|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell Page 5|
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|Femme Classic Art||The Australian edition of Gone With The Wind is out of copyright.||Femme Classic Art|
On a cold January afternoon in 1866, Scarlett sat in the office writing a letter to Aunt Pitty, explaining in detail for the tenth time why neither she' , Melanie nor Ashley could come back to Atlanta to live with her. She wrote impatiently because she' knew Aunt Pitty would read no farther than the opening lines and then write her again, wailing: "But I'm afraid to live by myself!"
Her hands were chilled and she' paused to rub them together and to scuff her feet deeper into the strip of old quilting wrapped about them. The soles of her slippers were practically gone and were reinforced with pieces of carpet. The carpet kept her feet off the floor but did little to keep them warm. That morning Will had taken the horse to Jonesboro to get him shod. Scarlett thought grimly that things were indeed at a pretty pass when horses had shoes and people's feet were as bare as yard dogs'.
She picked up her quill to resume her writing but laid it down when she' heard Will coming in at the back door. She heard the thump~ thump of his wooden leg in the hall outside the office and then he stopped. She waited for a moment for him to enter and when he made no move she' called to him. He came in, his ears red from the cold, his pinkish hair awry, and stood looking down at her, a faintly humorous smile on his lips.
"Miss Scarlett," he questioned, "just how much cash money have you got?"
"Are you going to try to marry me for my money, Will?" she' asked somewhat crossly.
"No, Ma'm. But I just wanted to know."
She stared at him inquiringly. Will didn't look serious, but then he never looked serious. However, she' felt that something was wrong.
"I've got ten dollars in gold," she' said. "The last of that Yankee's money."
"Well, Ma'm, that won't be enough."
"Enough for what?"
"Enough for the taxes," he answered and, stumping over to the fireplace, he leaned down and held his red hands to the blaze.
"Taxes?" she' repeated. "Name of God, Will! We've already paid the taxes."
"Yes'm. But they say you didn't pay enough. I heard about it today over to Jonesboro."
"But, Will, I can't understand. What do you mean?"
"Miss Scarlett, I sure hate to bother you with more trouble when you've had your share but I've got to tell you. They say you ought to paid lots more taxes than you did. They're runnin' the assessment up on Tara sky high~ higher than any in the County, I'll be bound."
"But they can't make us pay more taxes when we've already paid them once."
"Miss Scarlett, you don't never go to Jonesboro often and I'm glad you don't. It ain't no place for a lady these days. But if you'd been there much, you'd know there's a mighty rough bunch of Scallawags and Republicans and Carpetbaggers been runnin' things recently. They'd make you mad enough to pop. And then, too, niggers pushin' white folks off the sidewalks and~ "
"But what's that got to do with our taxes?"
"I'm gettin' to it, Miss Scarlett. For some reason the rascals have histed the taxes on Tara till you'd think it was a thousand~ bale place. After I heard about it, I sorter oozed around the barrooms pickin' up gossip and I found out that somebody wants to buy in Tara cheap at the sheriff's sale, if you can't pay the extra taxes. And everybody knows pretty well that you can't pay them. I don't know yet who it is wants this place. I couldn't find out. But I think that pusillanimous feller, Hilton, that married Miss Cathleen knows, because he laughed kind of nasty when I tried to sound him out."
Will sat down on the sofa and rubbed the stump of his leg. It ached in cold weather and the wooden peg was neither well padded nor comfortable. Scarlett looked at him wildly. His manner was so casual when he was sounding the death knell of Tara. Sold out at the sheriff's sale? Where would they all go? And Tara belonging to some one else! No, that was unthinkable!
She had been so engrossed with the job of making Tara produce she' had paid little heed to what was going on in the world outside. Now that she' had Will and Ashley to attend to whatever business she' might have in Jonesboro and Fayetteville, she' seldom left the plantation. And even as she' had listened with deaf ears to her father's war talk in the days before the war came, so she' had paid little heed to Will and Ashley's discussions around the table after supper about the beginnings of Reconstruction.
Oh, of course, she' knew about the Scallawags~ Southerners who had turned Republican very profitably~ and the Carpetbaggers, those Yankees who came South like buzzards after the surrender with all their worldly possessions in one carpetbag. And she' had had a few unpleasant experiences with the Freedmen's Bureau. She had gathered, also, that some of the free negroes were getting quite insolent. This last she' could hardly believe, for she' had never seen an insolent negro in her life.
But there were many things which Will and Ashley had conspired to keep from her. The scourge of war had been followed by the worse scourge of Reconstruction, but the two men had agreed not to mention the more alarming details when they discussed the situation at home. And when Scarlett took the trouble to listen to them at all, most of what they said went in one ear and out the other.
She had heard Ashley say that the South was being treated as a conquered province and that vindictiveness was the dominant policy of the conquerors. But that was the kind of statement which meant less than nothing at all to Scarlett. Politics was men's business. She had heard Will say it looked to him like the North just wasn't aiming to let the South get on its feet again. Well, thought Scarlett, men always had to have something foolish to worry about. As far as she' was concerned, the Yankees hadn't whipped her once and they wouldn't do it this time. The thing to do was to work like the devil and stop worrying about the Yankee government. After all, the war was over.
Scarlett did not realize that all the rules of the game had been changed and that honest labor could no longer earn its just reward. Georgia was virtually under martial law now. The Yankee soldiers garrisoned throughout the section and the Freedmen's Bureau were in complete command of everything and they were fixing the rules to suit themselves.
This Bureau, organized by the Federal government to take care of the idle and excited ex~ slaves, was drawing them from the plantations into the villages and cities by the thousands. The Bureau fed them while they loafed and poisoned their minds against their former owners. Gerald's old overseer, Jonas Wilkerson, was in charge of the local Bureau, and his assistant was Hilton, Cathleen Calvert's husband. These two industriously spread the rumor that the Southerners and Democrats were just waiting for a good chance to put the negroes back into slavery and that the negroes' only hope of escaping this fate was the protection given them by the Bureau and the Republican party.
Wilkerson and Hilton furthermore told the negroes they were as good as the whites in every way and soon white and negro marriages would be permitted, soon the estates of their former owners would be divided and every negro would be given forty acres and a mule for his own. They kept the negroes stirred up with tales of cruelty perpetrated by the whites and, in a section long famed for the affectionate relations between slaves and slave owners, hate and suspicion began to grow.
The Bureau was backed up by the soldiers and the military had issued many and conflicting orders governing the conduct of the conquered. It was easy to get arrested, even for snubbing the officials of the Bureau. Military orders had been promulgated concerning the schools, sanitation, the kind of buttons one wore on one's suit, the sale of commodities and nearly everything else. Wilkerson and Hilton had the power to interfere in any trade Scarlett might make and to fix their own prices on anything she' sold or swapped.
Fortunately Scarlett had come into contact with the two men very little, for Will had persuaded her to let him handle the trading while she' managed the plantation. In his mild~ tempered way, Will had straightened out several difficulties of this kind and said nothing to her about them. Will could get along with Carpetbaggers and Yankees~ if he had to. But now a problem had arisen which was too big for him to handle. The extra tax assessment and the danger of losing Tara were matters Scarlett had to know about~ and right away.
