question in her mind Gerald spoke.
"Your mother~ " he said and stopped.
"Your mother died yesterday."
Her father's arm held tightly in her own, Scarlett felt her way down the wide dark hall which, even in its blackness, was as familiar as her own mind. She avoided the high~ backed chairs, the empty gun rack, the old sideboard with its protruding claw feet, and she` felt herself drawn by instinct to the tiny office at the back of the house where Ellen always sat, keeping her endless accounts. Surely, when she` entered that room, Mother would again be sitting there before the secretary and would look up, quill poised, and rise with sweet fragrance and rustling hoops to meet her tired daughter. Ellen could not be dead, not even though Pa had said it, said it over and over like a parrot that knows only one phrase: "She died yesterday~ she` died yesterday~ she` died yesterday."
Queer that she` should feel nothing now, nothing except a weariness that shackled her limbs with heavy iron chains and a hunger that made her knees tremble. She would think of Mother later. She must put her mother out of her mind now, else she` would stumble stupidly like Gerald or sob monotonously like Wade.
Pork came down the wide dark steps toward them, hurrying to press close to Scarlett like a cold animal toward a fire.
"Lights?" she` questioned. "Why is the house so dark, Pork? Bring candles."
"Dey tuck all de candles, Miss Scarlett, all 'cept one we been usin' ter fine things in de dahk wid, an' it's 'bout gone. Mammy been usin' a rag in a dish of hawg fat fer a light fer nussin' Miss Careen an' Miss Suellen."
"Bring what's left of the candle," she` ordered. "Bring it into Mother's~ into the office."
Pork pattered into the dining room and Scarlett groped her way into the inky small room and sank down on the sofa. Her father's arm still lay in the crook of hers, helpless, appealing, trusting, as only the hands of the very young and the very old can be.
"He's an old man, an old tired man," she` thought again and vaguely wondered why she` could not care.
Light wavered into the room as Pork entered carrying high a half~ burned candle stuck in a saucer. The dark cave came to life, the sagging old sofa on which they sat, the tall secretary reaching toward the ceiling with Mother's fragile carved chair before it, the racks of pigeonholes, still stuffed with papers written in her fine hand, the worn carpet~ all, all were the same, except that Ellen was not there, Ellen with the faint scent of lemon verbena sachet and the sweet look in her up~ tilted eyes. Scarlett felt a small pain in her heart as of nerves numbed by a deep wound, struggling to make themselves felt again. She must not let them come to life now; there was all the rest of her life ahead of her in which they could ache. But, not now! Please, God, not now!
She looked into Gerald's putty~ colored face and, for the first time in her life, she` saw him unshaven, his once florid face covered with silvery bristles. Pork placed the candle on the candle stand and came to her side. Scarlett felt that if he had been a dog he would have laid his muzzle in her lap and whined for a kind hand upon his head.
"Pork, how many darkies are here?"
"Miss Scarlett, dem trashy niggers done runned away an' some of dem went off wid de Yankees an'~ "
"How many are left?"
"Dey's me, Miss Scarlett, an' Mammy. She been nussin' de young Misses all day. An' Dilcey, she` settin' up wid de young Misses now. Us three, Miss Scarlett."
"Us three" where there had been a hundred. Scarlett with an effort lifted her head on her aching neck. She knew she` must keep her voice steady. To her surprise, words came out as coolly and naturally as if there had never been a war and she` could, by waving her hand, call ten house servants to her.
"Pork, I'm starving. Is there anything to eat?"
"No'm. Dey tuck it all."
"But the garden?"
"Dey tuhned dey hawses loose in it."
"Even the sweet potato hills?"
Something almost like a pleased smile broke his thick lips.
"Miss Scarlett, Ah done fergit de yams. Ah specs dey's right dar. Dem Yankee folks ain' never seed no yams an' dey thinks dey's jes' roots an'~ "
"The moon will be up soon. You go out and dig us some and roast them. There's no corn meal? No dried peas? No chickens?"
"No'm. No'm. Whut chickens dey din' eat right hyah dey cah'ied off 'cross dey saddles."
They~ They~ They~ Was there no end to what 'They" had done? Was it not enough to burn and kill? Must they also leave women and children and helpless negroes to starve in a country which they had desolated?
"Miss Scarlett, Ah got some apples Mammy buhied unner de house. We been eatin' on dem today."
"Bring them before you dig the potatoes. And, Pork~ I~ I feel so faint. Is there any wine in the cellar, even blackberry?"
"Oh, Miss Scarlett, de cellar wuz de fust place dey went."
A swimming nausea compounded of hunger, sleeplessness, exhaustion and stunning blows came on suddenly and she` gripped the carved roses under her hand.
"No wine," she` said dully, remembering the endless rows of bottles in the cellar. A memory stirred.
"Pork, what of the corn whisky Pa buried in the oak barrel under the scuppernong arbor?"
Another ghost of a smile lit the black face, a smile of pleasure and respect.
"Miss Scarlett, you sho is de beatenes' chile! Ah done plum fergit dat bah'l. But, Miss Scarlett, dat whisky ain' no good. Ain' been dar but 'bout a year an' whisky ain' no good fer ladies nohow."
How stupid negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told. And the Yankees wanted to free them.
"It'll be good enough for this lady and for Pa. Hurry, Pork, and dig it up and bring us two glasses and some mint and sugar and I'll mix a julep."
"Miss Scarlett, you knows dey ain' been no sugar at Tara fer de longes'. An' dey hawses done et up all de mint an' dey done broke all de glasses."
If he says "They" once more, I'll scream. I can't help it, she` thought, and then, aloud: "Well, hurry and get the whisky, quickly. We'll take it neat." And, as he turned: "Wait, Pork. There's so many things to do that I can't seem to think. . . . Oh, yes. I brought home a horse and a cow and the cow needs milking, badly, and unharness the horse and water him. Go tell Mammy to look after the cow. Tell her she`'s got to fix the cow up somehow. Miss Melanie's baby will die if he doesn't get something to eat and~ "
"Miss Melly ain'~ kain~ ?" Pork paused delicately.
"Miss Melanie has no milk." Dear God, but Mother would faint at that!
"Well, Miss Scarlett, mah Dilcey ten' ter Miss Melly's chile. Mah Dilcey got a new chile herseff an' she` got mo'n nuff fer both."
"You've got a new baby, Pork?"
Babies, babies, babies. Why did God make so many babies? But no, God didn't make them. Stupid people made them.
"Yas'm, big fat black boy. He~ "
"Go tell Dilcey to leave the girls. I'll look after them. Tell her to nurse Miss Melanie's baby and do what she` can for Miss Melanie. Tell Mammy to look after the cow and put that poor horse in the stable."
"Dey ain' no stable, Miss Scarlett. Dey use it fer fiah wood."
"Don't tell me any more what 'They' did. Tell Dilcey to look after them. And you, Pork, go dig up that whisky and then some potatoes."
"But, Miss Scarlett, Ah ain' got no light ter dig by."
"You can use a stick of firewood, can't you?"
"Dey ain' no fiah wood~ Dey~ "
"Do something. . . . I don't care what. But dig those things and dig them fast. Now, hurry."
Pork scurried from the room as her voice roughened and Scarlett was left alone with Gerald. She patted his leg gently. She noted how shrunken were the thighs that once bulged with saddle muscles. She must do something to drag him from his apathy~ but she` could not ask about Mother. That must come later, when she` could stand it.
"Why didn't they burn Tara?"
Gerald stared at her for a moment as if not hearing her and she` repeated her question.
"Why~ " he fumbled, "they used the house as a headquarters."
"Yankees~ in this house?"
A feeling that the beloved walls had been defiled rose in her. This house, sacred because Ellen had lived in it, and those~ those~ in it.
"So they were, Daughter. We saw the smoke from Twelve Oaks, across the river, before they came. But Miss Honey and Miss India and some of their darkies had refugeed to Macon, so we did not worry about them. But we couldn't be going to Macon. The girls were so sick~ your mother~ we couldn't be going. Our darkies ran~ I'm not knowing where. They stole the wagons and the mules. Mammy and Dilcey and Pork~ they didn't run. The girls~ your mother~ we couldn't be moving them."
"Yes, yes." He mustn't talk about Mother. Anything else. Even that General Sherman himself had used this room, Mother's office, for his headquarters. Anything else.
"The Yankees were moving on Jonesboro, to cut the railroad. And they came up the road from the river~ thousands and thousands~ and cannon and horses~ thousands. I met them on the front porch."
"Oh, gallant little Gerald!" thought Scarlett, her heart swelling, Gerald meeting the enemy on the stairs of Tara as if an army stood behind him instead of in front of him.
"They said for me to leave, that they would be burning the place. And I said that they would be burning it over my head. We could not leave~ the girls~ your mother were~ "
"And then?" Must he revert to Ellen always?
"I told them there was sickness in the house, the typhoid, and it was death to move them. They could burn the roof over us. I did not want to leave anyway~ leave Tara~ "
His voice trailed off into silence as he looked absently about the walls and Scarlett understood. There were too many Irish ancestors crowding behind Gerald's shoulders, men who had died on scant acres, fighting to the end rather than leave the homes where they had lived, plowed, loved, begotten sons.
"I said that they would be burning the house over the heads of three dying women. But we would not leave. The young officer was~ was a gentleman."
"A Yankee a gentleman? Why, Pa!"
"A gentleman. He galloped away and soon he was back with a captain, a surgeon, and he looked at the girls~ and your mother."
"You let a damned Yankee into their room?"
"He had opium. We had none. He saved your sisters. Suellen was hemorrhaging. He was as kind as he knew how. And when he reported that they were~ ill~ they did not burn the house. They moved in, some general, his staff, crowding in. They filled all the rooms except the sick room. And the soldiers~ "
He paused again, as if too tired to go on. His stubbly chin sank heavily in loose folds of flesh on his chest. With an effort he spoke again.
"They camped all round the house, everywhere, in the cotton, in the corn. The pasture was blue with them. That night there were a thousand campfires. They tore down the fences and burned them to cook with and the barns and the stables and the smokehouse. They killed the cows and the hogs and the chickens~ even my turkeys." Gerald's precious turkeys. So they were gone. "They took things, even the pictures~ some of the furniture, the china~ "
"Pork and Mammy did something with the silver~ put it in the well~ but I'm not remembering now," Gerald's voice was fretful. "Then they fought the battle from here~ from Tara~ there was so much noise, people galloping up and stamping about. And later the cannon at Jonesboro~ it sounded like thunder~ even the girls could hear it, sick as they were, and they kept saying over and over: 'Papa, make it stop thundering.'"
"And~ and Mother? Did she` know Yankees were in the house?"
"She~ never knew anything."
"Thank God," said Scarlett. Mother was spared that. Mother never knew, never heard the enemy in the rooms below, never heard the guns at Jonesboro, never learned that the land which was part of her heart was under Yankee feet.
"I saw few of them for I stayed upstairs with the girls and your mother. I saw the young surgeon mostly. He was kind, so kind, Scarlett. After he'd worked all day with the wounded, he came and sat with them. He even left some medicine. He told me when they moved on that the girls would recover but your mother~ She was so frail, he said~ too frail to stand it all. He said she` had undermined her strength. . . ."
In the silence that fell, Scarlett saw her mother as she` must have been in those last days, a thin power of strength in Tara, nursing, working, doing without sleep and food that the others might rest and eat.
"And then, they moved on. Then, they moved on."
He was silent for a long time and then fumbled at her hand.
"It's glad I am you are home," he said simply.
There was a scraping noise on the back porch. Poor Pork, trained for forty years to clean his shoes before entering the house, did not forget, even in a time like this. He came in, carefully carrying two gourds, and the strong smell of dripping spirits entered before him.
"Ah spilt a plen'y, Miss Scarlett. It's pow'ful hard ter po' outer a bung hole inter a go'de."
"That's quite all right, Pork, and thank you." She took the wet gourd dipper from him, her nostrils wrinkling in distaste at the reek.
"Drink this, Father," she` said, pushing the whisky in its strange receptacle into his hand and taking the second gourd of water from Pork. Gerald raised it, obedient as a child, and gulped noisily. She handed the water to him but he shook his head.
As she` took the whisky from him and held it to her mouth, she` saw his eyes follow her, a vague stirring of disapproval in them.
"I know no lady drinks spirits," she` said briefly. "But today I'm no lady, Pa, and there is work to do tonight."
She tilted the dipper, drew a deep breath and drank swiftly. The hot liquid burned down her throat to her stomach, choking her and bringing tears to her eyes. She drew another breath and raised it again.
"Katie Scarlett," said Gerald, the first note of authority she` had heard in his voice since her return, "that is enough. You're not knowing spirits and they will be making you tipsy."
"Tipsy?" She laughed an ugly laugh. "Tipsy? I hope it makes me drunk. I would like to be drunk and forget all of this."
She drank again, a slow train of warmth lighting in her veins and stealing through her body until even her finger tips tingled. What a blessed feeling, this kindly fire. It seemed to penetrate even her ice~ locked heart and strength came coursing back into her body. Seeing Gerald's puzzled hurt face, she` patted his knee again and managed an imitation of the pert smile he used to love.
"How could it make me tipsy, Pa? I'm your daughter. Haven't I inherited the steadiest head in Clayton County?"
He almost smiled into her tired face. The whisky was bracing him too. She handed it back to him.
"Now you're going to take another drink and then I am going to take you upstairs and put you to bed."
She caught herself. Why, this was the way she` talked to Wade~ she` should not address her father like this. It was disrespectful. But he hung on her words.
"Yes, put you to bed," she` added lightly, "and give you another drink~ maybe all the dipper and make you go to sleep. You need sleep and Katie Scarlett is here, so you need not worry about anything. Drink."
He drank again obediently and, slipping her arm through his, she` pulled him to his feet.
"Pork. . . ."
Pork took the gourd in one hand and Gerald's arm in the other. Scarlett picked up the flaring candle and the three walked slowly into the dark hall and up the winding steps toward Gerald's room.
The room where Suellen and Carreen lay mumbling and tossing on the same bed stank vilely with the smell of the twisted rag burning in a saucer of bacon fat, which provided the only light. When Scarlett first opened the door the thick atmosphere of the room, with all windows closed and the air reeking with sick~ room odors, medicine smells and stinking grease, almost made her faint. Doctors might say that fresh air was fatal in a sick room but if she` were to sit here, she` must have air or die. She opened the three windows, bringing in the smell of oak leaves and earth, but the fresh air could do little toward dispelling the sickening odors which had accumulated for weeks in this close room.
Carreen and Suellen, emaciated and white, slept brokenly and awoke to mumble with wide, staring eyes in the tall four~ poster bed where they had whispered together in better, happier days. In the corner of the room was an empty bed, a narrow French Empire bed with curling head and foot, a bed which Ellen had brought from Savannah. This was where Ellen had lain.
Scarlett sat beside the two girls, staring at them stupidly. The whisky taken on a stomach long empty was playing tricks on her. Sometimes her sisters seemed far away and tiny and their incoherent voices came to her like the buzz of insects. And again, they loomed large, rushing at her with lightning speed. She was tired, tired to the bone. She could lie down and sleep for days.
If she` could only lie down and sleep and wake to feel Ellen gently shaking her arm and saying: "It is late, Scarlett. You must not be so lazy." But she` could not ever do that again. If there were only Ellen, someone older than she`, wiser and unweary, to whom she` could go! Someone in whose lap she` could lay her head, someone on whose shoulders she` could rest her burdens!
The door opened softly and Dilcey entered, Melanie's baby held to her breast, the gourd of whisky in her hand. In the smoky, uncertain light, she` seemed thinner than when Scarlett last saw her and the Indian blood was more evident in her face. The high cheek bones were more prominent, the hawk~ bridged nose was sharper and her copper skin gleamed with a brighter hue. Her faded calico dress was open to the waist and her large bronze breast exposed. Held close against her, Melanie's baby pressed his pale rosebud mouth greedily to the dark nipple, sucking, gripping tiny fists against the soft flesh like a kitten in the warm fur of its mother's belly.
Scarlett rose unsteadily and put a hand on Dilcey's arm.
"It was good of you to stay, Dilcey."
"How could I go off wid them trashy niggers, Miss Scarlett, after yo' pa been so good to buy me and my little Prissy and yo' ma been so kine?"
"Sit down, Dilcey. The baby can eat all right, then? And how is Miss Melanie?"
"Nuthin' wrong wid this chile 'cept he hongry, and whut it take to feed a hongry chile I got. No'm, Miss Melanie is all right. She ain' gwine die, Miss Scarlett. Doan you fret yo'seff. I seen too many, white and black, lak her. She mighty tired and nervous like and scared fo' this baby. But I hesh her and give her some of whut was lef' in that go'de and she` sleepin'."
So the corn whisky had been used by the whole family! Scarlett thought hysterically that perhaps she` had better give a drink to little Wade and see if it would stop his hiccoughs~ And Melanie would not die. And when Ashley came home~ if he did come home . . . No, she` would think of that later too. So much to think of~ later! So many things to unravel~ to decide. If only she` could put off the hour of reckoning forever! She started suddenly as a creaking noise and a rhythmic "Ker~ bunk~ ker~ bunk~ " broke the stillness of the air outside.
"That's Mammy gettin' the water to sponge off the young Misses. They takes a heap of bathin'," explained Dilcey, propping the gourd on the table between medicine bottles and a glass.
Scarlett laughed suddenly. Her nerves must be shredded if the noise of the well windlass, bound up in her earliest memories, could frighten her. Dilcey looked at her steadily as she` laughed, her face immobile in its dignity, but Scarlett felt that Dilcey understood. She sank back in her chair. If she` could only be rid of her tight stays, the collar that choked her and the slippers still full of sand and gravel that blistered her feet.
The windlass creaked slowly as the rope wound up, each creak bringing the bucket nearer the top. Soon Mammy would be with her~ Ellen's Mammy, her Mammy. She sat silent, intent on nothing, while the baby, already glutted with milk, whimpered because he had lost the friendly nipple. Dilcey, silent too, guided the child's mouth back, quieting him in her arms as Scarlett listened to the slow scuffing of Mammy's feet across the back yard. How still the night air was! The slightest sounds roared in her ears.
The upstairs hall seemed to shake as Mammy's ponderous weight came toward the door. Then Mammy was in the room, Mammy with shoulders dragged down by two heavy wooden buckets, her kind black face sad with the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey's face.
Her eyes lighted up at the sight of Scarlett, her white teeth gleamed as she` set down the buckets, and Scarlett ran to her, laying her head on the broad, sagging breasts which had held so many heads, black and white. Here was something of stability, thought Scarlett, something of the old life that was unchanging. But Mammy's first words dispelled this illusion.
"Mammy's chile is home! Oh, Miss Scarlett, now dat Miss Ellen's in de grabe, whut is we gwine ter do? Oh, Miss Scarlett, effen Ah wuz jes' daid longside Miss Ellen! Ah kain make out widout Miss Ellen. Ain' nuthin' lef' now but mizry an' trouble. Jes' weery loads, honey, jes' weery loads."
As Scarlett lay with her head hugged close to Mammy's breast, two words caught her attention, "weery loads." Those were the words which had hummed in her brain that afternoon so monotonously they had sickened her. Now, she` remembered the rest of the song, remembered with a sinking heart:
"Just a few more days for to tote the weary load! No matter, 'twill never be light! Just a few more days till we totter in the road~ "
"No matter, 'twill never be light"~ she` took the words to her tired mind. Would her load never be light? Was coming home to Tara to mean, not blessed surcease, but only more loads to carry? She slipped from Mammy's arms and, reaching up, patted the wrinkled black face.
"Honey, yo' han's!" Mammy took the small hands with their blisters and blood clots in hers and looked at them with horrified disapproval. "Miss Scarlett, Ah done tole you an' tole you dat you kin allus tell a lady by her han's an'~ yo' face sunbuhnt too!"
Poor Mammy, still the martinet about such unimportant things even though war and death had just passed over her head! In another moment she` would be saying that young Misses with blistered hands and freckles most generally didn't never catch husbands and Scarlett forestalled the remark.
"Mammy, I want you to tell me about Mother. I couldn't bear to hear Pa talk about her."
Tears started from Mammy's eyes as she` leaned down to pick up the buckets. In silence she` carried them to the bedside and, turning down the she`et, began pulling up the night clothes of Suellen and Carreen. Scarlett, peering at her sisters in the dim flaring light, saw that Carreen wore a nightgown, clean but in tatters, and Suellen lay wrapped in an old negligee, a brown linen garment heavy with tagging ends of Irish lace. Mammy cried silently as she` sponged the gaunt bodies, using the remnant of an old apron as a cloth.
"Miss Scarlett, it wuz dem Slatterys, dem trashy, no~ good, low~ down po'~ w'ite Slatterys dat kilt Miss Ellen. Ah done tole her an' tole her it doan do no good doin' things fer trashy folks, but Miss Ellen wuz so sot in her ways an' her heart so sof' she` couldn' never say no ter nobody whut needed her."
"Slatterys?" questioned Scarlett, bewildered. "How do they come in?"
"Dey wuz sick wid disyere thing," Mammy gestured with her rag to the two naked girls, dripping with water on their damp she`et. "Ole Miss Slattery's gal, Emmie, come down wid it an' Miss Slattery come hotfootin' it up hyah affer Miss Ellen, lak she` allus done w'en anything wrong. Why din' she` nuss her own? Miss Ellen had mo'n she` could tote anyways. But Miss Ellen she` went down dar an' she` nuss Emmie. An' Miss Ellen wuzn' well a~ tall herseff, Miss Scarlett. Yo' ma hadn' been well fer de longes'. Dey ain' been too much ter eat roun' hyah, wid de commissary stealin' eve'y thing us growed. An' Miss Ellen eat lak a bird anyways. An' Ah tole her an' tole her ter let dem w'ite trash alone, but she` din' pay me no mine. Well'm, 'bout de time Emmie look lak she` gittin' better, Miss Carreen come down wid it. Yas'm, de typhoy fly right up de road an' ketch Miss Carreen, an' den down come Miss Suellen. So Miss Ellen, she` tuck an' nuss dem too.
"Wid all de fightin' up de road an' de Yankees 'cross de river an' us not knowin' whut wuz gwine ter happen ter us an' de fe'el han's runnin' off eve'y night, Ah's 'bout crazy. But Miss Ellen jes' as cool as a cucumber. 'Cept she` wuz worried ter a ghos' 'bout de young Misses kase we couldn' git no medicines nor nuthin'. An' one night she` say ter me affer we done sponge off de young Misses 'bout ten times, she` say, 'Mammy, effen Ah could sell mah soul, Ah'd sell it fer some ice ter put on mah gals' haids.'
"She wouldn't let Mist' Gerald come in hyah, nor Rosa nor Teena, nobody but me, kase Ah done had de typhoy. An' den it tuck her, Miss Scarlett, an' Ah seed right off dat 'twarnt no use."
Mammy straightened up and, raising her apron, dried her streaming eyes.
"She went fas', Miss Scarlett, an' even dat nice Yankee doctah couldn' do nuthin' fer her. She din' know nuthin' a~ tall. Ah call ter her an' talk ter her but she` din' even know her own Mammy."
"Did she`~ did she` ever mention me~ call for me?"
"No, honey. She think she` is lil gal back in Savannah. She din' call nobody by name."
Dilcey stirred and laid the sleeping baby across her knees.
"Yes'm, she` did. She did call somebody."
"You hesh yo' mouf, you Injun~ nigger!" Mammy turned with threatening violence on Dilcey.
"Hush, Mammy! Who did she` call, Dilcey? Pa?"
"No'm. Not yo' pa. It wuz the night the cotton buhnt~ "
"Has the cotton gone~ tell me quickly!"
"Yes'm, it buhnt up. The sojers rolls it out of the she`d into the back yard and hollers, 'Here the bigges' bonfiah in Georgia,' and tech it off."
Three years of stored cotton~ one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, all in one blaze!
"And the fiah light up the place lak it wuz day~ we wuz scared the house would buhn, too, and it wuz so bright in this hyah room that you could mos' pick a needle offen the flo'. And w'en the light shine in the winder, it look lak it wake Miss Ellen up and she` set right up in bed and cry out loud, time and again: 'Feeleep! Feeleep!' I ain' never heerd no sech name but it wuz a name and she` wuz callin' him."
Mammy stood as though turned to stone glaring at Dilcey but Scarlett dropped her head into her hands. Philippe~ who was he and what had he been to Mother that she` died calling him?
The long road from Atlanta to Tara had ended, ended in a blank wall, the road that was to end in Ellen's arms. Never again could Scarlett lie down, as a child, secure beneath her father's roof with the protection of her mother's love wrapped about her like an eiderdown quilt. There was no security or haven to which she` could turn now. No turning or twisting would avoid this dead end to which she` had come. There was no one on whose shoulders she` could rest her burdens. Her father was old and stunned, her sisters ill, Melanie frail and weak, the children helpless, and the negroes looking up to her with childlike faith, clinging to her skirts, knowing that Ellen's daughter would be the refuge Ellen had always been.
Through the window, in the faint light of the rising moon, Tara stretched before her, negroes gone, acres desolate, barns ruined, like a body bleeding under her eyes, like her own body, slowly bleeding. This was the end of the road, quivering old age, sickness, hungry mouths, helpless hands plucking at her skirts. And at the end of this road, there was nothing~ nothing but Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton, nineteen years old, a widow with a little child.
What would she` do with all of this? Aunt Pitty and the Burrs in Macon could take Melanie and her baby. If the girls recovered, Ellen's family would have to take them, whether they liked it or not. And she` and Gerald could turn to Uncle James and Andrew.
She looked at the thin forms, tossing before her, the she`ets about them moist and dark from dripping water. She did not like Suellen. She saw it now with a sudden clarity. She had never liked her. She did not especially love Carreen~ she` could not love anyone who was weak. But they were of her blood, part of Tara. No, she` could not let them live out their lives in their aunts' homes as poor relations. An O'Hara a poor relation, living on charity bread and sufferance! Oh, never that!
Was there no escape from this dead end? Her tired brain moved so slowly. She raised her hands to her head as wearily as if the air were water against which her arms struggled. She took the gourd from between the glass and bottle and looked in it. There was some whisky left in the bottom, how much she` could not tell in the uncertain light. Strange that the sharp smell did not offend her nostrils now. She drank slowly but this time the liquid did not burn, only a dull warmth followed.