She looked at him with flashing eyes.
"Oh, damn the Yankees!" she' cried. "Isn't it enough that they've licked us and beggared us without turning loose scoundrels on us?"
The war was over, peace had been declared, but the Yankees could still rob her, they could still starve her, they could still drive her from her house. And fool that she' was, she' had thought through weary months that if she' could just hold out until spring, everything would be all right. This crushing news brought by Will, coming on top of a year of back~ breaking work and hope deferred, was the last straw.
"Oh, Will, and I thought our troubles were all over when the war ended!"
"No'm." Will raised his lantern~ jawed, country~ looking face and gave her a long steady look. "Our troubles are just gettin' started."
"How much extra taxes do they want us to pay?"
"Three hundred dollars."
She was struck dumb for a moment. Three hundred dollars! It might just as well be three million dollars.
"Why," she' floundered, "why~ why, then we've got to raise three hundred, somehow."
"Yes'm~ and a rainbow and a moon or two."
"Oh, but Will! They couldn't sell out Tara. Why~ "
His mild pale eyes showed more hate and bitterness than she' thought possible.
"Oh, couldn't they? Well, they could and they will and they'll like doin' it! Miss Scarlett, the country's gone plumb to hell, if you'll pardon me. Those Carpetbaggers and Scallawags can vote and most of us Democrats can't. Can't no Democrat in this state vote if he was on the tax books for more than two thousand dollars in 'sixty~ five. That lets out folks like your pa and Mr. Tarleton and the McRaes and the Fontaine boys. Can't nobody vote who was a colonel and over in the war and, Miss Scarlett, I bet this state's got more colonels than any state in the Confederacy. And can't nobody vote who held office under the Confederate government and that lets out everybody from the notaries to the judges, and the woods are full of folks like that. Fact is, the way the Yankees have framed up that amnesty oath, can't nobody who was somebody before the war vote at all. Not the smart folks nor the quality folks nor the rich folks.
"Huh! I could vote if I took their damned oath. I didn't have any money in 'sixty~ five and I certainly warn't a colonel or nothin' remarkable. But I ain't goin' to take their oath. Not by a dinged sight! If the Yankees had acted right, I'd have taken their oath of allegiance but I ain't now. I can be restored to the Union but I can't be reconstructed into it. I ain't goin' to take their oath even if I don't never vote again~ But scum like that Hilton feller, he can vote, and scoundrels like Jonas Wilkerson and pore whites like the Slatterys and no~ counts like the MacIntoshes, they can vote. And they're runnin' things now. And if they want to come down on you for extra taxes a dozen times, they can do it. Just like a nigger can kill a white man and not get hung or~ " He paused, embarrassed, and the memory of what had happened to a lone white woman on an isolated farm near Lovejoy was in both their minds. . . . "Those niggers can do anything against us and the Freedmen's Bureau and the soldiers will back them up with guns and we can't vote or do nothin' about it."
"Vote!" she' cried. "Vote! What on earth has voting got to do with all this, Will? It's taxes we're talking about. . . . Will, everybody knows what a good plantation Tara is. We could mortgage it for enough to pay the taxes, if we had to."
"Miss Scarlett, you ain't any fool but sometimes you talk like one. Who's got any money to lend you on this property? Who except the Carpetbaggers who are tryin' to take Tara away from you? Why, everybody's got land. Everybody's land pore. You can't give away land."
"I've got those diamond earbobs I got off that Yankee. We could sell them."
"Miss Scarlett, who 'round here has got money for earbobs? Folks ain't got money to buy side meat, let alone gewgaws. If you've got ten dollars in gold, I take oath that's more than most folks have got."
They were silent again and Scarlett felt as if she' were butting her head against a stone wall. There had been so many stone walls to butt against this last year.
"What are we goin' to do, Miss Scarlett?"
"I don't know," she' said dully and felt that she' didn't care. This was one stone wall too many and she' suddenly felt so tired that her bones ached. Why should she' work and struggle and wear herself out? At the end of every struggle it seemed that defeat was waiting to mock her.
"I don't know," she' said. "But don't let Pa know. It might worry him."
"Have you told anyone?"
"No, I came right to you."
Yes, she' thought, everyone always came right to her with bad news and she' was tired of it.
"Where is Mr. Wilkes? Perhaps he'll have some suggestion."
Will turned his mild gaze on her and she' felt, as from the first day when Ashley came home, that he knew everything.
"He's down in the orchard splittin' rails. I heard his axe when I was puttin' up the horse. But he ain't got any money any more than we have."
"If I want to talk to him about it, I can, can't I?" she' snapped, rising to her feet and kicking the fragment of quilting from her ankles.
Will did not take offense but continued rubbing his hands before the flame. "Better get your shawl, Miss Scarlett. It's raw outside."
But she' went without the shawl, for it was upstairs and her need to see Ashley and lay her troubles before him was too urgent to wait.
How lucky for her if she' could find him alone! Never once since his return had she' had a private word with him. Always the family clustered about him, always Melanie was by his side, touching his sleeve now and again to reassure herself he was really there. The sight of that happy possessive gesture had aroused in Scarlett all the jealous animosity which had slumbered during the months when she' had thought Ashley probably dead. Now she' was determined to see him alone. This time no one was going to prevent her from talking with him alone.
She went through the orchard under the bare boughs and the damp weeds beneath them wet her feet. She could hear the sound of the axe ringing as Ashley split into rails the logs hauled from the swamp. Replacing the fences the Yankees had so blithely burned was a long hard task. Everything was a long hard task, she' thought wearily, and she' was tired of it, tired and mad and sick of it all. If only Ashley were her husband, instead of Melanie's, how sweet it would be to go to him and lay her head upon his shoulder and cry and shove her burdens onto him to work out as best he might.
She rounded a thicket of pomegranate trees which were shaking bare limbs in the cold wind and saw him leaning on his axe, wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. He was wearing the remains of his butternut trousers and one of Gerald's shirts, a shirt which in better times went only to Court days and barbecues, a ruffled shirt which was far too short for its present owner. He had hung his coat on a tree limb, for the work was hot, and he stood resting as she' came up to him.
At the sight of Ashley in rags, with an axe in his hand, her heart went out in a surge of love and of fury at fate. She could not bear to see him in tatters, working, her debonaire immaculate Ashley. His hands were not made for work or his body for anything but broadcloth and fine linen. God intended him to sit in a great house, talking with pleasant people, playing the piano and writing things which sounded beautiful and made no sense whatsoever.
She could endure the sight of her own child in aprons made of sacking and the girls in dingy old gingham, could bear it that Will worked harder than any field hand, but not Ashley. He was too fine for all this, too infinitely dear to her. She would rather split logs herself than suffer while he did it.
"They say Abe Lincoln got his start splitting rails," he said as she' came up to him. "Just think to what heights I may climb!"
She frowned. He was always saying light things like this about their hardships. They were deadly serious matters to her and sometimes she' was almost irritated at his remarks.