She set down the empty gourd and looked about her. This was all a dream, this smoke~ filled dim room, the scrawny girls, Mammy shapeless and huge crouching beside the bed, Dilcey a still bronze image with the sleeping pink morsel against her dark breast~ all a dream from which she` would awake, to smell bacon frying in the kitchen, hear the throaty laughter of the negroes and the creaking of wagons fieldward bound, and Ellen's gentle insistent hand upon her.
Then she` discovered she` was in her own room, on her own bed, faint moonlight pricking the darkness, and Mammy and Dilcey were undressing her. The torturing stays no longer pinched her waist and she` could breathe deeply and quietly to the bottom of her lungs and her abdomen. She felt her stockings being stripped gently from her and heard Mammy murmuring indistinguishable comforting sounds as she` bathed her blistered feet. How cool the water was, how good to lie here in softness, like a child. She sighed and relaxed and after a time which might have been a year or a second, she` was alone and the room was brighter as the rays of the moon streamed in across the bed.
She did not know she` was drunk, drunk with fatigue and whisky. She only knew she` had left her tired body and floated somewhere above it where there was no pain and weariness and her brain saw things with an inhuman clarity.
She was seeing things with new eyes for, somewhere along the long road to Tara, she` had left her girlhood behind her. She was no longer plastic clay, yielding imprint to each new experience. The clay had hardened, some time in this indeterminate day which had lasted a thousand years. Tonight was the last time she` would ever be ministered to as a child. She was a woman now and youth was gone.
No, she` could not, would not, turn to Gerald's or Ellen's families. The O'Haras did not take charity. The O'Haras looked after their own. Her burdens were her own and burdens were for shoulders strong enough to bear them. She thought without surprise, looking down from her height, that her shoulders were strong enough to bear anything now, having borne the worst that could ever happen to her. She could not desert Tara; she` belonged to the red acres far more than they could ever belong to her. Her roots went deep into the blood~ colored soil and sucked up life, as did the cotton. She would stay at Tara and keep it, somehow, keep her father and her sisters, Melanie and Ashley's child, the negroes. Tomorrow~ oh, tomorrow! Tomorrow she` would fit the yoke about her neck. Tomorrow there would be so many things to do. Go to Twelve Oaks and the MacIntosh place and see if anything was left in the deserted gardens, go to the river swamps and beat them for straying hogs and chickens, go to Jonesboro and Lovejoy with Ellen's jewelry~ there must be someone left there who would sell something to eat. Tomorrow~ tomorrow~ her brain ticked slowly and more slowly, like a clock running down, but the clarity of vision persisted.
Of a sudden, the oft~ told family tales to which she` had listened since babyhood, listened half~ bored, impatient and but partly comprehending, were crystal clear. Gerald, penniless, had raised Tara; Ellen had risen above some mysterious sorrow; Grandfather Robillard, surviving the wreck of Napoleon's throne, had founded his fortunes anew on the fertile Georgia coast; Great~ grandfather Prudhomme had carved a small kingdom out of the dark jungles of Haiti, lost it, and lived to see his name honored in Savannah. There were the Scarletts who had fought with the Irish Volunteers for a free Ireland and been hanged for their pains and the O'Haras who died at the Boyne, battling to the end for what was theirs.
All had suffered crushing misfortunes and had not been crushe`d. They had not been broken by the crash of empires, the machetes of revolting slaves, war, rebellion, proscription, confiscation. Malign fate had broken their necks, perhaps, but never their hearts. They had not whined, they had fought. And when they died, they died spent but unquenched. All of those shadowy folks whose blood flowed in her veins seemed to move quietly in the moonlit room. And Scarlett was not surprised to see them, these kinsmen who had taken the worst that fate could send and hammered it into the best. Tara was her fate, her fight, and she` must conquer it.
She turned drowsily on her side, a slow creeping blackness enveloping her mind. Were they really there, whispering wordless encouragement to her, or was this part of her dream?
"Whether you are there or not," she` murmured sleepily, "good night~ and thank you."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The next morning Scarlett's body was so stiff and sore from the long miles of walking and jolting in the wagon that every movement was agony. Her face was crimson with sunburn and her blistered palms raw. Her tongue was furred and her throat parched as if flames had scorched it and no amount of water could assuage her thirst. Her head felt swollen and she` winced even when she` turned her eyes. A queasiness of the stomach reminiscent of the early days of her pregnancy made the smoking yams on the breakfast table unendurable, even to the smell. Gerald could have told her she` was suffering the normal aftermath of her first experience with hard drinking but Gerald noticed nothing. He sat at the head of the table, a gray old man with absent, faded eyes fastened on the door and head cocked slightly to hear the rustle of Ellen's petticoats, to smell the lemon verbena sachet.
As Scarlett sat down, he mumbled: "We will wait for Mrs. O'Hara. She is late." She raised an aching head, looked at him with startled incredulity and met the pleading eyes of Mammy, who stood behind Gerald's chair. She rose unsteadily, her hand at her throat and looked down at her father in the morning sunlight. He peered up at her vaguely and she` saw that his hands were shaking, that his head trembled a little.
Until this moment she` had not realized how much she` had counted on Gerald to take command, to tell her what she` must do, and now~ Why, last night he had seemed almost himself. There had been none of his usual bluster and vitality, but at least he had told a connected story and now~ now, he did not even remember Ellen was dead. The combined shock of the coming of the Yankees and her death had stunned him. She started to speak, but Mammy shook her head vehemently and raising her apron dabbed at her red eyes.
"Oh, can Pa have lost his mind?" thought Scarlett and her throbbing head felt as if it would crack with this added strain. "No, no. He's just dazed by it all. It's like he was sick. He'll get over it. He must get over it. What will I do if he doesn't?~ I won't think about it now. I won't think of him or Mother or any of these awful things now. No, not till I can stand it. There are too many other things to think about~ things that can be helped without my thinking of those I can't help."
She left the dining room without eating, and went out onto the back porch where she` found Pork, barefooted and in the ragged remains of his best livery, sitting on the steps cracking peanuts. Her head was hammering and throbbing and the bright, sunlight stabbed into her eyes. Merely holding herself erect required an effort of will power and she` talked as briefly as possible, dispensing with the usual forms of courtesy her mother had always taught her to use with negroes.
She began asking questions so brusquely and giving orders so decisively Pork's eyebrows went up in mystification. Miss Ellen didn't never talk so short to nobody, not even when she` caught them stealing pullets and watermelons. She asked again about the fields, the gardens, the stock, and her green eyes had a hard bright glaze which Pork had never seen in them before.
"Yas'm, dat hawse daid, lyin' dar whar Ah tie him wid his nose in de water bucket he tuhned over. No'm, de cow ain' daid. Din' you know? She done have a calf las' night. Dat why she` beller so."
"A fine midwife your Prissy will make," Scarlett remarked caustically. "She said she` was bellowing because she` needed milking."
"Well'm, Prissy ain' fixin' ter be no cow midwife, Miss Scarlett," Pork said tactfully. "An' ain' no use quarrelin' wid blessin's, 'cause dat calf gwine ter mean a full cow an' plen'y buttermilk fer de young Misses, lak dat Yankee doctah say dey' need."
"All right, go on. Any stock left?"
"No'm. Nuthin' 'cept one ole sow an' her litter. Ah driv dem inter de swamp de day de Yankees come, but de Lawd knows how we gwine git dem. She mean, dat sow."
"We'll get them all right. You and Prissy can start right now hunting for her."
Pork was amazed and indignant.
"Miss Scarlett, dat a fe'el han's bizness. Ah's allus been a house nigger."
A small fiend with a pair of hot tweezers plucked behind Scarlett's eyeballs.
"You two will catch the sow~ or get out of here, like the field hands did."
Tears trembled in Pork's hurt eyes. Oh, if only Miss Ellen was here! She understood such niceties and realized the wide gap between the duties of a field hand and those of a house nigger.
"Git out, Miss Scarlett? Whar'd Ah git out to, Miss Scarlett?"
"I don't know and I don't care. But anyone at Tara who won't work can go hunt up the Yankees. You can tell the others that too."
"Now, what about the corn and the cotton, Pork?"
"De cawn? Lawd, Miss Scarlett, dey pasture dey hawses in de cawn an' cah'ied off whut de hawses din' eat or spile. An' dey driv dey cannons an' waggins 'cross de cotton till it plum ruint, 'cept a few acres over on de creek bottom dat dey din' notice. But dat cotton ain' wuth foolin' wid, 'cause ain' but 'bout three bales over dar."
Three bales. Scarlett thought of the scores of bales Tara usually yielded and her head hurt worse. Three bales. That was little more than the shiftless Slatterys raised. To make matters worse, there was the question of taxes. The Confederate government took cotton for taxes in lieu of money, but three bales wouldn't even cover the taxes. Little did it matter though, to her or the Confederacy, now that all the field hands had run away and there was no one to pick the cotton.
"Well, I won't think of that either," she` told herself. "Taxes aren't a woman's job anyway. Pa ought to look after such things, but Pa~ I won't think of Pa now. The Confederacy can whistle for its taxes. What we need now is something to eat."
"Pork, have any of you been to Twelve Oaks or the MacIntosh place to see if there's anything left in the gardens there?"
"No, Ma'm! Us ain' lef' Tara. De Yankees mout git us."
"I'll send Dilcey over to MacIntosh. Perhaps she`'ll find something there. And I'll go to Twelve Oaks."
"Who wid, chile?"
"By myself. Mammy must stay with the girls and Mr. Gerald can't~ "
Pork set up an outcry which she` found infuriating. There might be Yankees or mean niggers at Twelve Oaks. She mustn't go alone.
"That will be enough, Pork. Tell Dilcey to start immediately. And you and Prissy go bring in the sow and her litter," she` said briefly, turning on her heel.
Mammy's old sunbonnet, faded but clean, hung on its peg on the back porch and Scarlett put it on her head, remembering, as from another world, the bonnet with the curling green plume which Rhett had brought her from Paris. She picked up a large split~ oak basket and started down the back stairs, each step jouncing her head until her spine seemed to be trying to crash through the top of her skull.
The road down to the river lay red and scorching between the ruined cotton fields. There were no trees to cast a shade and the sun beat down through Mammy's sunbonnet as if it were made of tarlatan instead of heavy quilted calico, while the dust floating upward sifted into her nose and throat until she` felt the membranes would crack dryly if she` spoke. Deep ruts and furrows were cut into the road where horses had dragged heavy guns along it and the red gullies on either side were deeply gashe`d by the wheels. The cotton was mangled and trampled where cavalry and infantry, forced off the narrow road by the artillery, had marched through the green bushe`s, grinding them into the earth. Here and there in the road and fields lay buckles and bits of harness leather, canteens flattened by hooves and caisson wheels, buttons, blue caps, worn socks, bits of bloody rags, all the litter left by the marching army.
She passed the clump of cedars and the low brick wall which marked the family burying ground, trying not to think of the new grave lying by the three short mounds of her little brothers. Oh, Ellen~ She trudged on down the dusty hill, passing the heap of ashe`s and the stumpy chimney where the Slattery house had stood, and she` wishe`d savagely that the whole tribe of them had been part of the ashe`s. If it hadn't been for the Slatterys~ if it hadn't been for that nasty Emmie who'd had a bastard brat by their overseer~ Ellen wouldn't have died.
She moaned as a sharp pebble cut into her blistered foot. What was she` doing here? Why was Scarlett O'Hara, the belle of the County, the she`ltered pride of Tara, tramping down this rough road almost barefoot? Her little feet were made to dance, not to limp, her tiny slippers to peep daringly from under bright silks, not to collect sharp pebbles and dust. She was born to be pampered and waited upon, and here she` was, sick and ragged, driven by hunger to hunt for food in the gardens of her neighbors.
At the bottom of the long hill was the river and how cool and still were the tangled trees overhanging the water! She sank down on the low bank, and stripping off the remnants of her slippers and stockings, dabbled her burning feet in the cool water. It would be so good to sit here all day, away from the helpless eyes of Tara, here where only the rustle of leaves and the gurgle of slow water broke the stillness. But reluctantly she` replaced her shoes and stockings and trudged down the bank, spongy with moss, under the shady trees. The Yankees had burned the bridge but she` knew of a footlog bridge across a narrow point of the stream a hundred yards below. She crossed it cautiously and trudged uphill the hot half~ mile to Twelve Oaks.
There towered the twelve oaks, as they had stood since Indian days, but with their leaves brown from fire and the branches burned and scorched. Within their circle lay the ruins of John Wilkes' house, the charred remains of that once stately home which had crowned the hill in white~ columned dignity. The deep pit which had been the cellar, the blackened field~ stone foundations and two mighty chimneys marked the site. One long column, half~ burned, had fallen across the lawn, crushing the cape jessamine bushe`s.
Scarlett sat down on the column, too sick at the sight to go on. This desolation went to her heart as nothing she` had ever experienced. Here was the Wilkes pride in the dust at her feet. Here was the end of the kindly, courteous house which had always welcomed her, the house where in futile dreams she` had aspired to be mistress. Here she` had danced and dined and flirted and here she` had watched with a jealous, hurting heart how Melanie smiled up at Ashley. Here, too, in the cool shadows of the trees, Charles Hamilton had rapturously pressed her hand when she` said she` would marry him.
"Oh, Ashley," she` thought, "I hope you are dead! I could never bear for you to see this."
Ashley had married his bride here but his son and his son's son would never bring brides to this house. There would be no more matings and births beneath this roof which she` had so loved and longed to rule. The house was dead and to Scarlett, it was as if all the Wilkeses, too, were dead in its ashe`s.
"I won't think of it now. I can't stand it now. I'll think of it later," she` said aloud, turning her eyes away.
Seeking the garden, she` limped around the ruins, by the trampled rose beds the Wilkes girls had tended so zealously, across the back yard and through the ashe`s to the smokehouse, barns and chicken houses. The split~ rail fence around the kitchen garden had been demolishe`d and the once orderly rows of green plants had suffered the same treatment as those at Tara. The soft earth was scarred with hoof prints and heavy wheels and the vegetables were mashe`d into the soil. There was nothing for her here.
She walked back across the yard and took the path down toward the silent row of whitewashe`d cabins in the quarters, calling "Hello!" as she` went. But no voice answered her. Not even a dog barked. Evidently the Wilkes negroes had taken flight or followed the Yankees. She knew every slave had his own garden patch and as she` reached the quarters, she` hoped these little patches had been spared.
Her search was rewarded but she` was too tired even to feel pleasure at the sight of turnips and cabbages, wilted for want of water but still standing, and straggling butter beans and snap beans, yellow but edible. She sat down in the furrows and dug into the earth with hands that shook, filling her basket slowly. There would be a good meal at Tara tonight, in spite of the lack of side meat to boil with the vegetables. Perhaps some of the bacon grease Dilcey was using for illumination could be used for seasoning. She must remember to tell Dilcey to use pine knots and save the grease for cooking.
Close to the back step of one cabin, she` found a short row of radishe`s and hunger assaulted her suddenly. A spicy, sharp~ tasting radish was exactly what her stomach craved. Hardly waiting to rub the dirt off on her skirt, she` bit off half and swallowed it hastily. It was old and coarse and so peppery that tears started in her eyes. No sooner had the lump gone down than her empty outraged stomach revolted and she` lay in the soft dirt and vomited tiredly.
The faint niggery smell which crept from the cabin increased her nausea and, without strength to combat it, she` kept on retching miserably while the cabins and trees revolved swiftly around her.
After a long time, she` lay weakly on her face, the earth as soft and comfortable as a feather pillow, and her mind wandered feebly here and there. She, Scarlett O'Hara was lying behind a negro cabin, in the midst of ruins, too sick and too weak to move, and no one in the world knew or cared. No one would care if they did know, for everyone had too many troubles of his own to worry about her. And all this was happening to her, Scarlett O'Hara, who had never raised her hand even to pick up her discarded stockings from the floor or to tie the laces of her slippers~ Scarlett, whose little headaches and tempers had been coddled and catered to all her life.
As she` lay prostrate, too weak to fight off memories and worries, they rushe`d at her like buzzards waiting for death. No longer had she` the strength to say: "I'll think of Mother and Pa and Ashley and all this ruin later~ Yes, later when I can stand it." She could not stand it now, but she` was thinking of them whether she` willed it or not. The thoughts circled and swooped above her, dived down and drove tearing claws and sharp beaks into her mind. For a timeless time, she` lay still, her face in the dirt, the sun beating hotly upon her, remembering things and people who were dead, remembering a way of living that was gone forever~ and looking upon the harsh vista of the dark future.
When she` arose at last and saw again the black ruins of Twelve Oaks, her head was raised high and something that was youth and beauty and potential tenderness had gone out of her face forever. What was past was past. Those who were dead were dead. The lazy luxury of the old days was gone, never to return. And, as Scarlett settled the heavy basket across her arm, she` had settled her own mind and her own life.
There was no going back and she` was going forward.
Throughout the South for fifty years there would be bitter~ eyed women who looked backward, to dead times, to dead men, evoking memories that hurt and were futile, bearing poverty with bitter pride because they had those memories. But Scarlett was never to look back.
She gazed at the blackened stones and, for the last time, she` saw Twelve Oaks rise before her eyes as it had once stood, rich and proud, symbol of a race and a way of living. Then she` started down the road toward Tara, the heavy basket cutting into her flesh.
Hunger gnawed at her empty stomach again and she` said aloud: "As God is my witness, as God is my witness, the Yankees aren't going to lick me. I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be hungry again. No, nor any of my folks. If I have to steal or kill~ as God is my witness, I'm never going to be hungry again."
In the days that followed, Tara might have been Crusoe's desert island, so still it was, so isolated from the rest of the world. The world lay only a few miles away, but a thousand miles of tumbling waves might have stretched between Tara and Jonesboro and Fayetteville and Lovejoy, even between Tara and the neighbors' plantations. With the old horse dead, their one mode of conveyance was gone, and there was neither time nor strength for walking the weary red miles.
Sometimes, in the days of backbreaking work, in the desperate struggle for food and the never~ ceasing care of the three sick girls, Scarlett found herself straining her ears for familiar sounds~ the shrill laughter of the pickaninnies in the quarters, the creaking of wagons home from the fields, the thunder of Gerald's stallion tearing across the pasture, the crunching of carriage wheels on the drive and the gay voices of neighbors dropping in for an afternoon of gossip. But she` listened in vain. The road lay still and deserted and never a cloud of red dust proclaimed the approach of visitors. Tara was an island in a sea of rolling green hills and red fields.
Somewhere was the world and families who ate and slept safely under their own roofs. Somewhere girls in thrice~ turned dresses were flirting gaily and singing "When This Cruel War Is Over," as she` had done only a few weeks before. Somewhere there was a war and cannon booming and burning towns and men who rotted in hospitals amid sickening~ sweet stinks. Somewhere a barefoot army in dirty homespun was marching, fighting, sleeping, hungry and weary with the weariness that comes when hope is gone. And somewhere the hills of Georgia were blue with Yankees, well~ fed Yankees on sleek corn~ stuffed horses.
Beyond Tara was the war and the world. But on the plantation the war and the world did not exist except as memories which must be fought back when they rushe`d to mind in moments of exhaustion. The world outside receded before the demands of empty and half~ empty stomachs and life resolved itself into two related thoughts, food and how to get it.
Food! Food! Why did the stomach have a longer memory than the mind? Scarlett could banish heartbreak but not hunger and each morning as she` lay half asleep, before memory brought back to her mind war and hunger, she` curled drowsily expecting the sweet smells of bacon frying and rolls baking. And each morning she` sniffed so hard to really smell the food she` woke herself up.
There were apples, yams, peanuts and milk on the table at Tara but never enough of even this primitive fare. At the sight of them, three times a day, her memory would rush back to the old days, the meals of the old days, the candle~ lit table and the food perfuming the air.
How careless they had been of food then, what prodigal waste! Rolls, corn muffins, biscuits and waffles, dripping butter, all at one meal. Ham at one end of the table and fried chicken at the other, collards swimming richly in pot liquor iridescent with grease, snap beans in mountains on brightly flowered porcelain, fried squash, stewed okra, carrots in cream sauce thick enough to cut. And three desserts, so everyone might have his choice, chocolate layer cake, vanilla blanc mange and pound cake topped with sweet whipped cream. The memory of those savory meals had the power to bring tears to her eyes as death and war had failed to do, and the power to turn her ever~ gnawing stomach from rumbling emptiness to nausea. For the appetite Mammy had always deplored, the healthy appetite of a nineteen~ year~ old girl, now was increased fourfold by the hard and unremitting labor she` had never known before.
Hers was not the only troublesome appetite at Tara, for wherever she` turned hungry faces, black and white, met her eyes. Soon Carreen and Suellen would have the insatiable hunger of typhoid convalescents. Already little Wade whined monotonously: "Wade doan like yams. Wade hungwy."
The others grumbled, too:
"Miss Scarlett, 'ness I gits mo' to eat, I kain nuss neither of these chillun."
"Miss Scarlett, ef Ah doan have mo' in mah stummick, Ah kain split no wood."
"Lamb, Ah's perishin' fer real vittles."
"Daughter, must we always have yams?"
Only Melanie did not complain, Melanie whose face grew thinner and whiter and twitched with pain even in her sleep.
"I'm not hungry, Scarlett. Give my share of the milk to Dilcey. She needs it to nurse the babies. Sick people are never hungry."
It was her gentle hardihood which irritated Scarlett more than the nagging whining voices of the others. She could~ and did~ shout them down with bitter sarcasm but before Melanie's unselfishness she` was helpless, helpless and resentful. Gerald, the negroes and Wade clung to Melanie now, because even in her weakness she` was kind and sympathetic, and these days Scarlett was neither.
Wade especially haunted Melanie's room. There was something wrong with Wade, but just what it was Scarlett had no time to discover. She took Mammy's word that the little boy had worms and dosed him with the mixture of dried herbs and bark which Ellen always used to worm the pickaninnies. But the vermifuge only made the child look paler. These days Scarlett hardly thought of Wade as a person. He was only another worry, another mouth to feed. Some day when the present emergency was over, she` would play with him, tell him stories and teach him his A B C's but now she` did not have the time or the soul or the inclination. And, because he always seemed underfoot when she` was most weary and worried, she` often spoke sharply to him.
It annoyed her that her quick reprimands brought such acute fright to his round eyes, for he looked so simple minded when he was frightened. She did not realize that the little boy lived shoulder to shoulder with terror too great for an adult to comprehend. Fear lived with Wade, fear that shook his soul and made him wake screaming in the night. Any unexpected noise or sharp word set him to trembling, for in his mind noises and harsh words were inextricably mixed with Yankees and he was more afraid of Yankees than of Prissy's hants.
Until the thunders of the siege began, he had never known anything but a happy, placid, quiet life. Even though his mother paid him little attention, he had known nothing but petting and kind words until the night when he was jerked from slumber to find the sky aflame and the air deafening with explosions. In that night and the day which followed, he had been slapped by his mother for the first time and had heard her voice raised at him in harsh words. Life in the pleasant brick house on Peachtree Street, the only life he knew, had vanishe`d that night and he would never recover from its loss. In the flight from Atlanta, he had understood nothing except that the Yankees were after him and now he still lived in fear that the Yankees would catch him and cut him to pieces. Whenever Scarlett raised her voice in reproof, he went weak with fright as his vague childish memory brought up the horrors of the first time she` had ever done it. Now, Yankees and a cross voice were linked forever in his mind and he was afraid of his mother.
Scarlett could not help noticing that the child was beginning to avoid her and, in the rare moments when her unending duties gave her time to think about it, it bothered her a great deal. It was even worse than having him at her skirts all the time and she` was offended that his refuge was Melanie's bed where he played quietly at games Melanie suggested or listened to stories she` told. Wade adored "Auntee" who had a gentle voice, who always smiled and who never said: "Hush, Wade! You give me a headache" or "Stop fidgeting, Wade, for Heaven's sake!"
Scarlett had neither the time nor the impulse to pet him but it made her jealous to see Melanie do it. When she` found him one day standing on his head in Melanie's bed and saw him collapse on her, she` slapped him.
"Don't you know better than to jiggle Auntee like that when she`'s sick? Now, trot right out in the yard and play, and don't come in here again."
But Melanie reached out a weak arm and drew the wailing child to her.
"There, there, Wade. You didn't mean to jiggle me, did you? He doesn't bother me, Scarlett. Do let him stay with me. Let me take care of him. It's the only thing I can do till I get well, and you've got your hands full enough without having to watch him."
"Don't be a goose, Melly," said Scarlett shortly. "You aren't getting well like you should and having Wade fall on your stomach won't help you. Now, Wade, if I ever catch you on Auntee's bed again, I'll wear you out. And stop sniffling. You are always sniffling. Try to be a little man."
Wade flew sobbing to hide himself under the house. Melanie bit her lip and tears came to her eyes, and Mammy standing in the hall, a witness to the scene, scowled and breathed hard. But no one talked back to Scarlett these days. They were all afraid of her sharp tongue, all afraid of the new person who walked in her body.
Scarlett reigned supreme at Tara now and, like others suddenly elevated to authority, all the bullying instincts in her nature rose to the surface. It was not that she` was basically unkind. It was because she` was so frightened and unsure of herself she` was harsh lest others learn her inadequacies and refuse her authority. Besides, there was some pleasure in shouting at people and knowing they were afraid. Scarlett found that it relieved her overwrought nerves. She was not blind to the fact that her personality was changing. Sometimes when her curt orders made Pork stick out his under lip and Mammy mutter: "Some folks rides mighty high dese days," she` wondered where her good manners had gone. All the courtesy, all the gentleness Ellen had striven to instill in her had fallen away from her as quickly as leaves fall from trees in the first chill wind of autumn.
Time and again, Ellen had said: "Be firm but be gentle with inferiors, especially darkies." But if she` was gentle the darkies would sit in the kitchen all day, talking endlessly about the good old days when a house nigger wasn't supposed to do a field hand's work.
"Love and cherish your sisters. Be kind to the afflicted," said Ellen. "Show tenderness to those in sorrow and in trouble."