Abruptly she' told him Will's news, tersely and in short words, feeling a sense of relief as she' spoke. Surely, he'd have something helpful to offer. He said nothing but, seeing her shiver, he took his coat and placed it about her shoulders.
"Well," she' said finally, "doesn't it occur to you that we'll have to get the money somewhere?"
"Yes," he said, "but where?"
"I'm asking you," she' replied, annoyed. The sense of relief at unburdening herself had disappeared. Even if he couldn't help, why didn't he say something comforting, even if it was only: "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"In all these months since I've been home I've only heard of one person, Rhett Butler, who actually has money," he said.
Aunt Pittypat had written Melanie the week before that Rhett was back in Atlanta with a carriage and two fine horses and pocketfuls of greenbacks. She had intimated, however, that he didn't come by them honestly. Aunt Pitty had a theory, largely shared by Atlanta, that Rhett had managed to get away with the mythical millions of the Confederate treasury.
"Don't let's talk about him," said Scarlett shortly. "He's a skunk if ever there was one. What's to become of us all?"
Ashley put down the axe and looked away and his eyes seemed to be journeying to some far~ off country where she' could not follow.
"I wonder," he said. "I wonder not only what will become of us at Tara but what will become of everybody in the South."
She felt like snapping out abruptly: "To hell with everybody in the South! What about us?" but she' remained silent because the tired feeling was back on her more strongly than ever. Ashley wasn't being any help at all.
"In the end what will happen will be what has happened whenever a civilization breaks up. The people who have brains and courage come through and the ones who haven't are winnowed out. At least, it has been interesting, if not comfortable, to witness a Gotterdammerung."
"A dusk of the gods. Unfortunately, we Southerners did think we were gods."
"For Heaven's sake, Ashley Wilkes! Don't stand there and talk nonsense at me when it's us who are going to be winnowed out!"
Something of her exasperated weariness seemed to penetrate his mind, calling it back from its wanderings, for he raised her hands with tenderness and, turning them palm up, looked at the calluses.
"These are the most beautiful hands I know," he said and kissed each palm lightly. "They are beautiful because they are strong and every callus is a medal, Scarlett, every blister an award for bravery and unselfishness. They've been roughened for all of us, your father, the girls, Melanie, the baby, the negroes and for me. My dear, I know what you are thinking. You're thinking, 'Here stands an impractical fool talking tommyrot about dead gods when living people are in danger.' Isn't that true?"
She nodded, wishing he would keep on holding her hands forever, but he dropped them.
"And you came to me, hoping I could help you. Well, I can't."
His eyes were bitter as he looked toward the axe and the pile of logs.
"My home is gone and all the money that I so took for granted I never realized I had it. And I am fitted for nothing in this world, for the world I belonged in has gone. I can't help you, Scarlett, except by learning with as good grace as possible to be a clumsy farmer. And that won't keep Tara for you. Don't you think I realize the bitterness of our situation, living here on your charity~ Oh, yes, Scarlett, your charity. I can never repay you what you've done for me and for mine out of the kindness of your heart. I realize it more acutely every day. And every day I see more clearly how helpless I am to cope with what has come on us all~ Every day my accursed shrinking from realities makes it harder for me to face the new realities. Do you know what I mean?"
She nodded. She had no very clear idea what he meant but she' clung breathlessly on his words. This was the first time he had ever spoken to her of the things he was thinking when he seemed so remote from her. It excited her as if she' were on the brink of a discovery.
"It's a curse~ this not wanting to look on naked realities. Until the war, life was never more real to me than a shadow show on a curtain. And I preferred it so. I do not like the outlines of things to be too sharp. I like them gently blurred, a little hazy."
He stopped and smiled faintly, shivering a little as the cold wind went through his thin shirt.
"In other words, Scarlett, I am a coward."
His talk of shadow shows and hazy outlines conveyed no meaning to her but his last words were in language she' could understand. She knew they were untrue. Cowardice was not in him. Every line of his slender body spoke of generations of brave and gallant men and Scarlett knew his war record by heart.
"Why, that's not so! Would a coward have climbed on the cannon at Gettysburg and rallied the men? Would the General himself have written Melanie a letter about a coward? And~ "
"That's not courage," he said tiredly. "Fighting is like champagne. It goes to the heads of cowards as quickly as of heroes. Any fool can be brave on a battle field when it's be brave or else be killed. I'm talking of something else. And my kind of cowardice is infinitely worse than if I had run the first time I heard a cannon fired."
His words came slowly and with difficulty as if it hurt to speak them and he seemed to stand off and look with a sad heart at what he had said. Had any other man spoken so, Scarlett would have dismissed such protestations contemptuously as mock modesty and a bid for praise. But Ashley seemed to mean them and there was a look in his eyes which eluded her~ not fear, not apology, but the bracing to a strain which was inevitable and overwhelming. The wintry wind swept her damp ankles and she' shivered again but her shiver was less from the wind than from the dread his words evoked in her heart.
"But, Ashley, what are you afraid of?"
"Oh, nameless things. Things which sound very silly when they are put into words. Mostly of having life suddenly become too real, of being brought into personal, too personal, contact with some of the simple facts of life. It isn't that I mind splitting logs here in the mud, but I do mind what it stands for. I do mind, very much, the loss of the beauty of the old life I loved. Scarlett, before the war, life was beautiful. There was a glamor to it, a perfection and a completeness and a symmetry to it like Grecian art. Maybe it wasn't so to everyone. I know that now. But to me, living at Twelve Oaks, there was a real beauty to living. I belonged in that life. I was a part of it. And now it is gone and I am out of place in this new life, and I am afraid. Now, I know that in the old days it was a shadow show I watched. I avoided everything which was not shadowy, people and situations which were too real, too vital. I resented their intrusion. I tried to avoid you too, Scarlett. You were too full of living and too real and I was cowardly enough to prefer shadows and dreams."
"But~ but~ Melly?"
"Melanie is the gentlest of dreams and a part of my dreaming. And if the war had not come I would have lived out my life, happily buried at Twelve Oaks, contentedly watching life go by and never being a part of it. But when the war came, life as it really is thrust itself against me. The first time I went into action~ it was at Bull Run, you remember~ I saw my boyhood friends blown to bits and heard dying horses scream and learned the sickeningly horrible feeling of seeing men crumple up and spit blood when I shot them. But those weren't the worst things about the war, Scarlett. The worst thing about the war was the people I had to live with.
"I had sheltered myself from people all my life, I had carefully selected my few friends. But the war taught me I had created a world of my own with dream people in it. It taught me what people really are, but it didn't teach me how to live with them. And I'm afraid I'll never learn. Now, I know that in order to support my wife and child, I will have to make my way among a world of people with whom I have nothing in common. You, Scarlett, are taking life by the horns and twisting it to your will. But where do I fit in the world any more? I tell you I am afraid."
While his low resonant voice went on, desolate, with a feeling she' could not understand, Scarlett clutched at words here and there, trying to make sense of them. But the words swooped from her hands like wild birds. Something was driving him, driving him with a cruel goad, but she' did not understand what it was.
"Scarlett, I don't know just when it was that the bleak realization came over me that my own private shadow show was over. Perhaps in the first five minutes at Bull Run when I saw the first man I killed drop to the ground. But I knew it was over and I could no longer be a spectator. No, I suddenly found myself on the curtain, an actor, posturing and making futile gestures. My little inner world was gone, invaded by people whose thoughts were not my thoughts, whose actions were as alien as a Hottentot's. They'd tramped through my world with slimy feet and there was no place left where I could take refuge when things became too bad to stand. When I was in prison, I thought: When the war is over, I can go back to the old life and the old dreams and watch the shadow show again. But, Scarlett, there's no going back. And this which is facing all of us now is worse than war and worse than prison~ and, to me, worse than death. . . . So, you see, Scarlett, I'm being punished for being afraid."
"But, Ashley," she' began, floundering in a quagmire of bewilderment, "if you're afraid we'll starve, why~ why~ Oh, Ashley, we'll manage somehow! I know we will!"
For a moment, his eyes came back to her, wide and crystal gray, and there was admiration in them. Then, suddenly, they were remote again and she' knew with a sinking heart that he had not been thinking about starving. They were always like two people talking to each other in different languages. But she' loved him so much that, when he withdrew as he had now done, it was like the warm sun going down and leaving her in chilly twilight dews. She wanted to catch him by the shoulders and hug him to her, make him realize that she' was flesh and blood and not something he had read or dreamed. If she' could only feel that sense of oneness with him for which she' had yearned since that day, so long ago, when he had come home from Europe and stood on the steps of Tara and smiled up at her.
"Starving's not pleasant," he said. "I know for I've starved, but I'm not afraid of that. I am afraid of facing life without the slow beauty of our old world that is gone."
Scarlett thought despairingly that Melanie would know what he meant. Melly and he were always talking such foolishness, poetry and books and dreams and moonrays and star dust. He was not fearing the things she' feared, not the gnawing of an empty stomach, nor the keenness of the winter wind nor eviction from Tara. He was shrinking before some fear she' had never known and could not imagine. For, in God's name, what was there to fear in this wreck of a world but hunger and cold and the loss of home?
And she' had thought that if she' listened closely she' would know the answer to Ashley.
"Oh!" she' said and the disappointment in her voice was that of a child who opens a beautifully wrapped package to find it empty. At her tone, he smiled ruefully as though apologizing.
"Forgive me, Scarlett, for talking so. I can't make you understand because you don't know the meaning of fear. You have the heart of a lion and an utter lack of imagination and I envy you both of those qualities. You'll never mind facing realities and you'll never want to escape from them as I do."
It was as if that were the only understandable word he had spoken. Ashley, like her, was tired of the struggle and he wanted to escape. Her breath came fast.
"Oh, Ashley," she' cried, "you're wrong. I do want to escape, too. I am so very tired of it all!"
His eyebrows went up in disbelief and she' laid a hand, feverish and urgent, on his arm.
"Listen to me," she' began swiftly, the words tumbling out one over the other. "I'm tired of it all, I tell you. Bone tired and I'm not going to stand it any longer. I've struggled for food and for money and I've weeded and hoed and picked cotton and I've even plowed until I can't stand it another minute. I tell you, Ashley, the South is dead! It's dead! The Yankees and the free niggers and the Carpetbaggers have got it and there's nothing left for us. Ashley, let's run away!"
He peered at her sharply, lowering his head to look into her face, now flaming with color.
"Yes, let's run away~ leave them all! I'm tired of working for the folks. Somebody will take care of them. There's always somebody who takes care of people who can't take care of themselves. Oh, Ashley, let's run away, you and I. We could go to Mexico~ they want officers in the Mexican Army and we could be so happy there. I'd work for you, Ashley. I'd do anything for you. You know you don't love Melanie~ "
He started to speak, a stricken look on his face, but she' stemmed his words with a torrent of her own.
"You told me you loved me better than her that day~ oh, you remember that day! And I know you haven't changed! I can tell you haven't changed! And you've just said she' was nothing but a dream~ Oh, Ashley, let's go away! I could make you so happy. And anyway," she' added venomously, "Melanie can't~ Dr. Fontaine said she' couldn't ever have any more children and I could give you~ "
His hands were on her shoulders so tightly that they hurt and she' stopped, breathless.
"We were to forget that day at Twelve Oaks."
"Do you think I could ever forget it? Have you forgotten it? Can you honestly say you don't love me?"
He drew a deep breath and answered quickly.
"No. I don't love you."
"That's a lie."
"Even if it is a lie," said Ashley and his voice was deadly quiet, "it is not something which can be discussed."
"You mean~ "
"Do you think I could go off and leave Melanie and the baby, even if I hated them both? Break Melanie's heart? Leave them both to the charity of friends? Scarlett, are you mad? Isn't there any sense of loyalty in you? You couldn't leave your father and the girls. They're your responsibility, just as Melanie and Beau are mine, and whether you are tired or not, they are here and you've got to bear them."
"I could leave them~ I'm sick of them~ tired of them~ "
He leaned toward her and, for a moment, she' thought with a catch at her heart that he was going to take her in his arms. But instead, he patted her arm and spoke as one comforting a child.
"I know you're sick and tired. That's why you are talking this way. You've carried the load of three men. But I'm going to help you~ I won't always be so awkward~ "
"There's only one way you can help me," she' said dully, "and that's to take me away from here and give us a new start somewhere, with a chance for happiness. There's nothing to keep us here."
"Nothing," he said quietly, "nothing~ except honor."
She looked at him with baffled longing and saw, as if for the first time, how the crescents of his lashes were the thick rich gold of ripe wheat, how proudly his head sat upon his bared neck and how the look of race and dignity persisted in his slim erect body, even through its grotesque rags. Her eyes met his, hers naked with pleading, his remote as mountain lakes under gray skies.
She saw in them defeat of her wild dream, her mad desires.
Heartbreak and weariness sweeping over her, she' dropped her head in her hands and cried. He had never seen her cry. He had never thought that women of her strong mettle had tears, and a flood of tenderness and remorse swept him. He came to her swiftly and in a moment had her in his arms, cradling her comfortingly, pressing her black head to his heart, whispering: "Dear! My brave dear~ don't! You mustn't cry!"
At his touch, he felt her change within his grip and there was madness and magic in the slim body he held and a hot soft glow in the green eyes which looked up at him. Of a sudden, it was no longer bleak winter. For Ashley, spring was back again, that half~ forgotten balmy spring of green rustlings and murmurings, a spring of ease and indolence, careless days when the desires of youth were warm in his body. The bitter years since then fell away and he saw that the lips turned up to his were red and trembling and he kissed her.
There was a curious low roaring sound in her ears as of sea shells held against them and through the sound she' dimly heard the swift thudding of her heart. Her body seemed to melt into his and, for a timeless time, they stood fused together as his lips took hers hungrily as if he could never have enough.
When he suddenly released her she' felt that she' could not stand alone and gripped the fence for support. She raised eyes blazing with love and triumph to him.
"You do love me! You do love me! Say it~ say it!"
His hands still rested on her shoulders and she' felt them tremble and loved their trembling. She leaned toward him ardently but he held her away from him, looking at her with eyes from which all remoteness had fled, eyes tormented with struggle and despair.