She couldn't love her sisters now. They were simply a dead weight on her shoulders. And as for cherishing them, wasn't she` bathing them, combing their hair and feeding them, even at the expense of walking miles every day to find vegetables? Wasn't she` learning to milk the cow, even though her heart was always in her throat when that fearsome animal shook its horns at her? And as for being kind, that was a waste of time. If she` was overly kind to them, they'd probably prolong their stay in bed, and she` wanted them on their feet again as soon as possible, so there would be four more hands to help her.
They were convalescing slowly and lay scrawny and weak in their bed. While they had been unconscious, the world had changed. The Yankees had come, the darkies had gone and Mother had died. Here were three unbelievable happenings and their minds could not take them in. Sometimes they believed they must still be delirious and these things had not happened at all. Certainly Scarlett was so changed she` couldn't be real. When she` hung over the foot of their bed and outlined the work she` expected them to do when they recovered, they looked at her as if she` were a hobgoblin. It was beyond their comprehension that they no longer had a hundred slaves to do the work. It was beyond their comprehension that an O'Hara lady should do manual labor.
"But, Sister," said Carreen, her sweet childish face blank with consternation. "I couldn't split kindling! It would ruin my hands!"
"Look at mine," answered Scarlett with a frightening smile as she` pushe`d blistered and calloused palms toward her.
"I think you are hateful to talk to Baby and me like this!" cried Suellen. "I think you are lying and trying to frighten us. If Mother were only here, she` wouldn't let you talk to us like this! Split kindling, indeed!"
Suellen looked with weak loathing at her older sister, feeling sure Scarlett said these things just to be mean. Suellen had nearly died and she` had lost her mother and she` was lonely and scared and she` wanted to be petted and made much of. Instead, Scarlett looked over the foot of the bed each day, appraising their improvement with a hateful new gleam in her slanting green eyes and talked about making beds, preparing food, carrying water buckets and splitting kindling. And she` looked as if she` took a pleasure in saying such awful things.
Scarlett did take pleasure in it. She bullied the negroes and harrowed the feelings of her sisters not only because she` was too worried and strained and tired to do otherwise but because it helped her to forget her own bitterness that everything her mother had told her about life was wrong.
Nothing her mother had taught her was of any value whatsoever now and Scarlett's heart was sore and puzzled. It did not occur to her that Ellen could not have foreseen the collapse of the civilization in which she` raised her daughters, could not have anticipated the disappearings of the places in society for which she` trained them so well. It did not occur to her that Ellen had looked down a vista of placid future years, all like the uneventful years of her own life, when she` had taught her to be gentle and gracious, honorable and kind, modest and truthful. Life treated women well when they had learned those lessons, said Ellen.
Scarlett thought in despair: "Nothing, no, nothing, she` taught me is of any help to me! What good will kindness do me now? What value is gentleness? Better that I'd learned to plow or chop cotton like a darky. Oh, Mother, you were wrong!"
She did not stop to think that Ellen's ordered world was gone and a brutal world had taken its place, a world wherein every standard, every value had changed. She only saw, or thought she` saw, that her mother had been wrong, and she` changed swiftly to meet this new world for which she` was not prepared.
Only her feeling for Tara had not changed. She never came wearily home across the fields and saw the sprawling white house that her heart did not swell with love and the joy of homecoming. She never looked out of her window at green pastures and red fields and tall tangled swamp forest that a sense of beauty did not fill her. Her love for this land with its softly rolling hills of bright~ red soil, this beautiful red earth that was blood colored, garnet, brick dust, vermilion, which so miraculously grew green bushe`s starred with white puffs, was one part of Scarlett which did not change when all else was changing. Nowhere else in the world was there land like this.
When she` looked at Tara she` could understand, in part, why wars were fought. Rhett was wrong when he said men fought wars for money. No, they fought for swelling acres, softly furrowed by the plow, for pastures green with stubby cropped grass, for lazy yellow rivers and white houses that were cool amid magnolias. These were the only things worth fighting for, the red earth which was theirs and would be their sons', the red earth which would bear cotton for their sons and their sons' sons.
The trampled acres of Tara were all that was left to her, now that Mother and Ashley were gone, now that Gerald was senile from shock, and money and darkies and security and position had vanishe`d overnight. As from another world she` remembered a conversation with her father about the land and wondered how she` could have been so young, so ignorant, as not to understand what he meant when he said that the land was the one thing in the world worth fighting for.
"For 'tis the only thing in the world that lasts . . . and to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them the land they live on is like their mother. . . . 'Tis the only thing worth working for, fighting for, dying for."
Yes, Tara was worth fighting for, and she` accepted simply and without question the fight. No one was going to get Tara away from her. No one was going to set her and her people adrift on the charity of relatives. She would hold Tara, if she` had to break the back of every person on it.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett had been at Tara two weeks since her return from Atlanta when the largest blister on her foot began to fester, swelling until it was impossible for her to put on her shoe or do more than hobble about on her heel. Desperation plucked at her when she` looked at the angry sore on her toe. Suppose it should gangrene like the soldiers' wounds and she` should die, far away from a doctor? Bitter as life was now, she` had no desire to leave it. And who would look after Tara if she` should die?
She had hoped when she` first came home that Gerald's old spirit would revive and he would take command, but in these two weeks that hope had vanishe`d. She knew now that, whether she` liked it or not, she` had the plantation and all its people on her two inexperienced hands, for Gerald still sat quietly, like a man in a dream, so frighteningly absent from Tara, so gentle. To her pleas for advice he gave as his only answer: "Do what you think best, Daughter." Or worse still, "Consult with your mother, Puss."
He never would be any different and now Scarlett realized the truth and accepted it without emotion~ that until he died Gerald would always be waiting for Ellen, always listening for her. He was in some dim borderline country where time was standing still and Ellen was always in the next room. The mainspring of his existence was taken away when she` died and with it had gone his bounding assurance, his impudence and his restless vitality. Ellen was the audience before which the blustering drama of Gerald O'Hara had been played. Now the curtain had been rung down forever, the footlights dimmed and the audience suddenly vanishe`d, while the stunned old actor remained on his empty stage, waiting for his cues.
That morning the house was still, for everyone except Scarlett, Wade and the three sick girls was in the swamp hunting the sow. Even Gerald had aroused a little and stumped off across the furrowed fields, one hand on Pork's arm and a coil of rope in the other. Suellen and Careen had cried themselves to sleep, as they did at least twice a day when they thought of Ellen, tears of grief and weakness oozing down their sunken cheeks. Melanie, who had been propped up on pillows for the first time that day, lay covered with a mended she`et between two babies, the downy flaxen head of one cuddled in her arm, the kinky black head of Dilcey's child held as gently in the other. Wade sat at the bottom of the bed, listening to a fairy story.
To Scarlett, the stillness at Tara was unbearable, for it reminded her too sharply of the deathlike stillness of the desolate country through which she` had passed that long day on her way home from Atlanta. The cow and the calf had made no sound for hours. There were no birds twittering outside her window and even the noisy family of mockers who had lived among the harshly rustling leaves of the magnolia for generations had no song that day. She had drawn a low chair close to the open window of her bedroom, looking out on the front drive, the lawn and the empty green pasture across the road, and she` sat with her skirts well above her knees and her chin resting on her arms on the window sill. There was a bucket of well water on the floor beside her and every now and then she` lowered her blistered foot into it, screwing up her face at the stinging sensation.
Fretting, she` dug her chin into her arm. Just when she` needed her strength most, this toe had to fester. Those fools would never catch the sow. It had taken them a week to capture the pigs, one by one, and now after two weeks the sow was still at liberty. Scarlett knew that if she` were just there in the swamp with them, she` could tuck up her dress to her knees and take the rope and lasso the sow before you could say Jack Robinson.
But even after the sow was caught~ if she` were caught? What then, after she` and her litter were eaten? Life would go on and so would appetites. Winter was coming and there would be no food, not even the poor remnants of the vegetables from the neighbors' gardens. They must have dried peas and sorghum and meal and rice and~ and~ oh, so many things. Corn and cotton seed for next spring's planting, and new clothes too. Where was it all to come from and how would she` pay for it?
She had privately gone through Gerald's pockets and his cash box and all she` could find was stacks of Confederate bonds and three thousand dollars in Confederate bills. That was about enough to buy one square meal for them all, she` thought ironically, now that Confederate money was worth almost less than nothing at all. But if she` did have money and could find food, how would she` haul it home to Tara? Why had God let the old horse die? Even that sorry animal Rhett had stolen would make all the difference in the world to them. Oh, those fine sleek mules which used to kick up their heels in the pasture across the road, and the handsome carriage horses, her little mare, the girls' ponies and Gerald's big stallion racing about and tearing up the turf~ Oh, for one of them, even the balkiest mule!
But, no matter~ when her foot healed she` would walk to Jonesboro. It would be the longest walk she` had ever taken in her life, but walk it she` would. Even if the Yankees had burned the town completely, she` would certainly find someone in the neighborhood who could tell her where to get food. Wade's pinched face rose up before her eyes. He didn't like yams, he repeated; wanted a drumstick and some rice and gravy.
The bright sunlight in the front yard suddenly clouded and the trees blurred through tears. Scarlett dropped her head on her arms and struggled not to cry. Crying was so useless now. The only time crying ever did any good was when there was a man around from whom you wishe`d favors. As she` crouched there, squeezing her eyes tightly to keep back the tears, she` was startled by the sound of trotting hooves. But she` did not raise her head. She had imagined that sound too often in the nights and days of these last two weeks, just as she` had imagined she` heard the rustle of Ellen's skirts. Her heart hammered, as it always did at such moments, before she` told herself sternly: "Don't be a fool."
But the hooves slowed down in a startlingly natural way to the rhythm of a walk and there was the measured scrunch~ scrunch on the gravel. It was a horse~ the Tarletons, the Fontaines! She looked up quickly. It was a Yankee cavalryman.
Automatically, she` dodged behind the curtain and peered fascinated at him through the dim folds of the cloth, so startled that the breath went out of her lungs with a gasp.
He sat slouched in the saddle, a thick, rough~ looking man with an unkempt black beard straggling over his unbuttoned blue jacket. Little close~ set eyes, squinting in the sun glare, calmly surveyed the house from beneath the visor of his tight blue cap. As he slowly dismounted and tossed the bridle reins over the hitching post, Scarlett's breath came back to her as suddenly and painfully as after a blow in the stomach. A Yankee, a Yankee with a long pistol on his hip! And she` was alone in the house with three sick girls and the babies!
As he lounged up the walk, hand on holster, beady little eyes glancing to right and left, a kaleidoscope of jumbled pictures spun in her mind, stories Aunt Pittypat had whispered of attacks on unprotected women, throat cuttings, houses burned over the heads of dying women, children bayoneted because they cried, all of the unspeakable horrors that lay bound up in the name of "Yankee."
Her first terrified impulse was to hide in the closet, crawl under the bed, fly down the back stairs and run screaming to the swamp, anything to escape him. Then she` heard his cautious feet on the front steps and his stealthy tread as he entered the hall and she` knew that escape was cut off. Too cold with fear to move, she` heard his progress from room to room downstairs, his steps growing louder and bolder as he discovered no one. Now he was in the dining room and in a moment he would walk out into the kitchen.
At the thought of the kitchen, rage suddenly leaped up in Scarlett's breast, so sharply that it jabbed at her heart like a knife thrust, and fear fell away before her overpowering fury. The kitchen! There, over the open kitchen fire were two pots, one filled with apples stewing and the other with a hodgepodge of vegetables brought painfully from Twelve Oaks and the MacIntosh garden~ dinner that must serve for nine hungry people and hardly enough for two. Scarlett had been restraining her appetite for hours, waiting for the return of the others and the thought of the Yankee eating their meager meal made her shake with anger.
God damn them all! They descended like locusts and left Tara to starve slowly and now they were back again to steal the poor leavings. Her empty stomach writhed within her. By God, this was one Yankee who would do no more stealing!
She slipped off her worn shoe and, barefooted, she` pattered swiftly to the bureau, not even feeling her festered toe. She opened the top drawer soundlessly and caught up the heavy pistol she` had brought from Atlanta, the weapon Charles had worn but never fired. She fumbled in the leather box that hung on the wall below his saber and brought out a cap. She slipped it into place with a hand that did not shake. Quickly and noiselessly, she` ran into the upper hall and down the stairs, steadying herself on the banisters with one hand and holding the pistol close to her thigh in the folds of her skirt.
"Who's there?" cried a nasal voice and she` stopped on the middle of the stairs, the blood thudding in her ears so loudly she` could hardly hear him. "Halt or I'll shoot!" came the voice.
He stood in the door of the dining room, crouched tensely, his pistol in one hand and, in the other, the small rosewood sewing box fitted with gold thimble, gold~ handled scissors and tiny gold~ topped acorn of emery. Scarlett's legs felt cold to the knees but rage scorched her face. Ellen's sewing box in his hands. She wanted to cry: "Put it down! Put it down, you dirty~ " but words would not come. She could only stare over the banisters at him and watch his face change from harsh tenseness to a half~ contemptuous, half~ ingratiating smile.
"So there is somebody ter home," he said, slipping his pistol back into its holster and moving into the hall until he stood directly below her. "All alone, little lady?"
Like lightning, she` shoved her weapon over the banisters and into the startled bearded face. Before he could even fumble at his belt, she` pulled the trigger. The back kick of the pistol made her reel, as the roar of the explosion filled her ears and the acrid smoke stung her nostrils. The man crashe`d backwards to the floor, sprawling into the dining room with a violence that shook the furniture. The box clattered from his hand, the contents spilling about him. Hardly aware that she` was moving, Scarlett ran down the stairs and stood over him, gazing down into what was left of the face above the beard, a bloody pit where the nose had been, glazing eyes burned with powder. As she` looked, two streams of blood crept across the shining floor, one from his face and one from the back of his head.
Yes, he was dead. Undoubtedly. She had killed a man.
The smoke curled slowly to the ceiling and the red streams widened about her feet. For a timeless moment she` stood there and in the still hot hush of the summer morning every irrelevant sound and scent seemed magnified, the quick thudding of her heart, like a drumbeat, the slight rough rustling of the magnolia leaves, the far~ off plaintive sound of a swamp bird and the sweet smell of the flowers outside the window.
She had killed a man, she` who took care never to be in at the kill on a hunt, she` who could not bear the squealing of a hog at slaughter or the squeak of a rabbit in a snare. Murder! she` thought dully. I've done murder. Oh, this can't be happening to me! Her eyes went to the stubby hairy hand on the floor so close to the sewing box and suddenly she` was vitally alive again, vitally glad with a cool tigerish joy. She could have ground her heel into the gaping wound which had been his nose and taken sweet pleasure in the feel of his warm blood on her bare feet. She had struck a blow of revenge for Tara~ and for Ellen.
There were hurried stumbling steps in the upper hall, a pause and then more steps, weak dragging steps now, punctuated by metallic clankings. A sense of time and reality coming back to her, Scarlett looked up and saw Melanie at the top of the stairs, clad only in the ragged chemise which served her as a nightgown, her weak arm weighed down with Charles' saber. Melanie's eyes took in the scene below in its entirety, the sprawling blue~ clad body in the red pool, the sewing box beside him, Scarlett, barefooted and gray~ faced, clutching the long pistol.
In silence her eyes met Scarlett's. There was a glow of grim pride in her usually gentle face, approbation and a fierce joy in her smile that equaled the fiery tumult in Scarlett's own bosom.
"Why~ why~ she`'s like me! She understands how I feel!" thought Scarlett in that long moment. "She'd have done the same thing!"
With a thrill she` looked up at the frail swaying girl for whom she` had never had any feelings but of dislike and contempt. Now, struggling against hatred for Ashley's wife, there surged a feeling of admiration and comradeship. She saw in a flash of clarity untouched by any petty emotion that beneath the gentle voice and the dovelike eyes of Melanie there was a thin flashing blade of unbreakable steel, felt too that there were banners and bugles of courage in Melanie's quiet blood.
"Scarlett! Scarlett!" shrilled the weak frightened voices of Suellen and Carreen, muffled by their closed door, and Wade's voice screamed "Auntee! Auntee!" Swiftly Melanie put her finger to her lips and, laying the sword on the top step, she` painfully made her way down the upstairs hall and opened the door of the sick room.
"Don't be scared, chickens!" came her voice with teasing gaiety. "Your big sister was trying to clean the rust off Charles' pistol and it went off and nearly scared her to death!" . . . "Now, Wade Hampton, Mama just shot off your dear Papa's pistol! When you are bigger, she` will let you shoot it."
"What a cool liar!" thought Scarlett with admiration. "I couldn't have thought that quickly. But why lie? They've got to know I've done it."
She looked down at the body again and now revulsion came over her as her rage and fright melted away, and her knees began to quiver with the reaction. Melanie dragged herself to the top step again and started down, holding onto the banisters, her pale lower lip caught between her teeth.
"Go back to bed, silly, you'll kill yourself!" Scarlett cried, but the half~ naked Melanie made her painful way down into the lower hall.
"Scarlett," she` whispered, "we must get him out of here and bury him. He may not be alone and if they find him here~ " She steadied herself on Scarlett's arm.
"He must be alone," said Scarlett. "I didn't see anyone else from the upstairs window. He must be a deserter."
"Even if he is alone, no one must know about it. The negroes might talk and then they'd come and get you. Scarlett, we must get him hidden before the folks come back from the swamp."
Her mind prodded to action by the feverish urgency of Melanie's voice, Scarlett thought hard.
"I could bury him in the corner of the garden under the arbor~ the ground is soft there where Pork dug up the whisky barrel. But how will I get him there?"
"We'll both take a leg and drag him," said Melanie firmly.
Reluctantly, Scarlett's admiration went still higher.
"You couldn't drag a cat. I'll drag him," she` said roughly. "You go back to bed. You'll kill yourself. Don't dare try to help me either or I'll carry you upstairs myself."
Melanie's white face broke into a sweet understanding smile. "You are very dear, Scarlett," she` said and softly brushe`d her lips against Scarlett's cheek. Before Scarlett could recover from her surprise, Melanie went on: "If you can drag him out, I'll mop up the~ the mess before the folks get home, and Scarlett~ "
"Do you suppose it would be dishonest to go through his knapsack? He might have something to eat."
"I do not," said Scarlett, annoyed that she` had not thought of this herself. "You take the knapsack and I'll go through his pockets."
Stooping over the dead man with distaste, she` unbuttoned the remaining buttons of his jacket and systematically began rifling his pockets.
"Dear God," she` whispered, pulling out a bulging wallet, wrapped about with a rag. "Melanie~ Melly, I think it's full of money!"
Melanie said nothing but abruptly sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall.
"You look," she` said shakily. "I'm feeling a little weak."
Scarlett tore off the rag and with trembling hands opened the leather folds.
"Look, Melly~ just look!"
Melanie looked and her eyes dilated. Jumbled together was a mass of bills, United States greenbacks mingling with Confederate money and, glinting from between them, were one ten~ dollar gold piece and two five~ dollar gold pieces.
"Don't stop to count it now," said Melanie as Scarlett began fingering the bills. "We haven't time~ "
"Do you realize, Melanie, that this money means that we'll eat?"
"Yes, yes, dear. I know but we haven't time now. You look in his other pockets and I'll take the knapsack."
Scarlett was loath to put down the wallet. Bright vistas opened before her~ real money, the Yankee's horse, food! There was a God after all, and He did provide, even if He did take very odd ways of providing. She sat on her haunches and stared at the wallet smiling. Food! Melanie plucked it from her hands~
"Hurry!" she` said.
The trouser pockets yielded nothing except a candle end, a jackknife, a plug of tobacco and a bit of twine. Melanie removed from the knapsack a small package of coffee which she` sniffed as if it were the sweetest of perfumes, hardtack and, her face changing, a miniature of a little girl in a gold frame set with seed pearls, a garnet brooch, two broad gold bracelets with tiny dangling gold chains, a gold thimble, a small silver baby's cup, gold embroidery scissors, a diamond solitaire ring and a pair of earrings with pendant pear~ shaped diamonds, which even their unpracticed eyes could tell were well over a carat each.
"A thief!" whispered Melanie, recoiling from the still body. "Scarlett, he must have stolen all of this!"
"Of course," said Scarlett. "And he came here hoping to steal more from us."
"I'm glad you killed him," said Melanie her gentle eyes hard. "Now hurry, darling, and get him out of here."
Scarlett bent over, caught the dead man by his boots and tugged. How heavy he was and how weak she` suddenly felt. Suppose she` shouldn't be able to move him? Turning so that she` backed the corpse, she` caught a heavy boot under each arm and threw her weight forward. He moved and she` jerked again. Her sore foot, forgotten in the excitement, now gave a tremendous throb that made her grit her teeth and shift her weight to the heel. Tugging and straining, perspiration dripping from her forehead, she` dragged him down the hall, a red stain following her path.
"If he bleeds across the yard, we can't hide it," she` gasped. "Give me your shimmy, Melanie, and I'll wad it around his head."
Melanie's white face went crimson.
"Don't be silly, I won't look at you," said Scarlett. "If I had on a petticoat or pantalets I'd use them."
Crouching back against the wall, Melanie pulled the ragged linen garment over her head and silently tossed it to Scarlett, shielding herself as best she` could with her arms.
"Thank God, I'm not that modest," thought Scarlett, feeling rather than seeing Melanie's agony of embarrassment, as she` wrapped the ragged cloth about the shattered face.
By a series of limping jerks, she` pulled the body down the hall toward the back porch and, pausing to wipe her forehead with the back of her hand, glanced back toward Melanie, sitting against the wall hugging her thin knees to her bare breasts. How silly of Melanie to be bothering about modesty at a time like this, Scarlett thought irritably. It was just part of her nicey~ nice way of acting which had always made Scarlett despise her. Then shame rose in her. After all~ after all, Melanie had dragged herself from bed so soon after having a baby and had come to her aid with a weapon too heavy even for her to lift. That had taken courage, the kind of courage Scarlett honestly knew she` herself did not possess, the thin~ steel, spun~ silk courage which had characterized Melanie on the terrible night Atlanta fell and on the long trip home. It was the same intangible, unspectacular courage that all the Wilkeses possessed, a quality which Scarlett did not understand but to which she` gave grudging tribute.
"Go back to bed," she` threw over her shoulder. "You'll be dead if you don't. I'll clean up the mess after I've buried him."
"I'll do it with one of the rag rugs," whispered Melanie, looking at the pool of blood with a sick face.
"Well, kill yourself then and see if I care! And if any of the folks come back before I'm finishe`d, keep them in the house and tell them the horse just walked in from nowhere."
Melanie sat shivering in the morning sunlight and covered her ears against the sickening series of thuds as the dead man's head bumped down the porch steps.
No one questioned whence the horse had come. It was so obvious he was a stray from the recent battle and they were well pleased to have him. The Yankee lay in the shallow pit Scarlett had scraped out under the scuppernong arbor. The uprights which held the thick vines were rotten and that night Scarlett hacked at them with the kitchen knife until they fell and the tangled mass ran wild over the grave. The replacing of these posts was one bit of repair work Scarlett did not suggest and, if the negroes knew why, they kept their silence.
No ghost rose from that shallow grave to haunt her in the long nights when she` lay awake, too tired to sleep. No feeling of horror or remorse assailed her at the memory. She wondered why, knowing that even a month before she` could never have done the deed. Pretty young Mrs. Hamilton, with her dimple and her jingling earbobs and her helpless little ways, blowing a man's face to a pulp and then burying him in a hastily scratched~ out hole! Scarlett grinned a little grimly thinking of the consternation such an idea would bring to those who knew her.
"I won't think about it any more," she` decided. "It's over and done with and I'd have been a ninny not to kill him. I reckon~ I reckon I must have changed a little since coming home or else I couldn't have done it."
She did not think of it consciously but in the back of her mind, whenever she` was confronted by an unpleasant and difficult task, the idea lurked giving her strength: "I've done murder and so I can surely do this."
She had changed more than she` knew and the she`ll of hardness which had begun to form about her heart when she` lay in the slave garden at Twelve Oaks was slowly thickening.
Now that she` had a horse, Scarlett could find out for herself what had happened to their neighbors. Since she` came home she` had wondered despairingly a thousand times: "Are we the only folks left in the County? Has everybody else been burned out? Have they all refugeed to Macon?" With the memory of the ruins of Twelve Oaks, the MacIntosh place and the Slattery shack fresh in her mind, she` almost dreaded to discover the truth. But it was better to know the worst than to wonder. She decided to ride to the Fontaines' first, not because they were the nearest neighbors but because old Dr. Fontaine might be there. Melanie needed a doctor. She was not recovering as she` should and Scarlett was frightened by her white weakness.
So on the first day when her foot had healed enough to stand a slipper, she` mounted the Yankee's horse. One foot in the shortened stirrup and the other leg crooked about the pommel in an approximation of a side saddle, she` set out across the fields toward Mimosa, steeling herself to find it burned.
To her surprise and pleasure, she` saw the faded yellow~ stucco house standing amid the mimosa trees, looking as it had always looked. Warm happiness, happiness that almost brought tears, flooded her when the three Fontaine women came out of the house to welcome her with kisses and cries of joy.
But when the first exclamations of affectionate greeting were over and they all had trooped into the dining room to sit down, Scarlett felt a chill. The Yankees had not reached Mimosa because it was far off the main road. And so the Fontaines still had their stock and their provisions, but Mimosa was held by the same strange silence that hung over Tara, over the whole countryside. All the slaves except four women house servants had run away, frightened by the approach of the Yankees. There was not a man on the place unless Sally's little boy, Joe, hardly out of diapers, could be counted as a man. Alone in the big house were Grandma Fontaine, in her seventies, her daughter~ in~ law who would always be known as Young Miss, though she` was in her fifties, and Sally, who had barely turned twenty. They were far away from neighbors and unprotected, but if they were afraid it did not show on their faces. Probably, thought Scarlett, because Sally and Young Miss were too afraid of the porcelain~ frail but indomitable old Grandma to dare voice any qualms. Scarlett herself was afraid of the old lady, for she` had sharp eyes and a sharper tongue and Scarlett had felt them both in the past.