"Don't!" he said. "Don't! If you do, I shall take you now, here."
She smiled a bright hot smile which was forgetful of time or place or anything but the memory of his mouth on hers.
Suddenly he shook her, shook her until her black hair tumbled down about her shoulders, shook her as if in a mad rage at her~ and at himself.
"We won't do this!" he said. "I tell you we won't do it!"
It seemed as if her neck would snap if he shook her again. She was blinded by her hair and stunned by his action. She wrenched herself away and stared at him. There were small beads of moisture on his forehead and his fists were curled into claws as if in pain. He looked at her directly, his gray eyes piercing.
"It's all my fault~ none of yours and it will never happen again, because I am going to take Melanie and the baby and go."
"Go?" she' cried in anguish. "Oh, no!"
"Yes, by God! Do you think I'll stay here after this? When this might happen again~ "
"But, Ashley, you can't go. Why should you go? You love me~ "
"You want me to say it? All right, I'll say it. I love you."
He leaned over her with a sudden savagery which made her shrink back against the fence.
"I love you, your courage and your stubbornness and your fire and your utter ruthlessness. How much do I love you? So much that a moment ago I would have outraged the hospitality of the house which has sheltered me and my family, forgotten the best wife any man ever had~ enough to take you here in the mud like a~ "
She struggled with a chaos of thoughts and there was a cold pain in her heart as if an icicle had pierced it. She said haltingly: "If you felt like that~ and didn't take me~ then you don't love me."
"I can never make you understand."
They fell silent and looked at each other. Suddenly Scarlett shivered and saw, as if coming back from a long journey, that it was winter and the fields were bare and harsh with stubble and she' was very cold. She saw too that the old aloof face of Ashley, the one she' knew so well, had come back and it was wintry too, and harsh with hurt and remorse.
She would have turned and left him then, seeking the shelter of the house to hide herself, but she' was too tired to move. Even speech was a labor and a weariness.
"There is nothing left," she' said at last. "Nothing left for me. Nothing to love. Nothing to fight for. You are gone and Tara is going."
He looked at her for a long space and then, leaning, scooped up a small wad of red clay from the ground.
"Yes, there is something left," he said, and the ghost of his old smile came back, the smile which mocked himself as well as her. "Something you love better than me, though you may not know it. You've still got Tara."
He took her limp hand and pressed the damp clay into it and closed her fingers about it. There was no fever in his hands now, nor in hers. She looked at the red soil for a moment and it meant nothing to her. She looked at him and realized dimly that there was an integrity of spirit in him which was not to be torn apart by her passionate hands, nor by any hands.
If it killed him, he would never leave Melanie. If he burned for Scarlett until the end of his days, he would never take her and he would fight to keep her at a distance. She would never again get through that armor. The words, hospitality and loyalty and honor, meant more to him than she' did.
The clay was cold in her hand and she' looked at it again.
"Yes," she' said, "I've still got this."
At first, the words meant nothing and the clay was only red clay. But unbidden came the thought of the sea of red dirt which surrounded Tara and how very dear it was and how hard she' had fought to keep it~ how hard she' was going to have to fight if she' wished to keep it hereafter. She looked at him again and wondered where the hot flood of feeling had gone. She could think but could not feel, not about him nor Tara either, for she' was drained of all emotion.
"You need not go," she' said clearly. "I won't have you all starve, simply because I've thrown myself at your head. It will never happen again."
She turned away and started back toward the house across the rough fields, twisting her hair into a knot upon her neck. Ashley watched her go and saw her square her small thin shoulders as she' went. And that gesture went to his heart, more than any words she' had spoken.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
She was still clutching the ball of red clay when she' went up the front steps. She had carefully avoided the back entrance, for Mammy's sharp eyes would certainly have seen that something was greatly amiss. Scarlett did not want to see Mammy or anyone else. She did not feel that she' could endure seeing anyone or talking to anyone again. She had no feeling of shame or disappointment or bitterness now, only a weakness of the knees and a great emptiness of heart. She squeezed the clay so tightly it ran out from her clenched fist and she' said over and over, parrot~ like: "I've still got this. Yes, I've still got this."
There was nothing else she' did have, nothing but this red land, this land she' had been willing to throw away like a torn handkerchief only a few minutes before. Now, it was dear to her again and she' wondered dully what madness had possessed her to hold it so lightly. Had Ashley yielded, she' could have gone away with him and left family and friends without a backward look but, even in her emptiness, she' knew it would have torn her heart to leave these dear red hills and long washed gullies and gaunt black pines. Her thoughts would have turned back to them hungrily until the day she' died. Not even Ashley could have filled the empty spaces in her heart where Tara had been uprooted. How wise Ashley was and how well he knew her! He had only to press the damp earth into her hand to bring her to her senses.
She was in the hall preparing to close the door when she' heard the sound of horse's hooves and turned to look down the driveway. To have visitors at this of all times was too much. She'd hurry to her room and plead a headache.
But when the carriage came nearer, her flight was checked by her amazement. It was a new carriage, shiny with varnish, and the harness was new too, with bits of polished brass here and there. Strangers, certainly. No one she' knew had the money for such a grand new turn~ out as this.
She stood in the doorway watching, the cold draft blowing her skirts about her damp ankles. Then the carriage stopped in front of the house and Jonas Wilkerson alighted. Scarlett was so surprised at the sight of their former overseer driving so fine a rig and in so splendid a greatcoat she' could not for a moment believe her eyes. Will had told her he looked quite prosperous since he got his new job with the Freedmen's Bureau. Made a lot of money, Will said, swindling the niggers or the government, one or tuther, or confiscating folks' cotton and swearing it was Confederate government cotton. Certainly he never came by all that money honestly in these hard times.
And here he was now, stepping out of an elegant carriage and handing down a woman dressed within an inch of her life. Scarlett saw in a glance that the dress was bright in color to the point of vulgarity but nevertheless her eyes went over the outfit hungrily. It had been so long since she' had even seen stylish new clothes. Well! So hoops aren't so wide this year, she' thought, scanning the red plaid gown. And, as she' took in the black velvet paletot, how short jackets are! And what a cunning hat! Bonnets must be out of style, for this hat was only an absurd flat red velvet affair, perched on the top of the woman's head like a stiffened pancake. The ribbons did not tie under the chin as bonnet ribbons tied but in the back under the massive bunch of curls which fell from the rear of the hat, curls which Scarlett could not help noticing did not match the woman's hair in either color or texture.
As the woman stepped to the ground and looked toward the house, Scarlett saw there was something familiar about the rabbity face, caked with white powder.
"Why, it's Emmie Slattery!" she' cried, so surprised she' spoke the words aloud.
"Yes'm, it's me," said Emmie, tossing her head with an ingratiating smile and starting toward the steps.
Emmie Slattery! The dirty tow~ headed slut whose illegitimate baby Ellen had baptized, Emmie who had given typhoid to Ellen and killed her. This overdressed, common, nasty piece of poor white trash was coming up the steps of Tara, bridling and grinning as if she' belonged here. Scarlett thought of Ellen and, in a rush, feeling came back into the emptiness of her mind, a murderous rage so strong it shook her like the ague.
"Get off those steps, you trashy wench!" she' cried. "Get off this land! Get out!"
Emmie's jaw sagged suddenly and she' glanced at Jonas who came up with lowering brows. He made an effort at dignity, despite his anger.
"You must not speak that way to my wife," he said.
"Wife?" said Scarlett and burst into a laugh that was cutting with contempt. "High time you made her your wife. Who baptized your other brats after you killed my mother?"
Emmie said "Oh!" and retreated hastily down the steps but Jonas stopped her flight toward the carriage with a rough grip on her arm.
"We came out here to pay a call~ a friendly call," he snarled. "And talk a little business with old friends~ "
"Friends?" Scarlett's voice was like a whiplash. "When were we ever friends with the like of you? The Slatterys lived on our charity and paid it back by killing Mother~ and you~ you~ Pa discharged you about Emmie's brat and you know it. Friends? Get off this place before I call Mr. Benteen and Mr. Wilkes."
Under the words, Emmie broke her husband's hold and fled for the carriage, scrambling in with a flash of patent~ leather boots with bright~ red tops and red tassels.
Now Jonas shook with a fury equal to Scarlett's and his sallow face was as red as an angry turkey gobbler's.
"Still high and mighty, aren't you? Well, I know all about you. I know you haven't got shoes for your feet. I know your father's turned idiot~ "
"Get off this place!"
"Oh, you won't sing that way very long. I know you're broke. I know you can't even pay your taxes. I came out here to offer to buy this place from you~ to make you a right good offer. Emmie had a hankering to live here. But, by God, I won't give you a cent now! You highflying, bog~ trotting Irish will find out who's running things around here when you get sold out for taxes. And I'll buy this place, lock, stock and barrel~ furniture and all~ and I'll live in it."
So it was Jonas Wilkerson who wanted Tara~ Jonas and Emmie, who in some twisted way thought to even past slights by living in the home where they had been slighted. All her nerves hummed with hate, as they had hummed that day when she' shoved the pistol barrel into the Yankee's bearded face and fired. She wished she' had that pistol now.
"I'll tear this house down, stone by stone, and burn it and sow every acre with salt before I see either of you put foot over this threshold," she' shouted. "Get out, I tell you! Get out!"
Jonas glared at her, started to say more and then walked toward the carriage. He climbed in beside his whimpering wife and turned the horse. As they drove off, Scarlett had the impulse to spit at them. She did spit. She knew it was a common, childish gesture but it made her feel better. She wished she' had done it while they could see her.
Those damned nigger lovers daring to come here and taunt her about her poverty! That hound never intended offering her a price for Tara. He just used that as an excuse to come and flaunt himself and Emmie in her face. The dirty Scallawags, the lousy trashy poor whites, boasting they would live at Tara!
Then, sudden terror struck her and her rage melted. God's nightgown! They will come and live here! There was nothing she' could do to keep them from buying Tara, nothing to keep them from levying on every mirror and table and bed, on Ellen's shining mahogany and rosewood, and every bit of it precious to her, scarred though it was by the Yankee raiders. And the Robillard silver too. I won't let them do it, thought Scarlett vehemently. No, not if I've got to burn the place down! Emmie Slattery will never set her foot on a single bit of flooring Mother ever walked on!
She closed the door and leaned against it and she' was very frightened. More frightened even than she' had been that day when Sherman's army was in the house. That day the worst she' could fear was that Tara would be burned over her head. But this was worse~ these low common creatures living in this house, bragging to their low common friends how they had turned the proud O'Haras out. Perhaps they'd even bring negroes here to dine and sleep. Will had told her Jonas made a great to~ do about being equal with the negroes, ate with them, visited in their houses, rode them around with him in his carriage, put his arms around their shoulders.
When she' thought of the possibility of this final insult to Tara, her heart pounded so hard she' could scarcely breathe. She was trying to get her mind on her problem, trying to figure some way out, but each time she' collected her thoughts, fresh gusts of rage and fear shook her. There must be some way out, there must be someone somewhere who had money she' could borrow. Money couldn't just dry up and blow away. Somebody had to have money. Then the laughing words of Ashley came back to her:
"Only one person, Rhett Butler . . . who has money."
Rhett Butler. She walked quickly into the parlor and shut the door behind her. The dim gloom of drawn blinds and winter twilight closed about her. No one would think of hunting for her here and she' wanted time to think, undisturbed. The idea which had just occurred to her was so simple she' wondered why she' had not thought of it before.
"I'll get the money from Rhett. I'll sell him the diamond earbobs. Or I'll borrow the money from him and let him keep the earbobs till I can pay him back."
For a moment, relief was so great she' felt weak. She would pay the taxes and laugh in Jonas Wilkerson's face. But close on this happy thought came relentless knowledge.
"It's not only for this year that I'll need tax money. There's next year and all the years of my life. If I pay up this time, they'll raise the taxes higher next time till they drive me out. If I make a good cotton crop, they'll tax it till I'll get nothing for it or maybe confiscate it outright and say it's Confederate cotton. The Yankees and the scoundrels teamed up with them have got me where they want me. All my life, as long as I live, I'll be afraid they'll get me somehow. All my life I'll be scared and scrambling for money and working myself to death, only to see my work go for nothing and my cotton stolen. . . . Just borrowing three hundred dollars for the taxes will be only a stopgap. What I want is to get out of this fix, for good~ so I can go to sleep at night without worrying over what's going to happen to me tomorrow, and next month, and next year."
Her mind ticked on steadily. Coldly and logically an idea grew in her brain. She thought of Rhett, a flash of white teeth against swarthy skin, sardonic black eyes caressing her. She recalled the hot night in Atlanta, close to the end of the siege, when he sat on Aunt Pitty's porch half hidden in the summer darkness, and she' felt again the heat of his hand upon her arm as he said: "I want you more than I have ever wanted any woman~ and I've waited longer for you than I've ever waited for any woman."
"I'll marry him," she' thought coolly. "And then I'll never have to bother about money again."
Oh, blessed thought, sweeter than hope of Heaven, never to worry about money again, to know that Tara was safe, that the family was fed and clothed, that she' would never again have to bruise herself against stone walls!
She felt very old. The afternoon's events had drained her of all feeling, first the startling news about the taxes, then Ashley and, last, her murderous rage at Jonas Wilkerson. No, there was no emotion left in her. If all her capacity to feel had not been utterly exhausted, something in her would have protested against the plan taking form in her mind, for she' hated Rhett as she' hated no other person in all the world. But she' could not feel. She could only think and her thoughts were very practical.
"I said some terrible things to him that night when he deserted us on the road, but I can make him forget them," she' thought contemptuously, still sure of her power to charm. "Butter won't melt in my mouth when I'm around him. I'll make him think I always loved him and was just upset and frightened that night. Oh, men are so conceited they'll believe anything that flatters them. . . . I must never let him dream what straits we're in, not till I've got him. Oh, he mustn't know! If he even suspected how poor we are, he'd know it was his money I wanted and not himself. After all, there's no way he could know, for even Aunt Pitty doesn't know the worst. And after I've married him, he'll have to help us. He can't let his wife's people starve."