Though unrelated by blood and far apart in age, there was a kinship of spirit and experience binding these women together. All three wore home~ dyed mourning, all were worn, sad, worried, all bitter with a bitterness that did not sulk or complain but, nevertheless, peered out from behind their smiles and their words of welcome. For their slaves were gone, their money was worthless, Sally's husband, Joe, had died at Gettysburg and Young Miss was also a widow, for young Dr. Fontaine had died of dysentery at Vicksburg. The other two boys, Alex and Tony, were somewhere in Virginia and nobody knew whether they were alive or dead; and old Dr. Fontaine was off somewhere with Wheeler's cavalry.
"And the old fool is seventy~ three years old though he tries to act younger and he's as full of rheumatism as a hog is of fleas," said Grandma, proud of her husband, the light in her eyes belying her sharp words.
"Have you all had any news of what's been happening in Atlanta?" asked Scarlett when they were comfortably settled. "We're completely buried at Tara."
"Law, child," said Old Miss, taking charge of the conversation, as was her habit, "we're in the same fix as you are. We don't know a thing except that Sherman finally got the town."
"So he did get it. What's he doing now? Where's the fighting now?"
"And how would three lone women out here in the country know about the war when we haven't seen a letter or a newspaper m weeks?" said the old lady tartly. "One of our darkies talked to a darky who'd seen a darky who'd been to Jonesboro, and except for that we haven't heard anything. What they said was that the Yankees were just squatting in Atlanta resting up their men and their horses, but whether it's true or not you're as good a judge as I am. Not that they wouldn't need a rest, after the fight we gave them."
"To think you've been at Tara all this time and we didn't know!" Young Miss broke in. "Oh, how I blame myself for not riding over to see! But there's been so much to do here with most all the darkies gone that I just couldn't get away. But I should have made time to go. It wasn't neighborly of me. But, of course, we thought the Yankees had burned Tara like they did Twelve Oaks and the MacIntosh house and that your folks had gone to Macon. And we never dreamed you were home, Scarlett."
"Well, how were we to know different when Mr. O'Hara's darkies came through here so scared they were popeyed and told us the Yankees were going to burn Tara?" Grandma interrupted.
"And we could see~ " Sally began.
"I'm telling this, please," said Old Miss shortly. "And they said the Yankees were camped all over Tara and your folks were fixing to go to Macon. And then that night we saw the glare of fire over toward Tara and it lasted for hours and it scared our fool darkies so bad they all ran off. What burned?"
"All our cotton~ a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth," said Scarlett bitterly.
"Be thankful it wasn't your house," said Grandma, leaning her chin on her cane. "You can always grow more cotton and you can't grow a house. By the bye, had you all started picking your cotton?"
"No," said Scarlett, "and now most of it is ruined. I don't imagine there's more than three bales left standing, in the far field in the creek bottom, and what earthly good will it do? All our field hands are gone and there's nobody to pick it."
"Mercy me, all our field hands are gone and there's nobody to pick it!" mimicked Grandma and bent a satiric glance on Scarlett. "What's wrong with your own pretty paws, Miss, and those of your sisters?"
"Me? Pick cotton?" cried Scarlett aghast, as if Grandma had been suggesting some repulsive crime. "Like a field hand? Like white trash? Like the Slattery women?"
"White trash, indeed! Well, isn't this generation soft and ladylike! Let me tell you, Miss, when I was a girl my father lost all his money and I wasn't above doing honest work with my hands and in the fields too, till Pa got enough money to buy some more darkies. I've hoed my row and I've picked my cotton and I can do it again if I have to. And it looks like I'll have to. White trash, indeed!"
"Oh, but Mama Fontaine," cried her daughter~ in~ law, casting imploring glances at the two girls, urging them to help her smooth the old lady's feathers. "That was so long ago, a different day entirely, and times have changed."
"Times never change when there's a need for honest work to be done," stated the sharp~ eyed old lady, refusing to be soothed. "And I'm ashamed for your mother, Scarlett, to hear you stand there and talk as though honest work made white trash out of nice people. 'When Adam delved and Eve span'~ "
To change the subject, Scarlett hastily questioned: "What about the Tarletons and the Calverts? Were they burned out? Have they refugeed to Macon?"
"The Yankees never got to the Tarletons. They're off the main road, like we are, but they did get to the Calverts and they stole all their stock and poultry and got all the darkies to run off with them~ " Sally began.
"Hah! They promised all the black wenches silk dresses and gold earbobs~ that's what they did. And Cathleen Calvert said some of the troopers went off with the black fools behind them on their saddles. Well, all they'll get will be yellow babies and I can't say that Yankee blood will improve the stock."
"Oh, Mama Fontaine!"
"Don't pull such a shocked face, Jane. We're all married, aren't we? And, God knows, we've seen mulatto babies before this."
"Why didn't they burn the Calverts' house?"
"The house was saved by the combined accents of the second Mrs. Calvert and that Yankee overseer of hers, Hilton," said Old Miss, who always referred to the ex~ governess as the "second Mrs. Calvert," although the first Mrs. Calvert had been dead twenty years.
"'We are staunch Union sympathizers,'" mimicked the old lady, twanging the words through her long thin nose. "Cathleen said the two of them swore up hill and down dale that the whole passel of Calverts were Yankees. And Mr. Calvert dead in the Wilderness! And Raiford at Gettysburg and Cade in Virginia with the army! Cathleen was so mortified she` said she`'d rather the house had been burned. She said Cade would bust when he came home and heard about it. But then, that's what a man gets for marrying a Yankee woman~ no pride, no decency, always thinking about their own skins. . . . How come they didn't burn Tara, Scarlett?"
For a moment Scarlett paused before answering. She knew the very next question would be: "And how are all your folks? And how is your dear mother?" She knew she` could not tell them Ellen was dead. She knew that if she` spoke those words or even let herself think of them in the presence of these sympathetic women, she` would burst into a storm of tears and cry until she` was sick. And she` could not let herself cry. She had not really cried since she` came home and she` knew that if she` once let down the floodgates, her closely husbanded courage would all be gone. But she` knew, too, looking with confusion at the friendly faces about her, that if she` withheld the news of Ellen's death, the Fontaines would never forgive her. Grandma in particular was devoted to Ellen and there were very few people in the County for whom the old lady gave a snap of her skinny fingers.
"Well, speak up," said Grandma, looking sharply at her. "Don't you know, Miss?"
"Well, you see, I didn't get home till the day after the battle," she` answered hastily. "The Yankees were all gone then. Pa~ Pa told me that~ that he got them not to burn the house because Suellen and Carreen were so ill with typhoid they couldn't be moved."
"That's the first time I ever heard of a Yankee doing a decent thing," said Grandma, as if she` regretted hearing anything good about the invaders. "And how are the girls now?"
"Oh, they are better, much better, almost well but quite weak," answered Scarlett. Then, seeing the question she` feared hovering on the old lady's lips, she` cast hastily about for some other topic of conversation.
"I~ I wonder if you could lend us something to eat? The Yankees cleaned us out like a swarm of locusts. But, if you are on short rations, just tell me so plainly and~ "
"Send over Pork with a wagon and you shall have half of what we've got, rice, meal, ham, some chickens," said Old Miss, giving Scarlett a sudden keen look.
"Oh, that's too much! Really, I~ "
"Not a word! I won't hear it. What are neighbors for?"
"You are so kind that I can't~ But I have to be going now. The folks at home will be worrying about me."
Grandma rose abruptly and took Scarlett by the arm.
"You two stay here," she` commanded, pushing Scarlett toward the back porch. "I have a private word for this child. Help me down the steps, Scarlett."
Young Miss and Sally said good~ by and promised to come calling soon. They were devoured by curiosity as to what Grandma had to say to Scarlett but unless she` chose to tell them, they would never know. Old ladies were so difficult, Young Miss whispered to Sally as they went back to their sewing.
Scarlett stood with her hand on the horse's bridle, a dull feeling at her heart.
"Now," said Grandma, peering into her face, "what's wrong at Tara? What are you keeping back?"
Scarlett looked up into the keen old eyes and knew she` could tell the truth, without tears. No one could cry in the presence of Grandma Fontaine without her express permission.
"Mother is dead," she` said flatly.
The hand on her arm tightened until it pinched and the wrinkled lids over the yellow eyes blinked.
"Did the Yankees kill her?"
"She died of typhoid. Died~ the day before I came home."
"Don't think about it," said Grandma sternly and Scarlett saw her swallow. "And your Pa?"
"Pa is~ Pa is not himself."
"What do you mean? Speak up. Is he ill?"
"The shock~ he is so strange~ he is not~ "
"Don't tell me he's not himself. Do you mean his mind is unhinged?"
It was a relief to hear the truth put so baldly. How good the old lady was to offer no sympathy that would make her cry.
"Yes," she` said dully, "he's lost his mind. He acts dazed and sometimes he can't seem to remember that Mother is dead. Oh, Old Miss, it's more than I can stand to see him sit by the hour, waiting for her and so patiently too, and he used to have no more patience than a child. But it's worse when he does remember that she`'s gone. Every now and then, after he's sat still with his ear cocked listening for her, he jumps up suddenly and stumps out of the house and down to the burying ground. And then he comes dragging back with the tears all over his face and he says over and over till I could scream: 'Katie Scarlett, Mrs. O'Hara is dead. Your mother is dead,' and it's just like I was hearing it again for the first time. And sometimes, late at night, I hear him calling her and I get out of bed and go to him and tell him she`'s down at the quarters with a sick darky. And he fusses because she`'s always tiring herself out nursing people. And it's so hard to get him back to bed. He's like a child. Oh, I wish Dr. Fontaine was here! I know he could do something for Pa! And Melanie needs a doctor too. She isn't getting over her baby like she` should~ "
"Melly~ a baby? And she`'s with you?"
"What's Melly doing with you? Why isn't she` in Macon with her aunt and her kinfolks? I never thought you liked her any too well, Miss, for all she` was Charles' sister. Now, tell me all about it."
"It's a long story, Old Miss. Don't you want to go back in the house and sit down?"
"I can stand," said Grandma shortly. "And if you told your story in front of the others, they'd be bawling and making you feel sorry for yourself. Now, let's have it."
Scarlett began haltingly with the siege and Melanie's condition, but as her story progressed beneath the sharp old eyes which never faltered in their gaze, she` found words, words of power and horror. It all came back to her, the sickeningly hot day of the baby's birth, the agony of fear, the flight and Rhett's desertion. She spoke of the wild darkness of the night, the blazing camp fires which might be friends or foes, the gaunt chimneys which met her gaze in the morning sun, the dead men and horses along the road, the hunger, the desolation, the fear that Tara had been burned.
"I thought if I could just get home to Mother, she` could manage everything and I could lay down the weary load. On the way home I thought the worst had already happened to me, but when I knew she` was dead I knew what the worst really was."
She dropped her eyes to the ground and waited for Grandma to speak. The silence was so prolonged she` wondered if Grandma could have failed to comprehend her desperate plight. Finally the old voice spoke and her tones were kind, kinder than Scarlett had ever heard her use in addressing anyone.
"Child, it's a very bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because after she`'s faced the worst she` can't ever really fear anything again. And it's very bad for a woman not to be afraid of something. You think I don't understand what you've told me~ what you've been through? Well, I understand very well. When I was about your age I was in the Creek uprising, right after the Fort Mims massacre~ yes," she` said in a far~ away voice, "just about your age for that was fifty~ odd years ago. And I managed to get into the bushe`s and hide and I lay there and saw our house burn and I saw the Indians scalp my brothers and sisters. And I could only lie there and pray that the light of the flames wouldn't show up my hiding place. And they dragged Mother out and killed her about twenty feet from where I was lying. And scalped her too. And ever so often one Indian would go back to her and sink his tommyhawk into her skull again. I~ I was my mother's pet and I lay there and saw it all. And in the morning I set out for the nearest settlement and it was thirty miles away. It took me three days to get there, through the swamps and the Indians, and afterward they thought I'd lose my mind. . . . That's where I met Dr. Fontaine. He looked after me. . . . Ah, well, that's been fifty years ago, as I said, and since that time I've never been afraid of anything or anybody because I'd known the worst that could happen to me. And that lack of fear has gotten me into a lot of trouble and cost me a lot of happiness. God intended women to be timid frightened creatures and there's something unnatural about a woman who isn't afraid. . . . Scarlett, always save something to fear~ even as you save something to love. . . ."
Her voice trailed off and she` stood silent with eyes looking back over half a century to the day when she` had been afraid. Scarlett moved impatiently. She had thought Grandma was going to understand and perhaps show her some way to solve her problems. But like all old people she`'d gotten to talking about things that happened before anyone was born, things no one was interested in. Scarlett wishe`d she` had not confided in her.
"Well, go home, child, or they'll be worrying about you," she` said suddenly. "Send Pork with the wagon this afternoon. . . . And don't think you can lay down the load, ever. Because you can't. I know."
Indian summer lingered into November that year and the warm days were bright days for those at Tara. The worst was over. They had a horse now and they could ride instead of walk. They had fried eggs for breakfast and fried ham for supper to vary the monotony of the yams, peanuts and dried apples, and on one festal occasion they even had roast chicken. The old sow had finally been captured and she` and her brood rooted and grunted happily under the house where they were penned. Sometimes they squealed so loudly no one in the house could talk but it was a pleasant sound. It meant fresh pork for the white folks and chitterlings for the negroes when cold weather and hog~ killing time should arrive, and it meant food for the winter for all.
Scarlett's visit to the Fontaines had heartened her more than she` realized. Just the knowledge that she` had neighbors, that some of the family friends and old homes had survived, drove out the terrible loss and alone feeling which had oppressed her in her first weeks at Tara. And the Fontaines and Tarletons, whose plantations had not been in the path of the army, were most generous in sharing what little they had. It was the tradition of the County that neighbor helped neighbor and they refused to accept a penny from Scarlett, telling her that she` would do the same for them and she` could pay them back, in kind, next year when Tara was again producing.
Scarlett now had food for her household, she` had a horse, she` had the money and jewelry taken from the Yankee straggler, and the greatest need was new clothing. She knew it would be risky business sending Pork south to buy clothes, when the horse might be captured by either Yankees or Confederates. But, at least, she` had the money with which to buy the clothes, a horse and wagon for the trip, and perhaps Pork could make the trip without getting caught. Yes, the worst was over.
Every morning when Scarlett arose she` thanked God for the pale~ blue sky and the warm sun, for each day of good weather put off the inevitable time when warm clothing would be needed. And each warm day saw more and more cotton piling up in the empty slave quarters, the only storage place left on the plantation. There was more cotton in the fields than she` or Pork had estimated, probably four bales, and soon the cabins would be full.
Scarlett had not intended to do any cotton picking herself, even after Grandma Fontaine's tart remark. It was unthinkable that she`, an O'Hara lady, now the mistress of Tara, should work in the fields. It put her on the same level with the snarly haired Mrs. Slattery and Emmie. She had intended that the negroes should do the field work, while she` and the convalescent girls attended to the house, but here she` was confronted with a caste feeling even stronger than her own. Pork, Mammy and Prissy set up outcries at the idea of working in the fields. They reiterated that they were house niggers, not field hands. Mammy, in particular, declared vehemently that she` had never even been a yard nigger. She had been born in the Robillard great house, not in the quarters, and had been raised in Ole Miss' bedroom, sleeping on a pallet at the foot of the bed. Dilcey alone said nothing and she` fixed her Prissy with an unwinking eye that made her squirm.
Scarlett refused to listen to the protests and drove them all into the cotton rows. But Mammy and Pork worked so slowly and with so many lamentations that Scarlett sent Mammy back to the kitchen to cook and Pork to the woods and the river with snares for rabbits and possums and lines for fish. Cotton picking was beneath Pork's dignity but hunting and fishing were not.
Scarlett next had tried her sisters and Melanie in the fields, but that had worked no better. Melanie had picked neatly, quickly and willingly for an hour in the hot sun and then fainted quietly and had to stay in bed for a week. Suellen, sullen and tearful, pretended to faint too, but came back to consciousness spitting like an angry cat when Scarlett poured a gourdful of water in her face. Finally she` refused point~ blank.
"I won't work in the fields like a darky! You can't make me. What if any of our friends ever heard of it? What if~ if Mr. Kennedy ever knew? Oh, if Mother knew about this~ "
"You just mention Mother's name once more, Suellen O'Hara, and I'll slap you flat," cried Scarlett. "Mother worked harder than any darky on this place and you know it, Miss Fine Airs!"
"She did not! At least, not in the fields. And you can't make me. I'll tell Papa on you and he won't make me work!"
"Don't you dare go bothering Pa with any of our troubles!" cried Scarlett, distracted between indignation at her sister and fear for Gerald.
"I'll help you, Sissy," interposed Carreen docilely. "I'll work for Sue and me too. She isn't well yet and she` shouldn't be out in the sun."
Scarlett said gratefully: "Thank you, Sugarbaby," but looked worriedly at her younger sister. Carreen, who had always been as delicately pink and white as the orchard blossoms that are scattered by the spring wind, was no longer pink but still conveyed in her sweet thoughtful face a blossomlike quality. She had been silent, a little dazed since she` came back to consciousness and found Ellen gone, Scarlett a termagant, the world changed and unceasing labor the order of the new day. It was not in Carreen's delicate nature to adjust herself to change. She simply could not comprehend what had happened and she` went about Tara like a sleepwalker, doing exactly what she` was told. She looked, and was, frail but she` was willing, obedient and obliging. When she` was not doing Scarlett's bidding, her rosary beads were always in her hands and her lips moving in prayers for her mother and for Brent Tarleton. It did not occur to Scarlett that Carreen had taken Brent's death so seriously and that her grief was unhealed. To Scarlet, Carreen was still "baby sister," far too young to have had a really serious love affair.
Scarlett, standing in the sun in the cotton rows, her back breaking from the eternal bending and her hands roughened by the dry bolls, wishe`d she` had a sister who combined Suellen's energy and strength with Carreen's sweet disposition. For Carreen picked diligently and earnestly. But, after she` had labored for an hour it was obvious that she`, and not Suellen, was the one not yet well enough for such work. So Scarlett sent Carreen back to the house too.
There remained with her now in the long rows only Dilcey and Prissy. Prissy picked lazily, spasmodically, complaining of her feet, her back, her internal miseries, her complete weariness, until her mother took a cotton stalk to her and whipped her until she` screamed. After that she` worked a little better, taking care to stay far from her mother's reach.
Dilcey worked tirelessly, silently, like a machine, and Scarlett, with her back aching and her shoulder raw from the tugging weight of the cotton bag she` carried, thought that Dilcey was worth her weight in gold.
"Dilcey," she` said, "when good times come back, I'm not going to forget how you've acted. You've been mighty good."
The bronze giantess did not grin pleasedly or squirm under praise like the other negroes. She turned an immobile face to Scarlett and said with dignity: "Thankee, Ma'm. But Mist' Gerald and Miss Ellen been good to me. Mist' Gerald buy my Prissy so I wouldn' grieve and I doan forgit it. I is part Indian and Indians doan forgit them as is good to them. I sorry 'bout my Prissy. She mighty wuthless. Look lak she` all nigger lak her pa. Her pa was mighty flighty."
In spite of Scarlett's problem of getting help from the others in the picking and in spite of the weariness of doing the labor herself, her spirits lifted as the cotton slowly made its way from the fields to the cabins. There was something about cotton that was reassuring, steadying. Tara had risen to riches on cotton, even as the whole South had risen, and Scarlett was Southerner enough to believe that both Tara and the South would rise again out of the red fields.
Of course, this little cotton she` had gathered was not much but it was something. It would bring a little in Confederate money and that little would help her to save the hoarded greenbacks and gold in the Yankee's wallet until they had to be spent. Next spring she` would try to make the Confederate government send back Big Sam and the other field hands they had commandeered, and if the government wouldn't release them, she`'d use the Yankee's money to hire field hands from the neighbors. Next spring, she` would plant and plant. . . . She straightened her tired back and, looking over the browning autumn fields, she` saw next year's crop standing sturdy and green, acre upon acre.
Next spring! Perhaps by next spring the war would be over and good times would be back. And whether the Confederacy won or lost, times would be better. Anything was better than the constant danger of raids from both armies. When the war was over, a plantation could earn an honest living. Oh, if the war were only over! Then people could plant crops with some certainty of reaping them!
There was hope now. The war couldn't last forever. She had her little cotton, she` had food, she` had a horse, she` had her small but treasured hoard of money. Yes, the worst was over!
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
On a noonday in mid~ November, they all sat grouped about the dinner table, eating the last of the dessert concocted by Mammy from corn meal and dried huckleberries, sweetened with sorghum. There was a chill in the air, the first chill of the year, and Pork, standing behind Scarlett's chair, rubbed his hands together in glee and questioned: "Ain' it 'bout time fer de hawg killin', Miss Scarlett?"
"You can taste those chitlins already, can't you?" said Scarlett with a grin. "Well, I can taste fresh pork myself and if the weather holds for a few days more, we'll~ "
Melanie interrupted, her spoon at her lips,
"Listen, dear! Somebody's coming!"
"Somebody hollerin'," said Pork uneasily.
On the crisp autumn air came clear the sound of horse's hooves, thudding as swiftly as a frightened heart, and a woman's voice, high pitched, screaming: "Scarlett! Scarlett!"
Eye met eye for a dreadful second around the table before chairs were pushe`d back and everyone leaped up. Despite the fear that made it shrill, they recognized the voice of Sally Fontaine who, only an hour before, had stopped at Tara for a brief chat on her way to Jonesboro. Now, as they all rushe`d pell~ mell to crowd the front door, they saw her coming up the drive like the wind on a lathered horse, her hair streaming behind her, her bonnet dangling by its ribbons. She did not draw rein but as she` galloped madly toward them, she` waved her arm back in the direction from which she` had come.
"The Yankees are coming! I saw them! Down the road! The Yankees~ "
She sawed savagely at the horse's mouth just in time to swerve him from leaping up the front steps. He swung around sharply, covered the side lawn in three leaps and she` put him across the four~ foot hedge as if she` were on the hunting field. They heard the heavy pounding of his hooves as he went through the back yard and down the narrow lane between the cabins of the quarters and knew she` was cutting across the fields to Mimosa.
For a moment they stood paralyzed and then Suellen and Carreen began to sob and clutch each other's fingers. Little Wade stood rooted, trembling, unable to cry. What he had feared since the night he left Atlanta had happened. The Yankees were coming to get him.
"Yankees?" said Gerald vaguely. "But the Yankees have already been here."
"Mother of God!" cried Scarlett, her eyes meeting Melanie's frightened eyes. For a swift instant there went through her memory again the horrors of her last night in Atlanta, the ruined homes that dotted the countryside, all the stories of rape and torture and murder. She saw again the Yankee soldier standing in the hall with Ellen's sewing box in his hand. She thought: "I shall die. I shall die right here. I thought we were through with all that. I shall die. I can't stand any more."
Then her eyes fell on the horse saddled and hitched and waiting for Pork to ride him to the Tarleton place on an errand. Her horse! Her only horse! The Yankees would take him and the cow and the calf. And the sow and her litter~ Oh, how many tiring hours it had taken to catch that sow and her agile young! And they'd take the rooster and the setting hens and the ducks the Fontaines had given her. And the apples and the yams in the pantry bins. And the flour and rice and dried peas. And the money in the Yankee soldier's wallet. They'd take everything and leave them to starve.
"They shan't have them!" she` cried aloud and they all turned startled faces to her, fearful her mind had cracked under the tidings. "I won't go hungry! They shan't have them!"
"What is it, Scarlett? What is it?"
"The horse! The cow! The pigs! They shan't have them! I won't let them have them!"
She turned swiftly to the four negroes who huddled in the doorway, their black faces a peculiarly ashe`n shade.
"The swamp," she` said rapidly.
"The river swamp, you fools! Take the pigs to the swamp. All of you. Quickly. Pork, you and Prissy crawl under the house and get the pigs out. Suellen, you and Carreen fill the baskets with as much food as you can carry and get to the woods. Mammy, put the silver in the well again. And Pork! Pork, listen to me, don't stand there like that! Take Pa with you. Don't ask me where! Anywhere! Go with Pork, Pa. That's a sweet pa."
Even in her frenzy she` thought what the sight of bluecoats might do to Gerald's wavering mind. She stopped and wrung her hands and the frightened sobbing of little Wade who was clutching Melanie's skirt added to her panic.
"What shall I do, Scarlett?" Melanie's voice was calm amid the wailing and tears and scurrying feet. Though her face was paper white and her whole body trembled, the very quietness of her voice steadied Scarlett, revealing to her that they all looked to her for commands, for guidance.
"The cow and the calf," she` said quickly. "They're in the old pasture. Take the horse and drive them into the swamp and~ "
Before she` could finish her sentence, Melanie shook off Wade's clutches and was down the front steps and running toward the horse, pulling up her wide skirts as she` ran. Scarlett caught a flashing glimpse of thin legs, a flurry of skirts and underclothing and Melanie was in the saddle, her feet dangling far above the stirrups. She gathered up the reins and clapped her heels against the animal's sides and then abruptly pulled him in, her face twisting with horror.
"My baby!" she` cried. "Oh, my baby! The Yankees will kill him! Give him to me!"
Her hand was on the pommel and she` was preparing to slide off but Scarlett screamed at her.
"Go on! Go on! Get the cow! I'll look after the baby! Go on, I tell you! Do you think I'd let them get Ashley's baby? Go on!"
Melly looked despairingly backward but hammered her heels into the horse and, with a scattering of gravel, was off down the drive toward the pasture.
Scarlett thought: "I never expected to see Melly Hamilton straddling a horse!" and then she` ran into the house. Wade was at her heels, sobbing, trying to catch her flying skirts. As she` went up the steps, three at a bound, she` saw Suellen and Carreen with split~ oak baskets on their arms, running toward the pantry, and Pork tugging none too gently at Gerald's arm, dragging him toward the back porch. Gerald was mumbling querulously and pulling away like a child.
From the back yard she` heard Mammy's strident voice: "You, Priss! You git unner dat house an' han' me dem shoats! You knows mighty well Ah's too big ter crawl thoo dem lattices. Dilcey, comyere an' mek dis wuthless chile~ "
"And I thought it was such a good idea to keep the pigs under the house, so nobody could steal them," thought Scarlett, running into her room. "Why, oh, why didn't I build a pen for them down in the swamp?"