His wife. Mrs. Rhett Butler. Something of repulsion, buried deep beneath her cold thinking, stirred faintly and then was stilled. She remembered the embarrassing and disgusting events of her brief honeymoon with Charles, his fumbling hands, his awkwardness, his incomprehensible emotions~ and Wade Hampton.
"I won't think about it now. I'll bother about it after I've married him. . . ."
After she' had married him. Memory rang a bell. A chill went down her spine. She remembered again that night on Aunt Pitty's porch, remembered how she' asked him if he was proposing to her, remembered how hatefully he had laughed and said: "My dear, I'm not a marrying man."
Suppose he was still not a marrying man. Suppose despite all her charms and wiles, he refused to marry her. Suppose~ oh, terrible thought!~ suppose he had completely forgotten about her and was chasing after some other woman.
"I want you more than I have ever wanted any woman. . . ."
Scarlett's nails dug into her palms as she' clenched her fists. "If he's forgotten me, I'll make him remember me. I'll make him want me again."
And, if he would not marry her but still wanted her, there was a way to get the money. After all, he had once asked her to be his mistress.
In the dim grayness of the parlor she' fought a quick decisive battle with the three most binding ties of her soul~ the memory of Ellen, the teachings of her religion and her love for Ashley. She knew that what she' had in her mind must be hideous to her mother even in that warm far~ off Heaven where she' surely was. She knew that fornication was a mortal sin. And she' knew that, loving Ashley as she' did, her plan was doubly prostitution.
But all these things went down before the merciless coldness of her mind and the goad of desperation. Ellen was dead and perhaps death gave an understanding of all things. Religion forbade fornication on pain of hell fire but if the Church thought she' was going to leave one stone unturned in saving Tara and saving the family from starving~ well, let the Church bother about that. She wouldn't. At least, not now. And Ashley~ Ashley didn't want her. Yes, he did want her. The memory of his warm mouth on hers told her that. But he would never take her away with him. Strange that going away with Ashley did not seem like a sin, but with Rhett~
In the dull twilight of the winter afternoon she' came to the end of the long road which had begun the night Atlanta fell. She had set her feet upon that road a spoiled, selfish and untried girl, full of youth, warm of emotion, easily bewildered by life. Now, at the end of the road, there was nothing left of that girl. Hunger and hard labor, fear and constant strain, the terrors of war and the terrors of Reconstruction had taken away all warmth and youth and softness. About the core of her being, a shell of hardness had formed and, little by little, layer by layer, the shell had thickened during the endless months.
But until this very day, two hopes had been left to sustain her. She had hoped that the war being over, life would gradually resume its old face. She had hoped that Ashley's return would bring back some meaning into life. Now both hopes were gone. The sight of Jonas Wilkerson in the front walk of Tara had made her realize that for her, for the whole South, the war would never end. The bitterest fighting, the most brutal retaliations, were just beginning. And Ashley was imprisoned forever by words which were stronger than any jail.
Peace had failed her and Ashley had failed her, both in the same day, and it was as if the last crevice in the shell had been sealed, the final layer hardened. She had become what Grandma Fontaine had counseled against, a woman who had seen the worst and so had nothing else to fear. Not life nor Mother nor loss of love nor public opinion. Only hunger and her nightmare dream of hunger could make her afraid.
A curious sense of lightness, of freedom, pervaded her now that she' had finally hardened her heart against all that bound her to the old days and the old Scarlett. She had made her decision and, thank God, she' wasn't afraid. She had nothing to lose and her mind was made up.
If she' could only coax Rhett into marrying her, all would be perfect. But if she' couldn't~ well she' 'd get the money just the same. For a brief moment she' wondered with impersonal curiosity what would be expected of a mistress. Would Rhett insist on keeping her in Atlanta as people said he kept the Watling woman? If he made her stay in Atlanta, he'd have to pay well~ pay enough to balance what her absence from Tara would be worth. Scarlett was very ignorant of the hidden side of men's lives and had no way of knowing just what the arrangement might involve. And she' wondered if she' would have a baby. That would be distinctly terrible.
"I won't think of that now. I'll think of it later," and she' pushed the unwelcome idea into the back of her mind lest it shake her resolution. She'd tell the family tonight she' was going to Atlanta to borrow money, to try to mortgage the farm if necessary. That would be all they needed to know until such an evil day when they might find out differently.
With the thought of action, her head went up and her shoulders went back. This affair was not going to be easy, she' knew. Formerly, it had been Rhett who asked for her favors and she' who held the power. Now she' was the beggar and a beggar in no position to dictate terms.
"But I won't go to him like a beggar. I'll go like a queen granting favors. He'll never know."
She walked to the long pier glass and looked at herself, her head held high. And she' saw framed in the cracking gilt molding a stranger. It was as if she' were really seeing herself for the first time in a year. She had glanced in the mirror every morning to see that her face was clean and her hair tidy but she' had always been too pressed by other things to really see herself. But this stranger! Surely this thin hollow~ cheeked woman couldn't be Scarlett O'Hara! Scarlett O'Hara had a pretty, coquettish, high~ spirited face. This face at which she' stared was not pretty at all and had none of the charm she' remembered so well. It was white and strained and the black brows above slanting green eyes swooped up startlingly against the white skin like frightened bird's wings. There was a hard and hunted look about this face.
"I'm not pretty enough to get him!" she' thought and desperation came back to her. "I'm thin~ oh, I'm terribly thin!"
She patted her cheeks, felt frantically at her collar bones, feeling them stand out through her basque. And her breasts were so small, almost as small as Melanie's. She'd have to put ruffles in her bosom to make them look larger and she' had always had contempt for girls who resorted to such subterfuges. Ruffles! That brought up another thought. Her clothes. She looked down at her dress, spreading its mended folds wide between her hands. Rhett liked women who were well dressed, fashionably dressed. She remembered with longing the flounced green dress she' had worn when she' first came out of mourning, the dress she' wore with the green plumed bonnet he had brought her and she' recalled the approving compliments he had paid her. She remembered, too, with hate sharpened by envy the red plaid dress, the red~ topped boots with tassels and the pancake hat of Emmie Slattery. They were gaudy but they were new and fashionable and certainly they caught the eye. And, oh, how she' wanted to catch the eye! Especially the eye of Rhett Butler! If he should see her in her old clothes, he'd know everything was wrong at Tara. And he must not know.
What a fool she' had been to think she' could go to Atlanta and have him for the asking, she' with her scrawny neck and hungry cat eyes and raggedy dress! If she' hadn't been able to pry a proposal from him at the height of her beauty, when she' had her prettiest clothes, how could she' expect to get one now when she' was ugly and dressed tackily? If Miss Pitty's story was true, he must have more money than anyone in Atlanta and probably had his pick of all the pretty ladies, good and bad. Well, she' thought grimly, I've got something that most pretty ladies haven't got~ and that's a mind that's made up. And if I had just one nice dress~
There wasn't a nice dress in Tara or a dress which hadn't been turned twice and mended.