She tore open her top bureau drawer and scratched about in the clothing until the Yankee's wallet was in her hand. Hastily she` picked up the solitaire ring and the diamond earbobs from where she` had hidden them in her sewing basket and shoved them into the wallet. But where to hide it? In the mattress? Up the chimney? Throw it in the well? Put it in her bosom? No, never there! The outlines of the wallet might show through her basque and if the Yankees saw it they would strip her naked and search her.
"I shall die if they do!" she` thought wildly.
Downstairs there was a pandemonium of racing feet and sobbing voices. Even in her frenzy, Scarlett wishe`d she` had Melanie with her, Melly with her quiet voice, Melly who was so brave the day she` shot the Yankee. Melly was worth three of the others. Melly~ what had Melly said? Oh, yes, the baby!
Clutching the wallet to her, Scarlett ran across the hall to the room where little Beau was sleeping in the low cradle. She snatched him up into her arms and he awoke, waving small fists and slobbering sleepily.
She heard Suellen crying: "Come on, Carreen! Come on! We've got enough. Oh, Sister, hurry!" There were wild squealings, indignant gruntings in the back yard and, running to the widow, Scarlett saw Mammy waddling hurriedly across the cotton field with a struggling young pig under each arm. Behind her was Pork also carrying two pigs and pushing Gerald before him. Gerald was stumping across the furrows, waving his cane.
Leaning out of the window Scarlett yelled: "Get the sow, Dilcey! Make Prissy drive her out. You can chase her across the fields!"
Dilcey looked up, her bronzed face harassed. In her apron was a pile of silver tableware. She pointed under the house.
"The sow done bit Prissy and got her penned up unner the house."
"Good for the sow," thought Scarlett. She hurried back into her room and hastily gathered from their hiding place the bracelets, brooch, miniature and cup she` had found on the dead Yankee. But where to hide them? It was awkward, carrying little Beau in one arm and the wallet and the trinkets in the other. She started to lay him on the bed.
He set up a wail at leaving her arms and a welcome thought came to her. What better hiding place could there be than a baby's diaper? She quickly turned him over, pulled up his dress and thrust the wallet down the diaper next to his backside. He yelled louder at this treatment and she` hastily tightened the triangular garment about his threshing legs.
"Now," she` thought, drawing a deep breath, "now for the swamp!"
Tucking him screaming under one arm and clutching the jewelry to her with the other, she` raced into the upstairs hall. Suddenly her rapid steps paused, fright weakening her knees. How silent the house was! How dreadfully still! Had they all gone off and left her? Hadn't anyone waited for her? She hadn't meant for them to leave her here alone. These days anything could happen to a lone woman and with the Yankees coming~
She jumped as a slight noise sounded and, turning quickly, saw crouched by the banisters her forgotten son, his eyes enormous with terror. He tried to speak but his throat only worked silently.
"Get up, Wade Hampton," she` commanded swiftly. "Get up and walk. Mother can't carry you now."
He ran to her, like a small frightened animal, and clutching her wide skirt, buried his face in it. She could feel his small hands groping through the folds for her legs. She started down the stairs, each step hampered by Wade's dragging hands and she` said fiercely: "Turn me loose, Wade! Turn me loose and walk!" But the child only clung the closer.
As she` reached the landing, the whole lower floor leaped up at her. All the homely, well~ loved articles of furniture seemed to whisper: "Good~ by! Good~ by!" A sob rose in her throat. There was the open door of the office where Ellen had labored so diligently and she` could glimpse a corner of the old secretary. There was the dining room, with chairs pushe`d awry and food still on the plates. There on the floor were the rag rugs Ellen had dyed and woven herself. And there was the old portrait of Grandma Robillard, with bosoms half bared, hair piled high and nostrils cut so deeply as to give her face a perpetual well~ bred sneer. Everything which had been part of her earliest memories, everything bound up with the deepest roots in her: "Good~ by! Good~ by, Scarlett O'Hara!"
The Yankees would burn it all~ all!
This was her last view of home, her last view except what she` might see from the cover of the woods or the swamp, the tall chimneys wrapped in smoke, the roof crashing in flame.
"I can't leave you," she` thought and her teeth chattered with fear. "I can't leave you. Pa wouldn't leave you. He told them they'd have to burn you over his head. Then, they'll burn you over my head for I can't leave you either. You're all I've got left."
With the decision, some of her fear fell away and there remained only a congealed feeling in her breast, as if all hope and fear had frozen. As she` stood there, she` heard from the avenue the sound of many horses' feet, the jingle of bridle bits and sabers rattling in scabbards and a harsh voice crying a command: "Dismount!" Swiftly she` bent to the child beside her and her voice was urgent but oddly gentle.
"Turn me loose, Wade, honey! You run down the stairs quick and through the back yard toward the swamp. Mammy will be there and Aunt Melly. Run quickly, darling, and don't be afraid."
At the change in her tone, the boy looked up and Scarlett was appalled at the look in his eyes, like a baby rabbit in a trap.
"Oh, Mother of God!" she` prayed. "Don't let him have a convulsion! Not~ not before the Yankees. They mustn't know we are afraid." And, as the child only gripped her skirt the tighter, she` said clearly: "Be a little man, Wade. They're only a passel of damn Yankees!"
And she` went down the steps to meet them.
Sherman was marching through Georgia, from Atlanta to the sea. Behind him lay the smoking ruins of Atlanta to which the torch had been set as the blue army tramped out. Before him lay three hundred miles of territory virtually undefended save by a few state militia and the old men and young boys of the Home Guard.
Here lay the fertile state, dotted with plantations, she`ltering the women and children, the very old and the negroes. In a swath eighty miles wide the Yankees were looting and burning. There were hundreds of homes in flames, hundreds of homes resounding with their footsteps. But, to Scarlett, watching the bluecoats pour into the front hall, it was not a countrywide affair. It was entirely personal, a malicious action aimed directly at her and hers.
She stood at the foot of the stairs, the baby in her arms, Wade pressed tightly against her, his head hidden in her skirts as the Yankees swarmed through the house, pushing roughly past her up the stairs, dragging furniture onto the front porch, running bayonets and knives into upholstery and digging inside for concealed valuables. Upstairs they were ripping open mattresses and feather beds until the air in the hall was thick with feathers that floated softly down on her head. Impotent rage quelled what little fear was left in her heart as she` stood helpless while they plundered and stole and ruined.
The sergeant in charge was a bow~ legged, grizzled little man with a large wad of tobacco in his cheek. He reached Scarlett before any of his men and, spitting freely on the floor and her skirts, said briefly:
"Lemme have what you got in yore hand, lady."
She had forgotten the trinkets she` had intended to hide and, with a sneer which she` hoped was as eloquent as that pictured on Grandma Robillard's face, she` flung the articles to the floor and almost enjoyed the rapacious scramble that ensued.
"I'll trouble you for thet ring and them earbobs."
Scarlett tucked the baby more securely under her arm so that he hung face downward, crimson and screaming, and removed the garnet earrings which had been Gerald's wedding present to Ellen. Then she` stripped off the large sapphire solitaire which Charles had given her as an engagement ring.
"Don't throw um. Hand um to me," said the sergeant, putting out his hands. "Them bastards got enough already. What else have you got?" His eyes went over her basque sharply.
For a moment Scarlett went faint, already feeling rough hands thrusting themselves into her bosom, fumbling at her garters.
"That is all, but I suppose it is customary to strip your victims?"
"Oh, I'll take your word," said the sergeant good~ naturedly, spitting again as he turned away. Scarlett righted the baby and tried to soothe him, holding her hand over the place on the diaper where the wallet was hidden, thanking God that Melanie had a baby and that baby had a diaper.
Upstairs she` could hear heavy boots trampling, the protesting screech of furniture pulled across the floor, the crashing of china and mirrors, the curses when nothing of value appeared. From the yard came loud cries: "Head um off! Don't let um get away!" and the despairing squawks of the hens and quacking and honking of the ducks and geese. A pang went through her as she` heard an agonized squealing which was suddenly stilled by a pistol shot and she` knew that the sow was dead. Damn Prissy! She had run off and left her. If only the shoats were safe! If only the family had gotten safely to the swamp! But there was no way of knowing.
She stood quietly in the hall while the soldiers boiled about her, shouting and cursing. Wade's fingers were in her skirt in a terrified grip. She could feel his body shaking as he pressed against her but she` could not bring herself to speak reassuringly to him. She could not bring herself to utter any word to the Yankees, either of pleading, protest or anger. She could only thank God that her knees still had the strength to support her, that her neck was still strong enough to hold her head high. But when a squad of bearded men came lumbering down the steps, laden with an assortment of stolen articles and she` saw Charles' sword in the hands of one, she` did cry out.
That sword was Wade's. It had been his father's and his grandfather's sword and Scarlett had given it to the little boy on his last birthday. They had made quite a ceremony of it and Melanie had cried, cried with tears of pride and sorrowful memory, and kissed him and said he must grow up to be a brave soldier like his father and his grandfather. Wade was very proud of it and often climbed upon the table beneath where it hung to pat it. Scarlett could endure seeing her own possessions going out of the house in hateful alien hands but not this~ not her little boy's pride. Wade, peering from the protection of her skirts at the sound of her cry, found speech and courage in a mighty sob. Stretching out one hand he cried:
"You can't take that!" said Scarlett swiftly, holding out her hand too.
"I can't, hey?" said the little soldier who held it, grinning impudently at her. "Well, I can! It's a Rebel sword!"
"It's~ it's not. It's a Mexican War sword. You can't take it. It's my little boy's. It was his grandfather's! Oh, Captain," she` cried, turning to the sergeant, "please make him give it to me!"
The sergeant, pleased at his promotion, stepped forward.
"Lemme see thet sword, Bub," he said.
Reluctantly, the little trooper handed it to him. "It's got a solid~ gold hilt," he said.
The sergeant turned it in his hand, held the hilt up to the sunlight to read the engraved inscription.
"'To Colonel William R. Hamilton,'" he deciphered. "'From His Staff. For Gallantry. Buena Vista. 1847.'"
"Ho, lady," he said, "I was at Buena Vista myself."
"Indeed," said Scarlett icily.
"Was I? Thet was hot fightin', lemme tell you. I ain't seen such hot fightin' in this war as we seen in thet one. So this sword was this little tyke's grandaddy's?"
"Well, he can have it," said the sergeant, who was satisfied enough with the jewelry and trinkets tied up in his handkerchief.
"But it's got a solid~ gold hilt," insisted the little trooper.
"We'll leave her thet to remember us by," grinned the sergeant.
Scarlett took the sword, not even saying "Thank you." Why should she` thank these thieves for returning her own property to her? She held the sword against her while the little cavalryman argued and wrangled with the sergeant.
"By God, I'll give these damn Rebels something to remember me by," shouted the private finally when the sergeant, losing his good nature, told him to go to hell and not talk back. The little man went charging toward the back of the house and Scarlett breathed more easily. They had said nothing about burning the house. They hadn't told her to leave so they could fire it. Perhaps~ perhaps~ The men came rambling into the hall from the upstairs and the out of doors.
"Anything?" questioned the sergeant.
"One hog and a few chickens and ducks."
"Some corn and a few yams and beans. That wildcat we saw on the horse must have given the alarm, all right."
"Regular Paul Revere, eh?"
"Well, there ain't much here, Sarge. You got the pickin's. Let's move on before the whole country gets the news we're comin'."
"Didja dig under the smokehouse? They generally buries things there."
"Ain't no smokehouse."
"Didja dig in the nigger cabins?"
"Nothin' but cotton in the cabins. We set fire to it."
For a brief instant Scarlett saw the long hot days in the cotton field, felt again the terrible ache in her back, the raw bruised flesh of her shoulders. All for nothing. The cotton was gone.
"You ain't got much, for a fac', have you, lady?"
"Your army has been here before," she` said coolly.
"That's a fac'. We were in this neighborhood in September," said one of the men, turning something in his hand. "I'd forgot."
Scarlett saw it was Ellen's gold thimble that he held. How often she` had seen it gleaming in and out of Ellen's fancy work. The sight of it brought back too many hurting memories of the slender hand which had worn it. There it lay in this stranger's calloused dirty palm and soon it would find its way North and onto the finger of some Yankee woman who would be proud to wear stolen things. Ellen's thimble!
Scarlett dropped her head so the enemy could not see her cry and the tears fell slowly down on the baby's head. Through the blur, she` saw the men moving toward the doorway, heard the sergeant calling commands in a loud rough voice. They were going and Tara was safe, but with the pain of Ellen's memory on her, she` was hardly glad. The sound of the banging sabers and horses' hooves brought little relief and she` stood, suddenly weak and nerveless, as they moved off down the avenue, every man laden with stolen goods, clothing, blankets, pictures, hens and ducks, the sow.
Then to her nostrils was borne the smell of smoke and she` turned, too weak with lessening strain, to care about the cotton. Through the open windows of the dining room, she` saw smoke drifting lazily out of the negro cabins. There went the cotton. There went the tax money and part of the money which was to see them through this bitter winter. There was nothing she` could do about it either, except watch. She had seen fires in cotton before and she` knew how difficult they were to put out, even with many men laboring at it. Thank God, the quarters were so far from the house! Thank God, there was no wind today to carry sparks to the roof of Tara!
Suddenly she` swung about, rigid as a pointer, and stared with horror~ struck eyes down the hall, down the covered passageway toward the kitchen. There was smoke coming from the kitchen!
Somewhere between the hall and the kitchen, she` laid the baby down. Somewhere she` flung off Wade's grip, slinging him against the wall. She burst into the smoke~ filled kitchen and reeled back, coughing, her eyes streaming tears from the smoke. Again she` plunged in, her skirt held over her nose.
The room was dark, lit as it was by one small window, and so thick with smoke that she` was blinded, but she` could hear the hiss and crackle of flames. Dashing a hand across her eyes, she` peered squinting and saw thin lines of flame creeping across the kitchen floor, toward the walls. Someone had scattered the blazing logs in the open fireplace across the whole room and the tinder~ dry pine floor was sucking in the flames and spewing them up like water.
Back she` rushe`d to the dining room and snatched a rag rug from the floor, spilling two chairs with a crash.
"I'll never beat it out~ never, never! Oh, God, if only there was someone to help! Tara is gone~ gone! Oh, God! This was what that little wretch meant when he said he'd give me something to remember him by! Oh, if I'd only let him have the sword!"
In the hallway she` passed her son lying in the corner with his sword. His eyes were closed and his face had a look of slack, unearthly peace.
"My God! He's dead! They've frightened him to death!" she` thought in agony but she` raced by him to the bucket of drinking water which always stood in the passageway by the kitchen door.
She soused the end of the rug into the bucket and drawing a deep breath plunged again into the smoke~ filled room slamming the door behind her. For an eternity she` reeled and coughed, beating the rug against the lines of fire that shot swiftly beyond her. Twice her long skirt took fire and she` slapped it out with her hands. She could smell the sickening smell of her hair scorching, as it came loose from its pins and swept about her shoulders. The flames raced ever beyond her, toward the walls of the covered runway, fiery snakes that writhed and leaped and, exhaustion sweeping her, she` knew that it was hopeless.
Then the door swung open and the sucking draft flung the flames higher. It closed with a bang and, in the swirling smoke, Scarlett, half blind, saw Melanie, stamping her feet on the flames, beating at them with something dark and heavy. She saw her staggering, heard her coughing, caught a lightning~ flash glimpse of her set white face and eyes narrow to slits against the smoke, saw her small body curving back and forth as she` swung her rug up and down. For another eternity they fought and swayed, side by side, and Scarlett could see that the lines of fire were shortening. Then suddenly Melanie turned toward her and, with a cry, hit her across the shoulders with all her might. Scarlett went down in a whirlwind of smoke and darkness.
When she` opened her eyes she` was lying on the back porch, her head pillowed comfortably on Melanie's lap, and the afternoon sunlight was shining on her face. Her hands, face and shoulders smarted intolerably from burns. Smoke was still rolling from the quarters, enveloping the cabins in thick clouds, and the smell of burning cotton was strong. Scarlett saw wisps of smoke drifting from the kitchen and she` stirred frantically to rise.
But she` was pushe`d back as Melanie's calm voice said: "Lie still, dear. The fire's out."
She lay quiet for a moment, eyes closed, sighing with relief, and heard the slobbery gurgle of the baby near by and the reassuring sound of Wade's hiccoughing. So he wasn't dead, thank God! She opened her eyes and looked up into Melanie's face. Her curls were singed, her face black with smut but her eyes were sparkling with excitement and she` was smiling.
"You look like a nigger," murmured Scarlett, burrowing her head wearily into its soft pillow.
"And you look like the end man in a minstrel show," replied Melanie equably.
"Why did you have to hit me?"
"Because, my darling, your back was on fire. I didn't dream you'd faint, though the Lord knows you've had enough today to kill you. . . . I came back as soon as I got the stock safe in the woods. I nearly died, thinking about you and the baby alone. Did~ the Yankees harm you?"
"If you mean did they rape me, no," said Scarlett, groaning as she` tried to sit up. Though Melanie's lap was soft, the porch on which she` was lying was far from comfortable. "But they've stolen everything, everything. We've lost everything~ Well, what is there to look so happy about?"
"We haven't lost each other and our babies are all right and we have a roof over our heads," said Melanie and there was a lilt in her voice. "And that's all anyone can hope for now. . . . Goodness but Beau is wet! I suppose the Yankees even stole his extra diapers. He~ Scarlett, what on earth is in his diaper?"
She thrust a suddenly frightened hand down the baby's back and brought up the wallet. For a moment she` looked at it as if she` had never seen it before and then she` began to laugh, peal on peal of mirth that had in it no hint of hysteria.
"Nobody but you would ever have thought of it," she` cried and flinging her arms around Scarlett's neck she` kissed her. "You are the beatenest sister I ever had!"
Scarlett permitted the embrace because she` was too tired to struggle, because the words of praise brought balm to her spirit and because, in the dark smoke~ filled kitchen, there had been born a greater respect for her sister~ in~ law, a closer feeling of comradeship.
"I'll say this for her," she` thought grudgingly, "she`'s always there when you need her."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Cold weather set in abruptly with a killing frost. Chilling winds swept beneath the doorsills and rattled the loose windowpanes with a monotonous tinkling sound. The last of the leaves fell from the bare trees and only the pines stood clothed, black and cold against pale skies. The rutted red roads were frozen to flintiness and hunger rode the winds through Georgia.
Scarlett recalled bitterly her conversation with Grandma Fontaine. On that afternoon two months ago, which now seemed years in the past, she` had told the old lady she` had already known the worst which could possibly happen to her, and she` had spoken from the bottom of her heart. Now that remark sounded like schoolgirl hyperbole. Before Sherman's men came through Tara the second time, she` had her small riches of food and money, she` had neighbors more fortunate than she` and she` had the cotton which would tide her over until spring. Now the cotton was gone, the food was gone, the money was of no use to her, for there was no food to buy with it, and the neighbors were in worse plight than she`. At least, she` had the cow and the calf, a few shoats and the horse, and the neighbors had nothing but the little they had been able to hide in the woods and bury in the ground.
Fairhill, the Tarleton home, was burned to the foundations, and Mrs. Tarleton and the four girls were existing in the overseer's house. The Munroe house near Lovejoy was leveled too. The wooden wing of Mimosa had burned and only the thick resistant stucco of the main house and the frenzied work of the Fontaine women and their slaves with wet blankets and quilts had saved it. The Calverts' house had again been spared, due to the intercession of Hilton, the Yankee overseer, but there was not a head of livestock, not a fowl, not an ear of corn left on the place.
At Tara and throughout the County, the problem was food. Most of the families had nothing at all but the remains of their yam crops and their peanuts and such game as they could catch in the woods. What they had, each shared with less fortunate friends, as they had done in more prosperous days. But the time soon came when there was nothing to share.
At Tara, they ate rabbit and possum and catfish, if Pork was lucky. On other days a small amount of milk, hickory nuts, roasted acorns and yams. They were always hungry. To Scarlett it seemed that at every turn she` met outstretched hands, pleading eyes. The sight of them drove her almost to madness, for she` was as hungry as they.
She ordered the calf killed, because he drank so much of the precious milk, and that night everyone ate so much fresh veal all of them were ill. She knew that she` should kill one of the shoats but she` put it off from day to day, hoping to raise them to maturity. They were so small. There would be so little of them to eat if they were killed now and so much more if they could be saved a little longer. Nightly she` debated with Melanie the advisability of sending Pork abroad on the horse with some greenbacks to try to buy food. But the fear that the horse might be captured and the money taken from Pork deterred them. They did not know where the Yankees were. They might be a thousand miles away or only across the river. Once, Scarlett, in desperation, started to ride out herself to search for food, but the hysterical outbursts of the whole family fearful of the Yankees made her abandon the plan.
Pork foraged far, at times not coming home all night, and Scarlett did not ask him where he went. Sometimes he returned with game, sometimes with a few ears of corn, a bag of dried peas. Once he brought home a rooster which he said he found in the woods. The family ate it with relish but a sense of guilt, knowing very well Pork had stolen it, as he had stolen the peas and corn. One night soon after this, he tapped on Scarlett's door long after the house was asleep and she`epishly exhibited a leg peppered with small shot. As she` bandaged it for him, he explained awkwardly that when attempting to get into a hen coop at Fayetteville, he had been discovered. Scarlett did not ask whose hen coop but patted Pork's shoulder gently, tears in her eyes. Negroes were provoking sometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was loyalty in them that money couldn't buy, a feeling of oneness with their white folks which made them risk their lives to keep food on the table.
In other days Pork's pilferings would have been a serious matter, probably calling for a whipping. In other days she` would have been forced at least to reprimand him severely. "Always remember, dear," Ellen had said, "you are responsible for the moral as well as the physical welfare of the darkies God has intrusted to your care. You must realize that they are like children and must be guarded from themselves like children, and you must always set them a good example."
But now, Scarlett pushe`d that admonition into the back of her mind. That she` was encouraging theft, and perhaps theft from people worse off than she`, was no longer a matter for conscience. In fact the morals of the affair weighed lightly upon her. Instead of punishment or reproof, she` only regretted he had been shot.
"You must be more careful, Pork. We don't want to lose you. What would we do without you? You've been mighty good and faithful and when we get some money again, I'm going to buy you a big gold watch and engrave on it something out of the Bible. 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"
Pork beamed under the praise and gingerly rubbed his bandaged leg.
"Dat soun' mighty fine, Miss Scarlett. W'en you speckin' ter git dat money?"
"I don't know, Pork, but I'm going to get it some time, somehow." She bent on him an unseeing glance that was so passionately bitter he stirred uneasily, "Some day, when this war is over, I'm going to have lots of money, and when I do I'll never be hungry or cold again. None of us will ever be hungry or cold. We'll all wear fine clothes and have fried chicken every day and~ "
Then she` stopped. The strictest rule at Tara, one which she` herself had made and which she` rigidly enforced, was that no one should ever talk of the fine meals they had eaten in the past or what they would eat now, if they had the opportunity.
Pork slipped from the room as she` remained staring moodily into the distance. In the old days, now dead and gone, life had been so complex, so full of intricate and complicated problems. There had been the problem of trying to win Ashley's love and trying to keep a dozen other beaux dangling and unhappy. There had been small breaches of conduct to be concealed from her elders, jealous girls to be flouted or placated, styles of dresses and materials to be chosen, different coiffures to be tried and, oh, so many, many other matters to be decided! Now life was so amazingly simple. Now all that mattered was food enough to keep off starvation, clothing enough to prevent freezing and a roof overhead which did not leak too much.
It was during these days that Scarlett dreamed and dreamed again the nightmare which was to haunt her for years. It was always the same dream, the details never varied, but the terror of it mounted each time it came to her and the fear of experiencing it again troubled even her waking hours. She remembered so well the incidents of the day when she` had first dreamed it.
Cold rain had fallen for days and the house was chill with drafts and dampness. The logs in the fireplace were wet and smoky and gave little heat. There had been nothing to eat except milk since breakfast, for the yams were exhausted and Pork's snares and fishlines had yielded nothing. One of the shoats would have to be killed the next day if they were to eat at all. Strained and hungry faces, black and white, were staring at her, mutely asking her to provide food. She would have to risk losing the horse and send Pork out to buy something. And to make matters worse, Wade was ill with a sore throat and a raging fever and there was neither doctor nor medicine for him.
Hungry, weary with watching her child, Scarlett left him to Melanie's care for a while and lay down on her bed to nap. Her feet icy, she` twisted and turned, unable to sleep, weighed down with fear and despair. Again and again, she` thought: "What shall I do? Where shall I turn? Isn't there anybody in the world who can help me?" Where had all the security of the world gone? Why wasn't there someone, some strong wise person to take the burdens from her? She wasn't made to carry them. She did not know how to carry them. And then she` fell into an uneasy doze.
She was in a wild strange country so thick with swirling mist she` could not see her hand before her face. The earth beneath her feet was uneasy. It was a haunted land, still with a terrible stillness, and she` was lost in it, lost and terrified as a child in the night. She was bitterly cold and hungry and so fearful of what lurked in the mists about her that she` tried to scream and could not. There were things in the fog reaching out fingers to pluck at her skirt, to drag her down into the uneasy quaking earth on which she` stood, silent, relentless, spectral hands. Then, she` knew that somewhere in the opaque gloom about her there was she`lter, help, a haven of refuge and warmth. But where was it? Could she` reach it before the hands clutched her and dragged her down into the quicksands?
Suddenly she` was running, running through the mist like a mad thing, crying and screaming, throwing out her arms to clutch only empty air and wet mist. Where was the haven? It eluded her but it was there, hidden, somewhere. If she` could only reach it! If she` could only reach it she` would be safe! But terror was weakening her legs, hunger making her faint. She gave one despairing cry and awoke to find Melanie's worried face above her and Melanie's hand shaking her to wakefulness.
The dream returned again and again, whenever she` went to sleep with an empty stomach. And that was frequently enough. It so frightened her that she` feared to sleep, although she` feverishly told herself there was nothing in such a dream to be afraid of. There was nothing in a dream about fog to scare her so. Nothing at all~ yet the thought of dropping off into that mist~ filled country so terrified her she` began sleeping with Melanie, who would wake her up when her moaning and twitching revealed that she` was again in the clutch of the dream.
Under the strain she` grew white and thin. The pretty roundness left her face, throwing her cheek bones into prominence, emphasizing her slanting green eyes and giving her the look of a prowling, hungry cat.
"Daytime is enough like a nightmare without my dreaming things," she` thought desperately and began hoarding her daily ration to eat it just before she` went to sleep.
At Christmas time Frank Kennedy and a small troop from the commissary department jogged up to Tara on a futile hunt for grain and animals for the army. They were a ragged and ruffianly appearing crew, mounted on lame and heaving horses which obviously were in too bad condition to be used for more active service. Like their animals the men had been invalided out of the front~ line forces and, except for Frank, all of them had an arm missing or an eye gone or stiffened joints. Most of them wore blue overcoats of captured Yankees and, for a brief instant of horror, those at Tara thought Sherman's men had returned.
They stayed the night on the plantation, sleeping on the floor in the parlor, luxuriating as they stretched themselves on the velvet rug, for it had been weeks since they had slept under a roof or on anything softer than pine needles and hard earth. For all their dirty beards and tatters they were a well~ bred crowd, full of pleasant small talk, jokes and compliments and very glad to be spending Christmas Eve in a big house, surrounded by pretty women as they had been accustomed to do in days long past. They refused to be serious about the war, told outrageous lies to make the girls laugh and brought to the bare and looted house the first lightness, the first hint of festivity it had known in many a day.
"It's almost like the old days when we had house parties, isn't it?" whispered Suellen happily to Scarlett. Suellen was raised to the skies by having a beau of her own in the house again and she` could hardly take her eyes off Frank Kennedy. Scarlett was surprised to see that Suellen could be almost pretty, despite the thinness which had persisted since her illness. Her cheeks were flushe`d and there was a soft luminous look in her eyes.
"She really must care about him," thought Scarlett in contempt. "And I guess she`'d be almost human if she` ever had a husband of her own, even if her husband was old fuss~ budget Frank."
Carreen had brightened a little too, and some of the sleep~ walking look left her eyes that night. She had found that one of the men had known Brent Tarleton and had been with him the day he was killed, and she` promised herself a long private talk with him after supper.
At supper Melanie surprised them all by forcing herself out of her timidity and being almost vivacious. She laughed and joked and almost but not quite coquetted with a one~ eyed soldier who gladly repaid her efforts with extravagant gallantries. Scarlett knew the effort this involved both mentally and physically, for Melanie suffered torments of shyness in the presence of anything male. Moreover she` was far from well. She insisted she` was strong and did more work even than Dilcey but Scarlett knew she` was sick. When she` lifted things her face went white and she` had a way of sitting down suddenly after exertions, as if her legs would no longer support her. But tonight she`, like Suellen and Carreen, was doing everything possible to make the soldiers enjoy their Christmas Eve. Scarlett alone took no pleasure in the guests.
The troop had added their ration of parched corn and side meat to the supper of dried peas, stewed dried apples and peanuts which Mammy set before them and they declared it was the best meal they had had in months. Scarlett watched them eat and she` was uneasy. She not only begrudged them every mouthful they ate but she` was on tenterhooks lest they discover somehow that Pork had slaughtered one of the shoats the day before. It now hung in the pantry and she` had grimly promised her household that she` would scratch out the eyes of anyone who mentioned the shoat to their guests or the presence of the dead pig's sisters and brothers, safe in their pen in the swamp. These hungry men could devour the whole shoat at one meal and, if they knew of the live hogs, they could commandeer them for the army. She was alarmed, too, for the cow and the horse and wishe`d they were hidden in the swamp, instead of tied in the woods at the bottom of the pasture. If the commissary took her stock, Tara could not possibly live through the winter. There would be no way of replacing them. As to what the army would eat, she` did not care. Let the army feed the army~ if it could. It was hard enough for her to feed her own.
The men added as dessert some "ramrod rolls" from their knapsacks, and this was the first time Scarlett had ever seen this Confederate article of diet about which there were almost as many jokes as about lice. They were charred spirals of what appeared to be wood. The men dared her to take a bite and, when she` did, she` discovered that beneath the smoke~ blackened surface was unsalted corn bread. The soldiers mixed their ration of corn meal with water, and salt too when they could get it, wrapped the thick paste about their ramrods and roasted the mess over camp fires. It was as hard as rock candy and as tasteless as sawdust and after one bite Scarlett hastily handed it back amid roars of laughter. She met Melanie's eyes and the same thought was plain in both faces. . . . "How can they go on fighting if they have only this stuff to eat?"
The meal was gay enough and even Gerald, presiding absently at the head of the table, managed to evoke from the back of his dim mind some of the manner of a host and an uncertain smile. The men talked, the women smiled and flattered~ but Scarlett turning suddenly to Frank Kennedy to ask him news of Miss Pittypat, caught an expression on his face which made her forget what she` intended to say.
His eyes had left Suellen's and were wandering about the room, to Gerald's childlike puzzled eyes, to the floor, bare of rugs, to the mantelpiece denuded of its ornaments, the sagging springs and torn upholstery into which Yankee bayonets had ripped, the cracked mirror above the sideboard, the unfaded squares on the wall where pictures had hung before the looters came, the scant table service, the decently mended but old dresses of the girls, the flour sack which had been made into a kilt for Wade.
Frank was remembering the Tara he had known before the war and on his face was a hurt look, a look of tired impotent anger. He loved Suellen, liked her sisters, respected Gerald and had a genuine fondness for the plantation. Since Sherman had swept through Georgia, Frank had seen many appalling sights as he rode about the state trying to collect supplies, but nothing had gone to his heart as Tara did now. He wanted to do something for the O'Haras, especially Suellen, and there was nothing he could do. He was unconsciously wagging his whiskered head in pity and clicking his tongue against his teeth when Scarlett caught his eye. He saw the flame of indignant pride in them and he dropped his gaze quickly to his plate in embarrassment.
The girls were hungry for news. There had been no mail service since Atlanta fell, now four months past, and they were in complete ignorance as to where the Yankees were, how the Confederate Army was faring, what had happened to Atlanta and to old friends. Frank, whose work took him all over the section, was as good as a newspaper, better even, for he was kin to or knew almost everyone from Macon north to Atlanta, and he could supply bits of interesting personal gossip which the papers always omitted. To cover his embarrassment at being caught by Scarlett, he plunged hastily into a recital of news. The Confederates, he told them, had retaken Atlanta after Sherman marched out, but it was a valueless prize as Sherman had burned it completely.
"But I thought Atlanta burned the night I left," cried Scarlett, bewildered. "I thought our boys burned it!"
"Oh, no, Miss Scarlett!" cried Frank, shocked. "We'd never burn one of our own towns with our own folks in it! What you saw burning was the warehouses and the supplies we didn't want the Yankees to capture and the foundries and the ammunition. But that was all. When Sherman took the town the houses and stores were standing there as pretty as you please. And he quartered his men in them."
"But what happened to the people? Did he~ did he kill them?"
"He killed some~ but not with bullets," said the one~ eyed soldier grimly. "Soon's he marched into Atlanta he told the mayor that all the people in town would have to move out, every living soul. And there were plenty of old folks that couldn't stand the trip and sick folks that ought not to have been moved and ladies who were~ well, ladies who hadn't ought to be moved either. And he moved them out in the biggest rainstorm you ever saw, hundreds and hundreds of them, and dumped them in the woods near Rough and Ready and sent word to General Hood to come and get them. And a plenty of the folks died of pneumonia and not being able to stand that sort of treatment."
"Oh, but why did he do that? They couldn't have done him any harm," cried Melanie.
"He said he wanted the town to rest his men and horses in," said Frank. "And he rested them there till the middle of November and then he lit out. And he set fire to the whole town when he left and burned everything."
"Oh, surely not everything!" cried the girls in dismay.
It was inconceivable that the bustling town they knew, so full of people, so crowded with soldiers, was gone. All the lovely homes beneath shady trees, all the big stores and the fine hotels~ surely they couldn't be gone! Melanie seemed ready to burst into tears, for she` had been born there and knew no other home. Scarlett's heart sank because she` had come to love the place second only to Tara.
"Well, almost everything," Frank amended hastily, disturbed by the expressions on their faces. He tried to look cheerful, for he did not believe in upsetting ladies. Upset ladies always upset him and made him feel helpless. He could not bring himself to tell them the worst. Let them find out from some one else.
He could not tell them what the army saw when it marched back into Atlanta, the acres and acres of chimneys standing blackly above ashe`s, piles of half~ burned rubbish and tumbled heaps of brick clogging the streets, old trees dying from fire, their charred limbs tumbling to the ground in the cold wind. He remembered how the sight had turned him sick, remembered the bitter curses of the Confederates when they saw the remains of the town. He hoped the ladies would never hear of the horrors of the looted cemetery, for they'd never get over that. Charlie Hamilton and Melanie's mother and father were buried there. The sight of that cemetery still gave Frank nightmares. Hoping to find jewelry buried with the dead, the Yankee soldiers had broken open vaults, dug up graves. They had robbed the bodies, stripped from the coffins gold and silver name plates, silver trimmings and silver handles. The skeletons and corpses, flung helterskelter among their splintered caskets, lay exposed and so pitiful.
And Frank couldn't tell them about the dogs and the cats. Ladies set such a store by pets. But the thousands of starving animals, left homeless when their masters had been so rudely evacuated, had shocked him almost as much as the cemetery, for Frank loved cats and dogs. The animals had been frightened, cold, ravenous, wild as forest creatures, the strong attacking the weak, the weak waiting for the weaker to die so they could eat them. And, above the ruined town, the buzzards splotched the wintry sky with graceful, sinister bodies.
Frank cast about in his mind for some mitigating information that would make the ladies feel better.
"There's some houses still standing," he said, "houses that set on big lots away from other houses and didn't catch fire. And the churches and the Masonic hall are left. And a few stores too. But the business section and all along the railroad tracks and at Five Points~ well, ladies, that part of town is flat on the ground."
"Then," cried Scarlett bitterly, "that warehouse Charlie left me, down on the tracks, it's gone too?"
"If it was near the tracks, it's gone, but~ " Suddenly he smiled. Why hadn't he thought of it before? "Cheer up, ladies! Your Aunt Pitty's house is still standing. It's kind of damaged but there it is."
"Oh, how did it escape?"
"Well, it's made of brick and it's got about the only slate roof in Atlanta and that kept the sparks from setting it afire, I guess. And then it's about the last house on the north end of town and the fire wasn't so bad over that way. Of course, the Yankees quartered there tore it up aplenty. They even burned the baseboard and the mahogany stair rail for firewood, but shucks! It's in good shape. When I saw Miss Pitty last week in Macon~ "
"You saw her? How is she`?"
"Just fine. Just fine. When I told her her house was still standing, she` made up her mind to come home right away. That is~ if that old darky, Peter, will let her come. Lots of the Atlanta people have already come back, because they got nervous about Macon. Sherman didn't take Macon but everybody is afraid Wilson's raiders will get there soon and he's worse than Sherman."
"But how silly of them to come back if there aren't any houses! Where do they live?"
"Miss Scarlett, they're living in tents and shacks and log cabins and doubling up six and seven families in the few houses still standing. And they're trying to rebuild. Now, Miss Scarlett, don't say they are silly. You know Atlanta folks as well as I do. They are plumb set on that town, most as bad as Charlestonians are about Charleston, and it'll take more than Yankees and a burning to keep them away. Atlanta folks are~ begging your pardon, Miss Melly~ as stubborn as mules about Atlanta. I don't know why, for I always thought that town a mighty pushy, impudent sort of place. But then, I'm a countryman born and I don't like any town. And let me tell you, the ones who are getting back first are the smart ones. The ones who come back last won't find a stick or stone or brick of their houses, because everybody's out salvaging things all over town to rebuild their houses. Just day before yesterday, I saw Mrs. Merriwether and Miss Maybelle and their old darky woman out collecting brick in a wheelbarrow. And Mrs. Meade told me she` was thinking about building a log cabin when the doctor comes back to help her. She said she` lived in a log cabin when she` first came to Atlanta, when it was Marthasville, and it wouldn't bother her none to do it again. 'Course, she` was only joking but that shows you how they feel about it."
"I think they've got a lot of spirit," said Melanie proudly. "Don't you, Scarlett?"
Scarlett nodded, a grim pleasure and pride in her adopted town filling her. As Frank said, it was a pushy, impudent place and that was why she` liked it. It wasn't hide~ bound and stick~ in~ the~ muddish like the older towns and it had a brash exuberance that matched her own. "I'm like Atlanta," she` thought. "It takes more than Yankees or a burning to keep me down."
"If Aunt Pitty is going back to Atlanta, we'd better go back and stay with her, Scarlett," said Melanie, interrupting her train of thought. "She'll die of fright alone."
"Now, how can I leave here, Melly?" Scarlett asked crossly. "If you are so anxious to go, go. I won't stop you."
"Oh, I didn't mean it that way, darling," cried Melanie, flushing with distress. "How thoughtless of me! Of course, you can't leave Tara and~ and I guess Uncle Peter and Cookie can take care of Auntie."
"There's nothing to keep you from going," Scarlett pointed out, shortly.
"You know I wouldn't leave you," answered Melanie. "And I~ I would be just frightened to death without you."
"Suit yourself. Besides, you wouldn't catch me going back to Atlanta. Just as soon as they get a few houses up, Sherman will come back and burn it again."
"He won't be back," said Frank and, despite his efforts, his face drooped. "He's gone on through the state to the coast. Savannah was captured this week and they say the Yankees are going on up into South Carolina."
"Yes. Why, ladies, Savannah couldn't help but fall. They didn't have enough men to hold it, though they used every man they could get~ every man who could drag one foot after another. Do you know that when the Yankees were marching on Milledgeville, they called out all the cadets from the military academies, no matter how young they were, and even opened the state penitentiary to get fresh troops? Yes, sir, they turned loose every convict who was willing to fight and promised him a pardon if he lived through the war. It kind of gave me the creeps to see those little cadets in the ranks with thieves and cutthroats."
"They turned loose the convicts on us!"
"Now, Miss Scarlett, don't you get upset. They're a long way off from here, and furthermore they're making good soldiers. I guess being a thief don't keep a man from being a good soldier, does it?"
"I think it's wonderful," said Melanie softly.
"Well, I don't," said Scarlett flatly. "There's thieves enough running around the country anyway, what with the Yankees and~ " She caught herself in time but the men laughed.
"What with Yankees and our commissary department," they finishe`d and she` flushe`d.
"But where's General Hood's army?" interposed Melanie hastily. "Surely he could have held Savannah."
"Why, Miss Melanie," Frank was startled and reproachful, "General Hood hasn't been down in that section at all. He's been fighting up in Tennessee, trying to draw the Yankees out of Georgia."
"And didn't his little scheme work well!" cried Scarlett sarcastically. "He left the damn Yankees to go through us with nothing but schoolboys and convicts and Home Guards to protect us."
"Daughter," said Gerald rousing himself, "you are profane. Your mother will be grieved."
"They are damn Yankees!" cried Scarlett passionately. "And I never expect to call them anything else."
At the mention of Ellen everyone felt queer and conversation suddenly ceased. Melanie again interposed.
"When you were in Macon did you see India and Honey Wilkes? Did they~ had they heard anything of Ashley?"
"Now, Miss Melly, you know if I'd had news of Ashley, I'd have ridden up here from Macon right away to tell you," said Frank reproachfully. "No, they didn't have any news but~ now, don't you fret about Ashley, Miss Melly. I know it's been a long time since you heard from him, but you can't expect to hear from a fellow when he's in prison, can you? And things aren't as bad in Yankee prisons as they are in ours. After all, the Yankees have plenty to eat and enough medicines and blankets. They aren't like we are~ not having enough to feed ourselves, much less our prisoners."
"Oh, the Yankees have got plenty," cried Melanie, passionately bitter. "But they don't give things to the prisoners. You know they don't, Mr. Kennedy. You are just saying that to make me feel better. You know that our boys freeze to death up there and starve too and die without doctors and medicine, simply because the Yankees hate us so much! Oh, if we could just wipe every Yankee off the face of the earth! Oh, I know that Ashley is~ "
"Don't say it!" cried Scarlett, her heart in her throat. As long as no one said Ashley was dead, there persisted in her heart a faint hope that he lived, but she` felt that if she` heard the words pronounced, in that moment he would die.
"Now, Mrs. Wilkes, don't you bother about your husband," said the one~ eyed man soothingly. "I was captured after first Manassas and exchanged later and when I was in prison, they fed me off the fat of the land, fried chicken and hot biscuits~ "
"I think you are a liar," said Melanie with a faint smile and the first sign of spirit Scarlett had ever seen her display with a man. "What do you think?"
"I think so too," said the one~ eyed man and slapped his leg with a laugh.
"If you'll all come into the parlor, I'll sing you some Christmas carols," said Melanie, glad to change the subject. "The piano was one thing the Yankees couldn't carry away. Is it terribly out of tune, Suellen?"
"Dreadfully," answered Suellen, happily beckoning with a smile to Frank.
But as they all passed from the room, Frank hung back, tugging at Scarlett's sleeve.
"May I speak to you alone?"
For an awful moment she` feared he was going to ask about her livestock and she` braced herself for a good lie.
When the room was cleared and they stood by the fire, all the false cheerfulness which had colored Frank's face in front of the others passed and she` saw that he looked like an old man. His face was as dried and brown as the leaves that were blowing about the lawn of Tara and his ginger~ colored whiskers were thin and scraggly and streaked with gray. He clawed at them absently and cleared his throat in an annoying way before he spoke.
"I'm sorry about your ma, Miss Scarlett."
"Please don't talk about it."
"And your pa~ Has he been this way since~ ?"
"Yes~ he's~ he's not himself, as you can see."
"He sure set a store by her."
"Oh, Mr. Kennedy, please don't let's talk~ "
"I'm sorry, Miss Scarlett," and he shuffled his feet nervously. "The truth is I wanted to take up something with your pa and now I see it won't do any good."
"Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Kennedy. You see~ I'm the head of the house now."
"Well, I," began Frank and again clawed nervously at his beard. "The truth is~ Well, Miss Scarlett, I was aiming to ask him for Miss Suellen."
"Do you mean to tell me," cried Scarlett in amused amazement, "that you haven't yet asked Pa for Suellen? And you've been courting her for years!"
He flushe`d and grinned embarrassedly and in general looked like a shy and she`epish boy.
"Well, I~ I didn't know if she`'d have me. I'm so much older than she` is and~ there were so many good~ looking young bucks hanging around Tara~ "
"Hump!" thought Scarlett, "they were hanging around me, not her!"
"And I don't know yet if she`'ll have me. I've never asked her but she` must know how I feel. I~ I thought I'd ask Mr. O'Hara's permission and tell him the truth. Miss Scarlett, I haven't got a cent now. I used to have a lot of money, if you'll forgive me mentioning it, but right now all I own is my horse and the clothes I've got on. You see, when I enlisted I sold most of my land and I put all my money in Confederate bonds and you know what they're worth now. Less than the paper they're printed on. And anyway, I haven't got them now, because they burned up when the Yankees burned my sister's house. I know I've got gall asking for Miss Suellen now when I haven't a cent but~ well, it's this way. I got to thinking that we don't know how things are going to turn out about this war. It sure looks like the end of the world for me. There's nothing we can be sure of and~ and I thought it would be a heap of comfort to me and maybe to her if we were engaged. That would be something sure. I wouldn't ask to marry her till I could take care of her, Miss Scarlett, and I don't know when that will be. But if true love carries any weight with you, you can be certain Miss Suellen will be rich in that if nothing else."
He spoke the last words with a simple dignity that touched Scarlett, even in her amusement. It was beyond her comprehension that anyone could love Suellen. Her sister seemed to her a monster of selfishness, of complaints and of what she` could only describe as pure cussedness.
"Why, Mr. Kennedy," she` said kindly, "it's quite all right. I'm sure I can speak for Pa. He always set a store by you and he always expected Suellen to marry you."
"Did he now?" cried Frank, happiness in his face.
"Indeed yes," answered Scarlett, concealing a grin as she` remembered how frequently Gerald had rudely bellowed across the supper table to Suellen: "How now, Missy! Hasn't your ardent beau popped the question yet? Shall I be asking him his intentions?"
"I shall ask her tonight," he said, his face quivering, and he clutched her hand and shook it. "You're so kind, Miss Scarlett."
"I'll send her to you," smiled Scarlett, starting for the parlor. Melanie was beginning to play. The piano was sadly out of tune but some of the chords were musical and Melanie was raising her voice to lead the others in "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!"
Scarlett paused. It did not seem possible that war had swept over them twice, that they were living in a ravaged country, close to the border of starvation, when this old sweet Christmas hymn was being sung. Abruptly she` turned to Frank.
"What did you mean when you said it looked like the end of the world to you?"
"I'll talk frankly," he said slowly, "but I wouldn't want you to be alarming the other ladies with what I say. The war can't go on much longer. There aren't any fresh men to fill the ranks and the desertions are running high~ higher than the army likes to admit. You see, the men can't stand to be away from their families when they know they're starving, so they go home to try to provide for them. I can't blame them but it weakens the army. And the army can't fight without food and there isn't any food. I know because, you see, getting food is my business. I've been all up and down this section since we retook Atlanta and there isn't enough to feed a jaybird. It's the same way for three hundred miles south to Savannah. The folks are starving and the railroads are torn up and there aren't any new rifles and the ammunition is giving out and there's no leather at all for shoes. . . . So, you see, the end is almost here."
But the fading hopes of the Confederacy weighed less heavily on Scarlett than his remark about the scarcity of food. It had been her intention to send Pork out with the horse and wagon, the gold pieces and the United States money to scour the countryside for provisions and material for clothes. But if what Frank said was true~
But Macon hadn't fallen. There must be food in Macon. Just as soon as the commissary department was safely on its way, she`'d start Pork for Macon and take the chance of having the precious horse picked up by the army. She'd have to risk it.
"Well, let's don't talk about unpleasant things tonight, Mr. Kennedy," she` said. "You go and sit in Mother's little office and I'll send Suellen to you so you can~ well, so you'll have a little privacy."
Blushing, smiling, Frank slipped out of the room and Scarlett watched him go.
"What a pity he can't marry her now," she` thought. "That would be one less mouth to feed."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The following April General Johnston, who had been given back the shattered remnants of his old command, surrendered them in North Carolina and the war was over. But not until two weeks later did the news reach Tara. There was too much to do at Tara for anyone to waste time traveling abroad and hearing gossip and, as the neighbors were just as busy as they, there was little visiting and news spread slowly.
Spring plowing was at its height and the cotton and garden seed Pork had brought from Macon was being put into the ground. Pork had been almost worthless since the trip, so proud was he of returning safely with his wagon~ load of dress goods, seed, fowls, hams, side meat and meal. Over and over, he told the story of his many narrow escapes, of the bypaths and country lanes he had taken on his return to Tara, the unfrequented roads, the old trails, the bridle paths. He had been five weeks on the road, agonizing weeks for Scarlett. But she` did not upbraid him on his return, for she` was happy that he had made the trip successfully and pleased that he brought back so much of the money she` had given him. She had a shrewd suspicion that the reason he had so much money left over was that he had not bought the fowls or most of the food. Pork would have taken shame to himself had he spent her money when there were unguarded hen coops along the road and smokehouses handy.
Now that they had a little food, everyone at Tara was busy trying to restore some semblance of naturalness to life. There was work for every pair of hands, too much work, never~ ending work. The withered stalks of last year's cotton had to be removed to make way for this year's seeds and the balky horse, unaccustomed to the plow, dragged unwillingly through the fields. Weeds had to be pulled from the garden and the seeds planted, firewood had to be cut, a beginning had to be made toward replacing the pens and the miles and miles of fences so casually burned by the Yankees. The snares Pork set for rabbits had to be visited twice a day and the fishlines in the river rebaited. There were beds to be made and floors to be swept, food to be cooked and dishe`s washe`d, hogs and chickens to be fed and eggs gathered. The cow had to be milked and pastured near the swamp and someone had to watch her all day for fear the Yankees or Frank Kennedy's men would return and take her. Even little Wade had his duties. Every morning he went out importantly with a basket to pick up twigs and chips to start the fires with.
It was the Fontaine boys, the first of the County men home from the war, who brought the news of the surrender. Alex, who still had boots, was walking and Tony, barefooted, was riding on the bare back of a mule. Tony always managed to get the best of things in that family. They were swarthier than ever from four years' exposure to sun and storm, thinner, more wiry, and the wild black beards they brought back from the war made them seem like strangers.
On their way to Mimosa and eager for home, they only stopped a moment at Tara to kiss the girls and give them news of the surrender. It was all over, they said, all finishe`d, and they did not seem to care much or want to talk about it. All they wanted to know was whether Mimosa had been burned. On the way south from Atlanta, they had passed chimney after chimney where the homes of friends had stood and it seemed almost too much to hope that their own house had been spared. They sighed with relief at the welcome news and laughed, slapping their thighs when Scarlett told them of Sally's wild ride and how neatly she` had cleared their hedge.
"She's a spunky girl," said Tony, "and it's rotten luck for her, Joe getting killed. You all got any chewing tobacco, Scarlett?"
"Nothing but rabbit tobacco. Pa smokes it in a corn cob."
"I haven't fallen that low yet," said Tony, "but I'll probably come to it."
"Is Dimity Munroe all right?" asked Alex, eagerly but a little embarrassed, and Scarlett recalled vaguely that he had been sweet on Sally's younger sister.
"Oh, yes. She's living with her aunt over in Fayetteville now. You know their house in Lovejoy was burned. And the rest of her folks are in Macon."
"What he means is~ has Dimity married some brave colonel in the Home Guard?" jeered Tony, and Alex turned furious eyes upon him.
"Of course, she` isn't married," said Scarlett, amused.
"Maybe it would be better if she` had," said Alex gloomily. "How the hell~ I beg your pardon, Scarlett. But how can a man ask a girl to marry him when his darkies are all freed and his stock gone and he hasn't got a cent in his pockets?"
"You know that wouldn't bother Dimity," said Scarlett. She could afford to be loyal to Dimity and say nice things about her, for Alex Fontaine had never been one of her own beaux.
"Hell's afire~ Well, I beg your pardon again. I'll have to quit swearing or Grandma will sure tan my hide. I'm not asking any girl to marry a pauper. It mightn't bother her but it would bother me."
While Scarlett talked to the boys on the front porch, Melanie, Suellen and Carreen slipped silently into the house as soon as they heard the news of the surrender. After the boys had gone, cutting across the back fields of Tara toward home, Scarlett went inside and heard the girls sobbing together on the sofa in Ellen's little office. It was all over, the bright beautiful dream they had loved and hoped for, the Cause which had taken their friends, lovers, husbands and beggared their families. The Cause they had thought could never fall had fallen forever.
But for Scarlett, there were no tears. In the first moment when she` heard the news she` thought: Thank God! Now the cow won't be stolen. Now the horse is safe. Now we can take the silver out of the well and everybody can have a knife and fork. Now I won't be afraid to drive round the country looking for something to eat.
What a relief! Never again would she` start in fear at the sound of hooves. Never again would she` wake in the dark nights, holding her breath to listen, wondering if it were reality or only a dream that she` heard in the yard the rattle of bits, the stamping of hooves and the harsh crying of orders by the Yankees. And, best of all, Tara was safe! Now her worst nightmare would never come true. Now she` would never have to stand on the lawn and see smoke billowing from the beloved house and hear the roar of flames as the roof fell in.
Yes, the Cause was dead but war had always seemed foolish to her and peace was better. She had never stood starry eyed when the Stars and Bars ran up a pole or felt cold chills when "Dixie" sounded. She had not been sustained through privations, the sickening duties of nursing, the fears of the siege and the hunger of the last few months by the fanatic glow which made all these things endurable to others, if only the Cause prospered. It was all over and done with and she` was not going to cry about it.
All over! The war which had seemed so endless, the war which, unbidden and unwanted, had cut her life in two, had made so clean a cleavage that it was difficult to remember those other care~ free days. She could look back, unmoved, at the pretty Scarlett with her fragile green morocco slippers and her flounces fragrant with lavender but she` wondered if she` could be that same girl. Scarlett O'Hara, with the County at her feet, a hundred slaves to do her bidding, the wealth of Tara like a wall behind her and doting parents anxious to grant any desire of her heart. Spoiled, careless Scarlett who had never known an ungratified wish except where Ashley was concerned.
Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers had slipped away and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she` stood.
As she` stood in the hall, listening to the girls sobbing, her mind was busy.
"We'll plant more cotton, lots more. I'll send Pork to Macon tomorrow to buy more seed. Now the Yankees won't burn it and our troops won't need it. Good Lord! Cotton ought to go sky high this fall!"
She went into the little office and, disregarding the weeping girls on the sofa, seated herself at the secretary and picked up a quill to balance the cost of more cotton seed against her remaining cash.
"The war is over," she` thought and suddenly she` dropped the quill as a wild happiness flooded her. The war was over and Ashley~ if Ashley was alive he'd be coming home! She wondered if Melanie, in the midst of mourning for the lost Cause, had thought of this.
"Soon we'll get a letter~ no, not a letter. We can't get letters. But soon~ oh, somehow he'll let us know!"
But the days passed into weeks and there was no news from Ashley. The mail service in the South was uncertain and in the rural districts there was none at all. Occasionally a passing traveler from Atlanta brought a note from Aunt Pitty tearfully begging the girls to come back. But never news of Ashley.
After the surrender, an ever~ present feud over the horse smoldered between Scarlett and Suellen. Now that there was no danger of Yankees, Suellen wanted to go calling on the neighbors. Lonely and missing the happy sociability of the old days, Suellen longed to visit friends, if for no other reason than to assure herself that the rest of the County was as bad off as Tara. But Scarlett was adamant. The horse was for work, to drag logs from the woods, to plow and for Pork to ride in search of food. On Sundays he had earned the right to graze in the pasture and rest. If Suellen wanted to go visiting she` could go afoot.
Before the last year Suellen had never walked a hundred yards in her life and this prospect was anything but pleasing. So she` stayed at home and nagged and cried and said, once too often: "Oh, if only Mother was here!" At that, Scarlett gave her the long~ promised slap, hitting her so hard it knocked her screaming to the bed and caused great consternation throughout the house. Thereafter, Suellen whined the less, at least in Scarlett's presence.
Scarlett spoke truthfully when she` said she` wanted the horse to rest but that was only half of the truth. The other half was that she` had paid one round of calls on the County in the first month after the surrender and the sight of old friends and old plantations had shaken her courage more than she` liked to admit.
The Fontaines had fared best of any, thanks to Sally's hard ride, but it was flourishing only by comparison with the desperate situation of the other neighbors. Grandma Fontaine had never completely recovered from the heart attack she` had the day she` led the others in beating out the flames and saving the house. Old Dr. Fontaine was convalescing slowly from an amputated arm. Alex and Tony were turning awkward hands to plows and hoe handles. They leaned over the fence rail to shake hands with Scarlett when she` called and they laughed at her rickety wagon, their black eyes bitter, for they were laughing at themselves as well as her. She asked to buy seed corn from them and they promised it and fell to discussing farm problems. They had twelve chickens, two cows, five hogs and the mule they brought home from the war. One of the hogs had just died and they were worried about losing the others. At hearing such serious words about hogs from these ex~ dandies who had never given life a more serious thought than which cravat was most fashionable, Scarlett laughed and this time her laugh was bitter too.
They had all made her welcome at Mimosa and had insisted on giving, not selling, her the seed corn. The quick Fontaine tempers flared when she` put a greenback on the table and they flatly refused payment. Scarlett took the corn and privately slipped a dollar bill into Sally's hand. Sally looked like a different person from the girl who had greeted her eight months before when Scarlett first came home to Tara. Then she` had been pale and sad but there had been a buoyancy about her. Now that buoyancy had gone, as if the surrender had taken all hope from her.
"Scarlett," she` whispered as she` clutched the bill, "what was the good of it all? Why did we ever fight? Oh, my poor Joe! Oh, my poor baby!"
"I don't know why we fought and I don't care," said Scarlett. "And I'm not interested. I never was interested. War is a man's business, not a woman's. All I'm interested in now is a good cotton crop. Now take this dollar and buy little Joe a dress. God knows, he needs it. I'm not going to rob you of your corn, for all Alex and Tony's politeness."
The boys followed her to the wagon and assisted her in, courtly for all their rags, gay with the volatile Fontaine gaiety, but with the picture of their destitution in her eyes, she` shivered as she` drove away from Mimosa. She was so tired of poverty and pinching. What a pleasure it would be to know people who were rich and not worried as to where the next meal was coming from!
Cade Calvert was at home at Pine Bloom and, as Scarlett came up the steps of the old house in which she` had danced so often in happier days, she` saw that death was in his face. He was emaciated and he coughed as he lay in an easy chair in the sunshine with a shawl across his knees, but his face lit up when he saw her. Just a little cold which had settled in his chest, he said, trying to rise to greet her. Got it from sleeping so much in the rain. But it would be gone soon and then he'd lend a hand in the work.
Cathleen Calvert, who came out of the house at the sound of voices, met Scarlett's eyes above her brother's head and in them Scarlett read knowledge and bitter despair. Cade might not know but Cathleen knew. Pine Bloom looked straggly and overgrown with weeds, seedling pines were beginning to show in the fields and the house was sagging and untidy. Cathleen was thin and taut.
The two of them, with their Yankee stepmother, their four little half~ sisters, and Hilton, the Yankee overseer, remained in the silent, oddly echoing house. Scarlett had never liked Hilton any more than she` liked their own overseer Jonas Wilkerson, and she` liked him even less now, as he sauntered forward and greeted her like an equal. Formerly he had the same combination of servility and impertinence which Wilkerson possessed but now, with Mr. Calvert and Raiford dead in the war and Cade sick, he had dropped all servility. The second Mrs. Calvert had never known how to compel respect from negro servants and it was not to be expected that she` could get it from a white man.
"Mr. Hilton has been so kind about staying with us through these difficult times," said Mrs. Calvert nervously, casting quick glances at her silent stepdaughter. "Very kind. I suppose you heard how he saved our house twice when Sherman was here. I'm sure I don't know how we would have managed without him, with no money and Cade~ "
A flush went over Cade's white face and Cathleen's long lashe`s veiled her eyes as her mouth hardened. Scarlett knew their souls were writhing in helpless rage at being under obligations to their Yankee overseer. Mrs. Calvert seemed ready to weep. She had somehow made a blunder. She was always blundering. She just couldn't understand Southerners, for all that she` had lived in Georgia twenty years. She never knew what not to say to her stepchildren and, no matter what she` said or did, they were always so exquisitely polite to her. Silently she` vowed she` would go North to her own people, taking her children with her, and leave these puzzling stiff~ necked strangers.
After these visits, Scarlett had no desire to see the Tarletons. Now that the four boys were gone, the house burned and the family cramped in the overseer's cottage, she` could not bring herself to go. But Suellen and Carreen begged and Melanie said it would be unneighborly not to call and welcome Mr. Tarleton back from the war, so one Sunday they went.
This was the worst of all.
As they drove up by the ruins of the house, they saw Beatrice Tarleton dressed in a worn riding habit, a crop under her arm, sitting on the top rail of the fence about the paddock, staring moodily at nothing. Beside her perched the bow~ legged little negro who had trained her horses and he looked as glum as his mistress. The paddock, once full of frolicking colts and placid brood mares, was empty now except for one mule, the mule Mr. Tarleton had ridden home from the surrender.
"I swear I don't know what to do with myself now that my darlings are gone," said Mrs. Tarleton, climbing down from the fence. A stranger might have thought she` spoke of her four dead sons, but the girls from Tara knew her horses were in her mind. "All my beautiful horses dead. And oh, my poor Nellie! If I just had Nellie! And nothing but a damned mule on the place. A damned mule," she` repeated, looking indignantly at the scrawny beast. "It's an insult to the memory of my blooded darlings to have a mule in their paddock. Mules are misbegotten, unnatural critters and it ought to be illegal to breed them."
Jim Tarleton, completely disguised by a bushy beard, came out of the overseer's house to welcome and kiss the girls and his four red~ haired daughters in mended dresses streamed out behind him, tripping over the dozen black and tan hounds which ran barking to the door at the sound of strange voices. There was an air of studied and determined cheerfulness about the whole family which brought a colder chill to Scarlett's bones than the bitterness of Mimosa or the deathly brooding of Pine Bloom.
The Tarletons insisted that the girls stay for dinner, saying they had so few guests these days and wanted to hear all the news. Scarlett did not want to linger, for the atmosphere oppressed her, but Melanie and her two sisters were anxious for a longer visit, so the four stayed for dinner and ate sparingly of the side meat and dried peas which were served them.
There was laughter about the skimpy fare and the Tarleton girls giggled as they told of makeshifts for clothes, as if they were telling the most amusing of jokes. Melanie met them halfway, surprising Scarlett with her unexpected vivacity as she` told of trials at Tara, making light of hardships. Scarlett could hardly speak at all. The room seemed so empty without the four great Tarleton boys, lounging and smoking and teasing. And if it seemed empty to her, what must it seem to the Tarletons who were offering a smiling front to their neighbors?
Carreen had said little during the meal but when it was over she` slipped over to Mrs. Tarleton's side and whispered something. Mrs. Tarleton's face changed and the brittle smile left her lips as she` put her arm around Carreen's slender waist. They left the room, and Scarlett, who felt she` could not endure the house another minute, followed them. They went down the path through the garden and Scarlett saw they were going toward the burying ground. Well, she` couldn't go back to the house now. It would seem too rude. But what on earth did Carreen mean dragging Mrs. Tarleton out to the boys' graves when Beatrice was trying so hard to be brave?
There were two new marble markers in the brick~ inclosed lot under the funereal cedars~ so new that no rain had splashe`d them with red dust.
"We got them last week," said Mrs. Tarleton proudly. "Mr. Tarleton went to Macon and brought them home in the wagon."
Tombstones! And what they must have cost! Suddenly Scarlett did not feel as sorry for the Tarletons as she` had at first. Anybody who would waste precious money on tombstones when food was so dear, so almost unattainable, didn't deserve sympathy. And there were several lines carved on each of the stones. The more carving, the more money. The whole family must be crazy! And it had cost money, too, to bring the three boys' bodies home. They had never found Boyd or any trace of him.
Between the graves of Brent and Stuart was a stone which read: "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided."
On the other stone were the names of Boyd and Tom with something in Latin which began "Dulce et~ " but it meant nothing to Scarlett who had managed to evade Latin at the Fayetteville Academy.
All that money for tombstones! Why, they were fools! She felt as indignant as if her own money had been squandered.
Carreen's eyes were shining oddly.
"I think it's lovely," she` whispered pointing to the first stone.
Carreen would think it lovely. Anything sentimental stirred her.
"Yes," said Mrs. Tarleton and her voice was soft, "we thought it very fitting~ they died almost at the same time. Stuart first and then Brent who caught up the flag he dropped."
As the girls drove back to Tara, Scarlett was silent for a while, thinking of what she` had seen in the various homes, remembering against her will the County in its glory, with visitors at all the big houses and money plentiful, negroes crowding the quarters and the well~ tended fields glorious with cotton.
"In another year, there'll be little pines all over these fields," she` thought and looking toward the encircling forest she` shuddered. "Without the darkies, it will be all we can do to keep body and soul together. Nobody can run a big plantation without the darkies, and lots of the fields won't be cultivated at all and the woods will take over the fields again. Nobody can plant much cotton, and what will we do then? What'll become of country folks? Town folks can manage somehow. They've always managed. But we country folks will go back a hundred years like the pioneers who had little cabins and just scratched a few acres~ and barely existed.
"No~ " she` thought grimly, "Tara isn't going to be like that. Not even if I have to plow myself. This whole section, this whole state can go back to woods if it wants to, but I won't let Tara go. And I don't intend to waste my money on tombstones or my time crying about the war. We can make out somehow. I know we could make out somehow if the men weren't all dead. Losing the darkies isn't the worst part about this. It's the loss of the men, the young men." She thought again of the four Tarletons and Joe Fontaine, of Raiford Calvert and the Munroe brothers and all the boys from Fayetteville and Jonesboro whose names she` had read on the casualty lists. "If there were just enough men left, we could manage somehow but~ "
Another thought struck her~ suppose she` wanted to marry again. Of course, she` didn't want to marry again. Once was certainly enough. Besides, the only man she`'d ever wanted was Ashley and he was married if he was still living. But suppose she` would want to marry. Who would there be to marry her? The thought was appalling.
"Melly," she` said, "what's going to happen to Southern girls?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. What's going to happen to them? There's no one to marry them. Why, Melly, with all the boys dead, there'll be thousands of girls all over the South who'll die old maids."
"And never have any children," added Melanie, to whom this was the most important thing.
Evidently the thought was not new to Suellen who sat in the back of the wagon, for she` suddenly began to cry. She had not heard from Frank Kennedy since Christmas. She did not know if the lack of mail service was the cause, or if he had merely trifled with her affections and then forgotten her. Or maybe he had been killed in the last days of the war! The latter would have been infinitely preferable to his forgetting her, for at least there was some dignity about a dead love, such as Carreen and India Wilkes had, but none about a deserted fiancee.
"Oh, in the name of God, hush!" said Scarlett.
"Oh, you can talk," sobbed Suellen, "because you've been married and had a baby and everybody knows some man wanted you. But look at me! And you've got to be mean and throw it up to me that I'm an old maid when I can't help myself. I think you're hateful."
"Oh, hush! You know how I hate people who bawl all the time. You know perfectly well old Ginger Whiskers isn't dead and that he'll come back and marry you. He hasn't any better sense. But personally, I'd rather be an old maid than marry him."
There was silence from the back of the wagon for a while and Carreen comforted her sister with absent~ minded pats, for her mind was a long way off, riding paths three years old with Brent Tarleton beside her. There was a glow, an exaltation in her eyes.
"Ah," said Melanie, sadly, "what will the South be like without all our fine boys? What would the South have been if they had lived? We could use their courage and their energy and their brains. Scarlett, all of us with little boys must raise them to take the places of the men who are gone, to be brave men like them."
"There will never again be men like them," said Carreen softly. "No one can take their places."
They drove home the rest of the way in silence,
One day not long after this, Cathleen Calvert rode up to Tara at sunset. Her sidesaddle was strapped on as sorry a mule as Scarlett had ever seen, a flop~ eared lame brute, and Cathleen was almost as sorry looking as the animal she` rode. Her dress was of faded gingham of the type once worn only by house servants, and her sunbonnet was secured under her chin by a piece of twine. She rode up to the front porch but did not dismount, and Scarlett and Melanie, who had been watching the sunset, went down the steps to meet her. Cathleen was as white as Cade had been the day Scarlett called, white and hard and brittle, as if her face would shatter if she` spoke. But her back was erect and her head was high as she` nodded to them.
Scarlett suddenly remembered the day of the Wilkes barbecue when she` and Cathleen had whispered together about Rhett Butler. How pretty and fresh Cathleen had been that day in a swirl of blue organdie with fragrant roses at her sash and little black velvet slippers laced about her small ankles. And now there was not a trace of that girl in the stiff figure sitting on the mule.
"I won't get down, thank you," she` said. "I just came to tell you that I'm going to be married."
"Cathy, how grand!"
"Tomorrow," said Cathleen quietly and there was something in her voice which took the eager smiles from their faces. "I came to tell you that I'm going to be married tomorrow, in Jonesboro~ and I'm not inviting you all to come."
They digested this in silence, looking up at her, puzzled. Then Melanie spoke.
"Is it someone we know, dear?"
"Yes," said Cathleen, shortly. "It's Mr. Hilton."
"Yes, Mr. Hilton, our overseer."
Scarlett could not even find voice to say "Oh!" but Cathleen, peering down suddenly at Melanie, said in a low savage voice: "If you cry, Melly, I can't stand it. I shall die!"
Melanie said nothing but patted the foot in its awkward home~ made shoe which hung from the stirrup. Her head was low.
"And don't pat me! I can't stand that either."
Melanie dropped her hand but still did not look up.
"Well, I must go. I only came to tell you." The white brittle mask was back again and she` picked up the reins.
"How is Cade?" asked Scarlett, utterly at a loss but fumbling for some words to break the awkward silence.
"He is dying," said Cathleen shortly. There seemed to be no feeling in her voice. "And he is going to die in some comfort and peace if I can manage it, without worry about who will take care of me when he's gone. You see, my stepmother and the children are going North for good, tomorrow. Well, I must be going."
Melanie looked up and met Cathleen's hard eyes. There were bright tears on Melanie's lashe`s and understanding in her eyes, and before them, Cathleen's lips curved into the crooked smile of a brave child who tries not to cry. It was all very bewildering to Scarlett who was still trying to grasp the idea that Cathleen Calvert was going to marry an overseer~ Cathleen, daughter of a rich planter, Cathleen who, next to Scarlett, had had more beaux than any girl in the County.
Cathleen bent down and Melanie tiptoed. They kissed. Then Cathleen flapped the bridle reins sharply and the old mule moved off.
Melanie looked after her, the tears streaming down her face. Scarlett stared, still dazed.
"Melly, is she` crazy? You know she` can't be in love with him."
"In love? Oh, Scarlett, don't even suggest such a horrid thing! Oh, poor Cathleen! Poor Cade!"
"Fiddle~ dee~ dee!" cried Scarlett, beginning to be irritated. It was annoying that Melanie always seemed to grasp more of situations than she` herself did. Cathleen's plight seemed to her more startling than catastrophic. Of course it was no pleasant thought, marrying Yankee white trash, but after all a girl couldn't live alone on a plantation; she` had to have a husband to help her run it.
"Melly, it's like I said the other day. There isn't anybody for girls to marry and they've got to marry someone."
"Oh, they don't have to marry! There's nothing shameful in being a spinster. Look at Aunt Pitty. Oh, I'd rather see Cathleen dead! I know Cade would rather see her dead. It's the end of the Calverts. Just think what her~ what their children will be. Oh, Scarlett, have Pork saddle the horse quickly and you ride after her and tell her to come live with us!"
"Good Lord!" cried Scarlett, shocked at the matter~ of~ fact way in which Melanie was offering Tara. Scarlett certainly had no intention of feeding another mouth. She started to say this but something in Melanie's stricken face halted the words.
"She wouldn't come, Melly," she` amended. "You know she` wouldn't. She's so proud and she`'d think it was charity."
"That's true, that's true!" said Melanie distractedly, watching the small cloud of red dust disappear down the road.
"You've been with me for months," thought Scarlett grimly, looking at her sister~ in~ law, "and it's never occurred to you that it's charity you're living on. And I guess it never will. You're one of those people the war didn't change and you go right on thinking and acting just like nothing had happened~ like we were still rich as Croesus and had more food than we know what to do with and guests didn't matter. I guess I've got you on my neck for the rest of my life. But I won't have Cathleen too."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
In that warm summer after peace came, Tara suddenly lost its isolation. And for months thereafter a stream of scarecrows, bearded, ragged, footsore and always hungry, toiled up the red hill to Tara and came to rest on the shady front steps, wanting food and a night's lodging. They were Confederate soldiers walking home. The railroad had carried the remains of Johnston's army from North Carolina to Atlanta and dumped them there, and from Atlanta they began their pilgrimages afoot. When the wave of Johnston's men had passed, the weary veterans from the Army of Virginia arrived and then men from the Western troops, beating their way south toward homes which might not exist and families which might be scattered or dead. Most of them were walking, a few fortunate ones rode bony horses and mules which the terms of the surrender had permitted them to keep, gaunt animals which even an untrained eye could tell would never reach far~ away Florida and south Georgia.
Going home! Going home! That was the only thought in the soldiers' minds. Some were sad and silent, others gay and contemptuous of hardships, but the thought that it was all over and they were going home was the one thing that sustained them. Few of them were bitter. They left bitterness to their women and their old people. They had fought a good fight, had been licked and were willing to settle down peaceably to plowing beneath the flag they had fought.
Going home! Going home! They could talk of nothing else, neither battles nor wounds, nor imprisonment nor the future. Later, they would refight battles and tell children and grandchildren of pranks and forays and charges, of hunger, forced marches and wounds, but not now. Some of them lacked an arm or a leg or an eye, many had scars which would ache in rainy weather if they lived for seventy years but these seemed small matters now. Later it would be different.
Old and young, talkative and taciturn, rich planter and sallow Cracker, they all had two things in common, lice and dysentery. The Confederate soldier was so accustomed to his verminous state he did not give it a thought and scratched unconcernedly even in the presence of ladies. As for dysentery~ the "bloody flux" as the ladies delicately called it~ it seemed to have spared no one from private to general. Four years of half~ starvation, four years of rations which were coarse or green or half~ putrefied, had done its work with them and every soldier who stopped at Tara was either just recovering or was actively suffering from it.
"Dey ain' a soun' set of bowels in de whole Confedrut ahmy," observed Mammy darkly as she` sweated over the fire, brewing a bitter concoction of blackberry roots which had been Ellen's sovereign remedy for such afflictions. "It's mah notion dat 'twarn't de Yankees whut beat our gempmum. 'Twuz dey own innards. Kain no gempmum fight wid his bowels tuhnin' ter water."
One and all, Mammy dosed them, never waiting to ask foolish questions about the state of their organs and, one and all, they drank her doses meekly and with wry faces, remembering, perhaps, other stern black faces in far~ off places and other inexorable black hands holding medicine spoons.
In the matter of "comp'ny" Mammy was equally adamant. No lice~ ridden soldier should come into Tara. She marched them behind a clump of thick bushe`s, relieved them of their uniforms, gave them a basin of water and strong lye soap to wash with and provided them with quilts and blankets to cover their nakedness, while she` boiled their clothing in her huge wash pot. It was useless for the girls to argue hotly that such conduct humiliated the soldiers. Mammy replied that the girls would be a sight more humiliated if they found lice upon themselves.
When the soldiers began arriving almost daily, Mammy protested against their being allowed to use the bedrooms. Always she` feared lest some louse had escaped her. Rather than argue the matter, Scarlett turned the parlor with its deep velvet rug into a dormitory. Mammy cried out equally loudly at the sacrilege of soldiers being permitted to sleep on Miss Ellen's rug but Scarlett was firm. They had to sleep somewhere. And, in the months after the surrender, the deep soft nap began to show signs of wear and finally the heavy warp and woof showed through in spots where heels had worn it and spurs dug carelessly.
Of each soldier, they asked eagerly of Ashley. Suellen, bridling, always asked news of Mr. Kennedy. But none of the soldiers had ever heard of them nor were they inclined to talk about the missing. It was enough that they themselves were alive, and they did not care to think of the thousands in unmarked graves who would never come home.
The family tried to bolster Melanie's courage after each of these disappointments. Of course, Ashley hadn't died in prison. Some Yankee chaplain would have written if this were true. Of course, he was coming home but his prison was so far away. Why, goodness, it took days riding on a train to make the trip and if Ashley was walking, like these men . . . Why hadn't he written? Well, darling, you know what the mails are now~ so uncertain and slipshod even where mail routes are re~ establishe`d. But suppose~ suppose he had died on the way home. Now, Melanie, some Yankee woman would have surely written us about it! . . . Yankee women! Bah! . . . Melly, there ARE some nice Yankee women. Oh, yes, there are! God couldn't make a whole nation without having some nice women in it! Scarlett, you remember we did meet a nice Yankee woman at Saratoga that time~ Scarlett, tell Melly about her!
"Nice, my foot!" replied Scarlert. "She asked me how many bloodhounds we kept to chase our darkies with! I agree with Melly. I never saw a nice Yankee, male or female. But don't cry, Melly! Ashley'll come home. It's a long walk and maybe~ maybe he hasn't got any boots."
Then at the thought of Ashley barefooted, Scarlett could have cried. Let other soldiers limp by in rags with their feet tied up in sacks and strips of carpet, but not Ashley. He should come home on a prancing horse, dressed in fine clothes and shining boots, a plume in his hat. It was the final degradation for her to think of Ashley reduced to the state of these other soldiers.
One afternoon in June when everyone at Tara was assembled on the back porch eagerly watching Pork cut the first half~ ripe watermelon of the season, they heard hooves on the gravel of the front drive. Prissy started languidly toward the front door, while those left behind argued hotly as to whether they should hide the melon or keep it for supper, should the caller at the door prove to be a soldier.
Melly and Carreen whispered that the soldier guest should have a share and Scarlett, backed by Suellen and Mammy, hissed to Pork to hide it quickly.
"Don't be a goose, girls! There's not enough for us as it is and if there are two or three famishe`d soldiers out there, none of us will even get a taste," said Scarlett.
While Pork stood with the little melon clutched to him, uncertain as to the final decision, they heard Prissy cry out.
"Gawdlmighty! Miss Scarlett! Miss Melly! Come quick!"
"Who is it?" cried Scarlett, leaping up from the steps and racing through the hall with Melly at her shoulder and the others streaming after her.
Ashley! she` thought. Oh, perhaps~
"It's Uncle Peter! Miss Pittypat's Uncle Peter!"
They all ran out to the front porch and saw the tall grizzled old despot of Aunt Pitty's house climbing down from a rat~ tailed nag on which a section of quilting had been strapped. On his wide black face, accustomed dignity strove with delight at seeing old friends, with the result that his brow was furrowed in a frown but his mouth was hanging open like a happy toothless old hound's.
Everyone ran down the steps to greet him, black and white shaking his hand and asking questions, but Melly's voice rose above them all.
"Auntie isn't sick, is she`?"
"No'm. She's po'ly, thank God," answered Peter, fastening a severe look first on Melly and then on Scarlett, so that they suddenly felt guilty but could think of no reason why. "She's po'ly but she` is plum outdone wid you young Misses, an' ef it come right down to it, Ah is too!"
"Why! Uncle Peter! What on earth~ "
"Y'all nee'n try ter 'scuse you'seffs. Ain' Miss Pitty writ you an' writ you ter come home? Ain' Ah seed her write an' seed her a~ cryin' w'en y'all writ her back dat you got too much ter do on disyere ole farm ter come home?"
"But, Uncle Peter~ "
"Huccome you leave Miss Pitty by herseff lak dis w'en she` so scary lak? You know well's Ah do Miss Pitty ain' never live by herseff an' she` been shakin' in her lil shoes ever since she` come back frum Macom. She say fer me ter tell y'all plain as Ah knows how dat she` jes' kain unnerstan' y'all desertin' her in her hour of need."
"Now, hesh!" said Mammy tartly, for it sat ill upon her to hear Tara referred to as an "ole farm." Trust an ignorant city~ bred darky not to know the difference between a farm and a plantation. "Ain' us got no hours of need? Ain' us needin' Miss Scarlett an' Miss Melly right hyah an' needin' dem bad? Huccome Miss Pitty doan ast her brudder fer 'sistance, does she` need any?"
Uncle Peter gave her a withering look.
"Us ain' had nuthin' ter do wid Mist' Henry fer y'ars, an' us is too ole ter start now." He turned back to the girls, who were trying to suppress their smiles. "You young Misses ought ter tek shame, leavin' po' Miss Pitty 'lone, wid half her frens daid an' de other half in Macom, an' 'Lanta full of Yankee sojers an' trashy free issue niggers."
The two girls had borne the castigation with straight faces as long as they could, but the thought of Aunt Pitty sending Peter to scold them and bring them back bodily to Atlanta was too much for their control. They burst into laughter and hung on each other's shoulders for support. Naturally, Pork and Dilcey and Mammy gave vent to loud guffaws at hearing the detractor of their beloved Tara set at naught. Suellen and Carreen giggled and even Gerald's face wore a vague smile. Everyone laughed except Peter, who shifted from one large splayed foot to the other in mounting indignation.
"Whut's wrong wid you, nigger?" inquired Mammy with a grin. "Is you gittin' too ole ter perteck yo' own Missus?"
Peter was outraged.
"Too ole! Me too ole? No, Ma'm! Ah kin perteck Miss Pitty lak Ah allus done. Ain' Ah perteck her down ter Macom when us refugeed? Ain' Ah perteck her w'en de Yankees come ter Macom an' she` so sceered she` faintin' all de time? An' ain' Ah 'quire disyere nag ter bring her back ter 'Lanta an' perteck her an' her pa's silver all de way?" Peter drew himself to his full height as he vindicated himself. "Ah ain' talkin' about perteckin'. Ah's talkin' 'bout how it LOOK."
"How who look?"
"Ah'm talkin' 'bout how it look ter folks, seein' Miss Pitty livin' 'lone. Folks talks scan'lous 'bout maiden ladies dat lives by deyseff," continued Peter, and it was obvious to his listeners that Pittypat, in his mind, was still a plump and charming miss of sixteen who must be she`ltered against evil tongues. "An' Ah ain' figgerin' on havin' folks criticize her. No, ma'm . . . An' Ah ain' figgerin' on her takin' in no bo'ders, jes' fer comp'ny needer. Ah done tole her dat. 'Not w'ile you got yo' flesh an' blood dat belongs wid you,' Ah says. An' now her flesh an' blood denyin' her. Miss Pitty ain' nuthin' but a chile an'~ "
At this, Scarlett and Melly whooped louder and sank down to the steps. Finally Melly wiped tears of mirth from her eyes.
"Poor Uncle Peter! I'm sorry I laughed. Really and truly. There! Do forgive me. Miss Scarlett and I just can't come home now. Maybe I'll come in September after the cotton is picked. Did Auntie send you all the way down here just to bring us back on that bag of bones?"
At this question, Peter's jaw suddenly dropped and guilt and consternation swept over his wrinkled black face. His protruding underlip retreated to normal as swiftly as a turtle withdraws its head beneath its she`ll.
"Miss Melly. Ah is gittin' ole, Ah spec', 'cause Ah clean fergit fer de moment whut she` sent me fer, an' it's important too. Ah got a letter fer you. Miss Pitty wouldn' trust de mails or nobody but me ter bring it an'~ "
"A letter? For me? Who from?"
"Well'm, it's~ Miss Pitty, she` says ter me, 'You, Peter, you brek it gen'ly ter Miss Melly,' an' Ah say~ "
Melly rose from the steps, her hand at her heart.
"Ashley! Ashley! He's dead!"
"No'm! No'm!" cried Peter, his voice rising to a shrill bawl, as he fumbled in the breast pocket of his ragged coat. "He's 'live! Disyere a letter frum him. He comin' home. He~ Gawdlmighty! Ketch her, Mammy! Lemme~ "
"Doan you tech her, you ole fool!" thundered Mammy, struggling to keep Melanie's sagging body from falling to the ground. "You pious black ape! Brek it gen'ly! You, Poke, tek her feet. Miss Carreen, steady her haid. Lessus lay her on de sofa in de parlor."
There was a tumult of sound as everyone but Scarlett swarmed about the fainting Melanie, everyone crying out in alarm, scurrying into the house for water and pillows, and in a moment Scarlett and Uncle Peter were left standing alone on the walk. She stood rooted, unable to move from the position to which she` had leaped when she` heard his words, staring at the old man who stood feebly waving a letter. His old black face was as pitiful as a child's under its mother's disapproval, his dignity collapsed.
For a moment she` could not speak or move, and though her mind shouted: "He isn't dead! He's coming home!" the knowledge brought neither joy nor excitement, only a stunned immobility. Uncle Peter's voice came as from a far distance, plaintive, placating.
"Mist' Willie Burr frum Macom whut is kin ter us, he brung it ter Miss Pitty. Mist' Willie he in de same jail house wid Mist' Ashley. Mist' Willie he got a hawse an' he got hyah soon. But Mist' Ashley he a~ walkin' an'~ "
Scarlett snatched the letter from his hand. It was addressed to Melly in Miss Pitty's writing but that did not make her hesitate a moment. She ripped it open and Miss Pitty's inclosed note fell to the ground. Within the envelope there was a piece of folded paper, grimy from the dirty pocket in which it had been carried, creased and ragged about the edges. It bore the inscription in Ashley's hand: "Mrs. George Ashley Wilkes, Care Miss Sarah Jane Hamilton, Atlanta, or Twelve Oaks, Jonesboro, Ga."
With fingers that shook, she` opened it and read:
"Beloved, I am coming home to you~ "
Tears began to stream down her face so that she` could not read and her heart swelled up until she` felt she` could not bear the joy of it. Clutching the letter to her, she` raced up the porch steps and down the hall, past the parlor where all the inhabitants of Tara were getting in one another's way as they worked over the unconscious Melanie, and into Ellen's office. She shut the door and locked it and flung herself down on the sagging old sofa crying, laughing, kissing the letter.
"Beloved," she` whispered, "I am coming home to you."
Common sense told them that unless Ashley developed wings, it would be weeks or even months before he could travel from Illinois to Georgia, but hearts nevertheless beat wildly whenever a soldier turned into the avenue at Tara. Each bearded scarecrow might be Ashley. And if it were not Ashley, perhaps the soldier would have news of him or a letter from Aunt Pitty about him. Black and white, they rushe`d to the front porch every time they heard footsteps. The sight of a uniform was enough to bring everyone flying from the woodpile, the pasture and the cotton patch. For a month after the letter came, work was almost at a standstill. No one wanted to be out of the house when he arrived. Scarlett least of all. And she` could not insist on the others attending to their duties when she` so neglected hers.
But when the weeks crawled by and Ashley did not come or any news of him, Tara settled back into its old routine. Longing hearts could only stand so much of longing. An uneasy fear crept into Scarlett's mind that something had happened to him along the way. Rock Island was so far away and he might have been weak or sick when released from prison. And he had no money and was tramping through a country where Confederates were hated. If only she` knew where he was, she` would send money to him, send every penny she` had and let the family go hungry, so he could come home swiftly on the train.
"Beloved, I am coming home to you."
In the first rush of joy when her eyes met those words, they had meant only that Ashley was coming home to her. Now, in the light of cooler reason, it was Melanie to whom he was returning, Melanie who went about the house these days singing with joy. Occasionally, Scarlett wondered bitterly why Melanie could not have died in childbirth in Atlanta. That would have made things perfect. Then she` could have married Ashley after a decent interval and made little Beau a good stepmother too. When such thoughts came she` did not pray hastily to God, telling Him she` did not mean it. God did not frighten her any more.
Soldiers came singly and in pairs and dozens and they were always hungry. Scarlett thought despairingly that a plague of locusts would be more welcome. She cursed again the old custom of hospitality which had flowered in the era of plenty, the custom which would not permit any traveler, great or humble, to go on his journey without a night's lodging, food for himself and his horse and the utmost courtesy the house could give. She knew that era had passed forever, but the rest of the household did not, nor did the soldiers, and each soldier was welcomed as if he were a long~ awaited guest.
As the never~ ending line went by, her heart hardened. They were eating the food meant for the mouths of Tara, vegetables over whose long rows she` had wearied her back, food she` had driven endless miles to buy. Food was so hard to get and the money in the Yankee's wallet would not last forever. Only a few greenbacks and the two gold pieces were left now. Why should she` feed this horde of hungry men? The war was over. They would never again stand between her and danger. So, she` gave orders to Pork that when soldiers were in the house, the table should be set sparely. This order prevailed until she` noticed that Melanie, who had never been strong since Beau was born, was inducing Pork to put only dabs of food on her plate and giving her share to the soldiers.
"You'll have to stop it, Melanie," she` scolded. "You're half sick yourself and if you don't eat more, you'll be sick in bed and we'll have to nurse you. Let these men go hungry. They can stand it. They've stood it for four years and it won't hurt them to stand it a little while longer."
Melanie turned to her and on her face was the first expression of naked emotion Scarlett had ever seen in those serene eyes.
"Oh, Scarlett, don't scold me! Let me do it. You don't know how it helps me. Every time I give some poor man my share I think that maybe, somewhere on the road up north, some woman is giving my Ashley a share of her dinner and it's helping him to get home to me!"
"Beloved, I am coming home to you."
Scarlett turned away, wordless. After that, Melanie noticed there was more food on the table when guests were present, even though Scarlett might grudge them every mouthful.
When the soldiers were too ill to go on, and there were many such, Scarlett put them to bed with none too good grace. Each sick man meant another mouth to feed. Someone had to nurse him and that meant one less worker at the business of fence building, hoeing, weeding and plowing. One boy, on whose face a blond fuzz had just begun to sprout, was dumped on the front porch by a mounted soldier bound for Fayetteville. He had found him unconscious by the roadside and had brought him, across his saddle, to Tara, the nearest house. The girls thought he must be one of the little cadets who had been called out of military school when Sherman approached Milledgeville but they never knew, for he died without regaining consciousness and a search of his pockets yielded no information.
A nice~ looking boy, obviously a gentleman, and somewhere to the south, some woman was watching the roads, wondering where he was and when he was coming home, just as she` and Melanie, with a wild hope in their hearts, watched every bearded figure that came up their walk. They buried the cadet in the family burying ground, next to the three little O'Hara boys, and Melanie cried sharply as Pork filled in the grave, wondering in her heart if strangers were doing this same thing to the tall body of Ashley.
Will Benteen was another soldier, like the nameless boy, who arrived unconscious across the saddle of a comrade. Will was acutely ill with pneumonia and when the girls put him to bed, they feared he would soon join the boy in the burying ground.
He had the sallow malarial face of the south Georgia Cracker, pale pinkish hair and washe`d~ out blue eyes which even in delirium were patient and mild. One of his legs was gone at the knee and to the stump was fitted a roughly whittled wooden peg. He was obviously a Cracker, just as the boy they had buried so short a while ago was obviously a planter's son. Just how the girls knew this they could not say. Certainly Will was no dirtier, no more hairy, no more lice infested than many fine gentlemen who came to Tara. Certainly the language he used in his delirium was no less grammatical than that of the Tarleton twins. But they knew instinctively, as they knew thoroughbred horses from scrubs, that he was not of their class. But this knowledge did not keep them from laboring to save him.
Emaciated from a year in a Yankee prison, exhausted by his long tramp on his ill~ fitting wooden peg, he had little strength to combat pneumonia and for days he lay in the bed moaning, trying to get up, fighting battles over again. Never once did he call for mother, wife, sister or sweetheart and this omission worried Carreen.
"A man ought to have some folks," she` said. "And he sounds like he didn't have a soul in the world."
For all his lankiness he was tough, and good nursing pulled him through. The day came when his pale blue eyes, perfectly cognizant of his surroundings, fell upon Carreen sitting beside him, telling her rosary beads, the morning sun shining through her fair hair.
"Then you warn't a dream, after all," he said, in his flat toneless voice. "I hope I ain't troubled you too much, Ma'm."
His convalescence was a long one and he lay quietly looking out of the window at the magnolias and causing very little trouble to anyone. Carreen liked him because of his placid and unembarrassed silences. She would sit beside him through the long hot afternoons, fanning him and saying nothing.
Carreen had very little to say these days as she` moved, delicate and wraithlike, about the tasks which were within her strength. She prayed a good deal, for when Scarlett came into her room without knocking, she` always found her on her knees by her bed. The sight never failed to annoy her, for Scarlett felt that the time for prayer had passed. If God had seen fit to punish them so, then God could very well do without prayers. Religion had always been a bargaining process with Scarlett. She promised God good behavior in exchange for favors. God had broken the bargain time and again, to her way of thinking, and she` felt that she` owed Him nothing at all now. And whenever she` found Carreen on her knees when she` should have been taking an afternoon nap or doing the mending, she` felt that Carreen was shirking her share of the burdens.
She said as much to Will Benteen one afternoon when he was able to sit up in a chair and was startled when he said in his flat voice: "Let her be, Miss Scarlett. It comforts her."
"Yes, she`'s prayin' for your ma and him."
"Who is 'him'?"
His faded blue eyes looked at her from under sandy lashe`s without surprise. Nothing seemed to surprise or excite him. Perhaps he had seen too much of the unexpected ever to be startled again. That Scarlett did not know what was in her sister's heart did not seem odd to him. He took it as naturally as he did the fact that Carreen had found comfort in talking to him, a stranger.
"Her beau, that boy Brent something~ or~ other who was killed at Gettysburg."
"Her beau?" said Scarlett shortly. "Her beau, nothing! He and his brother were my beaux."
"Yes, so she` told me. Looks like most of the County was your beaux. But, all the same, he was her beau after you turned him down, because when he come home on his last furlough they got engaged. She said he was the only boy she`'d ever cared about and so it kind of comforts her to pray for him."
"Well, fiddle~ dee~ dee!" said Scarlett, a very small dart of jealousy entering her.
She looked curiously at this lanky man with his bony stooped shoulders, his pinkish hair and calm unwavering eyes. So he knew things about her own family which she` had not troubled to discover. So that was why Carreen mooned about, praying all the time. Well, she`'d get over it. Lots of girls got over dead sweethearts, yes, dead husbands, too. She'd certainly gotten over Charles. And she` knew one girl in Atlanta who had been widowed three times by the war and was still able to take notice of men. She said as much to Will but he shook his head.
"Not Miss Carreen," he said with finality.
Will was pleasant to talk to because he had so little to say and yet was so understanding a listener. She told him about her problems of weeding and hoeing and planting, of fattening the hogs and breeding the cow, and he gave good advice for he had owned a small farm in south Georgia and two negroes. He knew his slaves were free now and the farm gone to weeds and seedling pines. His sister, his only relative, had moved to Texas with her husband years ago and he was alone in the world. Yet, none of these things seemed to bother him any more than the leg he had left in Virginia.
Yes, Will was a comfort to Scarlett after hard days when the negroes muttered and Suellen nagged and cried and Gerald asked too frequently where Ellen was. She could tell Will anything. She even told him of killing the Yankee and glowed with pride when he commented briefly: "Good work!"
Eventually all the family found their way to Will's room to air their troubles~ even Mammy, who had at first been distant with him because he was not quality and had owned only two slaves.
When he was able to totter about the house, he turned his hands to weaving baskets of split oak and mending the furniture ruined by the Yankees. He was clever at whittling and Wade was constantly by his side, for he whittled out toys for him, the only toys the little boy had. With Will in the house, everyone felt safe in leaving Wade and the two babies while they went about their tasks, for he could care for them as deftly as Mammy and only Melly surpassed him at soothing the screaming black and white babies.
"You've been mighty good to me, Miss Scarlett," he said, "and me a stranger and nothin' to you all. I've caused you a heap of trouble and worry and if it's all the same to you, I'm goin' to stay here and help you all with the work till I've paid you back some for your trouble. I can't ever pay it all, 'cause there ain't no payment a man can give for his life."
So he stayed and, gradually, unobtrusively, a large part of the burden of Tara shifted from Scarlett's shoulders to the bony shoulders of Will Benteen.
It was September and time to pick the cotton. Will Benteen sat on the front steps at Scarlett's feet in the pleasant sunshine of the early autumn afternoon and his flat voice went on and on languidly about the exorbitant costs of ginning the cotton at the new gin near Fayetteville. However, he had learned that day in Fayetteville that he could cut this expense a fourth by lending the horse and wagon for two weeks to the gin owner. He had delayed closing the bargain until he discussed it with Scarlett.
She looked at the lank figure leaning against the porch column, chewing a straw. Undoubtedly, as Mammy frequently declared, Will was something the Lord had provided and Scarlett often wondered how Tara could have lived through the last few months without him. He never had much to say, never displayed any energy, never seemed to take much interest in anything that went on about him, but he knew everything about everybody at Tara. And he did things. He did them silently, patiently and competently. Though he had only one leg, he could work faster than Pork. And he could get work out of Pork, which was, to Scarlett, a marvelous thing. When the cow had the colic and the horse fell ill with a mysterious ailment which threatened to remove him permanently from them, Will sat up nights with them and saved them. That he was a shrewd trader brought him Scarlett's respect, for he could ride out in the mornings with a bushe`l or two of apples, sweet potatoes and other vegetables and return with seeds, lengths of cloth, flour and other necessities which she` knew she` could never have acquired, good trader though she` was.
He had gradually slipped into the status of a member of the family and slept on a cot in the little dressing room off Gerald's room. He said nothing of leaving Tara, and Scarlett was careful not to question him, fearful that he might leave them. Sometimes, she` thought that if he were anybody and had any gumption he would go home, even if he no longer had a home. But even with this thought, she` would pray fervently that he would remain indefinitely. It was so convenient to have a man about the house.
She thought, too, that if Carreen had the sense of a mouse she` would see that Will cared for her. Scarlett would have been eternally grateful to Will, had he asked her for Carreen's hand. Of course, before the war, Will would certainly not have been an eligible suitor. He was not of the planter class at all, though he was not poor white. He was just plain Cracker, a small farmer, half~ educated, prone to grammatical errors and ignorant of some of the finer manners the O'Haras were accustomed to in gentlemen. In fact, Scarlett wondered if he could be called a gentleman at all and decided that he couldn't. Melanie hotly defended him, saying that anyone who had Will's kind heart and thoughtfulness of others was of gentle birth. Scarlett knew that Ellen would have fainted at the thought of a daughter of hers marrying such a man, but now Scarlett had been by necessity forced too far away from Ellen's teachings to let that worry her. Men were scarce, girls had to marry someone and Tara had to have a man. But Carreen, deeper and deeper immersed in her prayer book and every day losing more of her touch with the world of realities, treated Will as gently as a brother and took him as much for granted as she` did Pork.
"If Carreen had any sense of gratitude to me for what I've done for her, she`'d marry him and not let him get away from here," Scarlett thought indignantly. "But no, she` must spend her time mooning about a silly boy who probably never gave her a serious thought."
So Will remained at Tara, for what reason she` did not know and she` found his businesslike man~ to~ man attitude with her both pleasant and helpful. He was gravely deferential to the vague Gerald but it was to Scarlett that he turned as the real head of the house.
She gave her approval to the plan of hiring out the horse even though it meant the family would be without any means of transportation temporarily. Suellen would be especially grieved at this. Her greatest joy lay in going to Jonesboro or Fayetteville with Will when he drove over on business. Adorned in the assembled best of the family, she` called on old friends, heard all the gossip of the County and felt herself again Miss O'Hara of Tara. Suellen never missed the opportunity to leave the plantation and give herself airs among people who did not know she` weeded the garden and made beds.
Miss Fine Airs will just have to do without gadding for two weeks, thought Scarlett, and we'll have to put up with her nagging and her bawling.
Melanie joined them on the veranda, the baby in her arms, and spreading an old blanket on the floor, set little Beau down to crawl. Since Ashley's letter Melanie had divided her time between glowing, singing happiness and anxious longing. But happy or depressed, she` was too thin, too white. She did her share of the work uncomplainingly but she` was always ailing. Old Dr. Fontaine diagnosed her trouble as female complaint and concurred with Dr. Meade in saying she` should never have had Beau. And he said frankly that another baby would kill her.
"When I was over to Fayetteville today," said Will, "I found somethin' right cute that I thought would interest you ladies and I brought it home." He fumbled in his back pants pocket and brought out the wallet of calico, stiffened with bark, which Carreen had made him. From it, he drew a Confederate bill.
"If you think Confederate money is cute, Will, I certainly don't," said Scarlett shortly, for the very sight of Confederate money made her mad. "We've got three thousand dollars of it in Pa's trunk this minute, and Mammy's after me to let her paste it over the holes in the attic walls so the draft won't get her. And I think I'll do it. Then it'll be good for something."
"'Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,'" said Melanie with a sad smile. "Don't do that, Scarlett. Keep it for Wade. He'll be proud of it some day."
"Well, I don't know nothin' about imperious Caesar," said Will, patiently, "but what I've got is in line with what you've just said about Wade, Miss Melly. It's a poem, pasted on the back of this bill. I know Miss Scarlett ain't much on poems but I thought this might interest her."
He turned the bill over. On its back was pasted a strip of coarse brown wrapping paper, inscribed in pale homemade ink. Will cleared his throat and read slowly and with difficulty.
"The name is 'Lines on the Back of a Confederate Note,'" he said.
"Representing nothing on God's earth now And naught in the waters below it~ As the pledge of nation that's passed away Keep it, dear friend, and show it.
Show it to those who will lend an ear To the tale this trifle will tell Of Liberty, born of patriots' dream, Of a storm~ cradled nation that fell."
"Oh, how beautiful! How touching!" cried Melanie. "Scarlett, you mustn't give the money to Mammy to paste in the attic. It's more than paper~ just like this poem said: 'The pledge of a nation that's passed away!'"
"Oh, Melly, don't be sentimental! Paper is paper and we've got little enough of it and I'm tired of hearing Mammy grumble about the cracks in the attic. I hope when Wade grows up I'll have plenty of greenbacks to give him instead of Confederate trash."
Will, who had been enticing little Beau across the blanket with the bill during this argument, looked up and, shading his eyes, glanced down the driveway.
"More company," he said, squinting in the sun. "Another soldier."
Scarlett followed his gaze and saw a familiar sight, a bearded man coming slowly up the avenue under the cedars, a man clad in a ragged mixture of blue and gray uniforms, head bowed tiredly, feet dragging slowly.
"I thought we were about through with soldiers," she` said. "I hope this one isn't very hungry."
"He'll be hungry," said Will briefly.
"I'd better tell Dilcey to set an extra plate," she` said, "and warn Mammy not to get the poor thing's clothes off his back too abruptly and~ "
She stopped so suddenly that Scarlett turned to look at her. Melanie's thin hand was at her throat, clutching it as if it was torn with pain, and Scarlett could see the veins beneath the white skin throbbing swiftly. Her face went whiter and her brown eyes dilated enormously.
She's going to faint, thought Scarlett, leaping to her feet and catching her arm.
But, in an instant, Melanie threw off her hand and was down the steps. Down the graveled path she` flew, skimming lightly as a bird, her faded skirts streaming behind her, her arms outstretched. Then, Scarlett knew the truth, with the impact of a blow. She reeled back against an upright of the porch as the man lifted a face covered with a dirty blond beard and stopped still, looking toward the house as if he was too weary to take another step. Her heart leaped and stopped and then began racing, as Melly with incoherent cries threw herself into the dirty soldier's arms and his head bent down toward hers. With rapture, Scarlett took two running steps forward but was checked when Will's hand closed upon her skirt.
"Don't spoil it," he said quietly.
"Turn me loose, you fool! Turn me loose! It's Ashley!"
He did not relax his grip.
"After all, he's HER husband, ain't he?" Will asked calmly and, looking down at him in a confusion of joy and impotent fury, Scarlett saw in the quiet depths of his eyes understanding and pity.
This webpage was designed and built by Chris Burgess Melbourne Australia. 17th of May in the year of 2012-2018 156
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