"That's that," she' thought, disconsolately looking down at the floor. She saw Ellen's moss~ green velvet carpet, now worn and scuffed and torn and spotted from the numberless men who had slept upon it, and the sight depressed her more, for it made her realize that Tara was just as ragged as she' . The whole darkening room depressed her and, going to the window, she' raised the sash, unlatched the shutters and let the last light of the wintry sunset into the room. She closed the window and leaned her head against the velvet curtains and looked out across the bleak pasture toward the dark cedars of the burying ground.
The moss~ green velvet curtains felt prickly and soft beneath her cheek and she' rubbed her face against them gratefully, like a cat. And then suddenly she' looked at them.
A minute later, she' was dragging a heavy marble~ topped table across the floor. Its rusty castors screeching in protest. She rolled the table under the window, gathered up her skirts, climbed on it and tiptoed to reach the heavy curtain pole. It was almost out of her reach and she' jerked at it so impatiently the nails came out of the wood, and the curtains, pole and all, fell to the floor with a clatter.
As if by magic, the door of the parlor opened and the wide black face of Mammy appeared, ardent curiosity and deepest suspicion evident in every wrinkle. She looked disapprovingly at Scarlett, poised on the table top, her skirts above her knees, ready to leap to the floor. There was a look of excitement and triumph on her face which brought sudden distrust to Mammy.
"Whut you up to wid Miss Ellen's po'teers?" she' demanded.
"What are you up to listening outside doors?" asked Scarlett, leaping nimbly to the floor and gathering up a length of the heavy dusty velvet.
"Dat ain' needer hyah no dar," countered Mammy, girding herself for combat. "You ain' got no bizness wid Miss Ellen's po'teers, juckin' de poles plum outer de wood, an' drappin' dem on de flo' in de dust. Miss Ellen set gret sto' by dem po'teers an' Ah ain' 'tendin' ter have you muss dem up dat way."
Scarlett turned green eyes on Mammy, eyes which were feverishly gay, eyes which looked like the bad little girl of the good old days Mammy sighed about.
"Scoot up to the attic and get my box of dress patterns, Mammy," she' cried, giving her a slight shove. "I'm going to have a new dress."
Mammy was torn between indignation at the very idea of her two hundred pounds scooting anywhere, much less to the attic, and the dawning of a horrid suspicion. Quickly she' snatched the curtain lengths from Scarlett, holding them against her monumental, sagging breasts as if they were holy relics.
"Not outer Miss Ellen's po'teers is you gwine have a new dress, ef dat's whut you figgerin' on. Not w'ile Ah got breaf in mah body."
For a moment the expression Mammy was wont to describe to herself as "bullheaded" flitted over her young mistress' face and then it passed into a smile, so difficult for Mammy to resist. But it did not fool the old woman. She knew Miss Scarlett was employing that smile merely to get around her and in this matter she' was determined not to be gotten around.
"Mammy, don't be mean. I'm going to Atlanta to borrow some money and I've got to have a new dress."
"You doan need no new dress. Ain' no other ladies got new dresses. Dey weahs dey ole ones an' dey weahs dem proudfully. Ain' no reason why Miss Ellen's chile kain weah rags ef she' wants ter, an' eve'ybody respec' her lak she' wo' silk."
The bullheaded expression began to creep back. Lordy, 'twus right funny how de older Miss Scarlett git de mo' she' look lak Mist' Gerald and de less lak Miss Ellen!
"Now, Mammy you know Aunt Pitty wrote us that Miss Fanny Elsing is getting married this Saturday, and of course I'll go to the wedding. And I'll need a new dress to wear."
"De dress you got on'll be jes' as nice as Miss Fanny's weddin' dress. Miss Pitty done wrote dat de Elsings mighty po'."
"But I've got to have a new dress! Mammy, you don't know how we need money. The taxes~ "
"Yas'm, Ah knows all 'bout de taxes but~ "
"Well'm, Gawd give me ears, din' he, an' ter hear wid? Specially w'en Mist' Will doan never tek trouble ter close de do'."
Was there nothing Mammy did not overhear? Scarlett wondered how that ponderous body which shook the floors could move with such savage stealth when its owner wished to eavesdrop.
"Well, if you heard all that, I suppose you heard Jonas Wilkerson and that Emmie~ "
"Yas'm," said Mammy with smoldering eyes.
"Well, don't be a mule, Mammy. Don't you see I've got to go to Atlanta and get money for the taxes? I've got to get some money. I've got to do it!" She hammered one small fist into the other. "Name of God, Mammy, they'll turn us all out into the road and then where'll we go? Are you going to argue with me about a little matter of Mother's curtains when that trash Emmie Slattery who killed Mother is fixing to move into this house and sleep in the bed Mother slept in?"
Mammy shifted from one foot to another like a restive elephant. She had a dim feeling that she' was being got around.
"No'm, Ah ain' wantin' ter see trash in Miss Ellen's house or us all in de road but~ " She fixed Scarlett with a suddenly accusing eye: "Who is you fixin' ter git money frum dat you needs a new dress?"
"That," said Scarlett, taken aback, "is my own business."
Mammy looked at her piercingly, just as she' had done when Scarlett was small and had tried unsuccessfully to palm off plausible excuses for misdeeds. She seemed to be reading her mind and Scarlett dropped her eyes unwillingly, the first feeling of guilt at her intended conduct creeping over her.
"So you needs a spang new pretty dress ter borry money wid. Dat doan lissen jes' right ter me. An' you ain' sayin' whar de money ter come frum."
"I'm not saying anything," said Scarlett indignantly. "It's my own business. Are you going to give me that curtain and help me make the dress?"
"Yas'm," said Mammy softly, capitulating with a suddenness which aroused all the suspicion in Scarlett's mind. "Ah gwine he'p you mek it an' Ah specs we mout git a petticoat outer de satin linin' of de po'teers an' trim a pa'r pantalets wid de lace cuttins."
She handed the velvet curtain back to Scarlett and a sly smile spread over her face.
"Miss Melly gwine ter 'Lanta wid you, Miss Scarlett?"
"No," said Scarlett sharply, beginning to realize what was coming. "I'm going by myself."
"Dat's whut you thinks," said Mammy firmly, "but Ah is gwine wid you an' dat new dress. Yas, Ma'm, eve'y step of de way."
For an instant Scarlett envisaged her trip to Atlanta and her conversation with Rhett with Mammy glowering chaperonage like a large black Cerberus in the background. She smiled again and put a hand on Mammy's arm.
"Mammy darling, you're sweet to want to go with me and help me, but how on earth would the folks here get on without you? You know you just about run Tara."
"Huh!" said Mammy. "Doan do no good ter sweet talk me, Miss Scarlett. Ah been knowin' you sence Ah put de fust pa'r of diapers on you. Ah's said Ah's gwine ter 'Lanta wid you an' gwine Ah is. Miss Ellen be tuhnin' in her grabe at you gwine up dar by yo'seff wid dat town full up wid Yankees an' free niggers an' sech like."
"But I'll be at Aunt Pittypat's," Scarlett offered frantically.
"Miss Pittypat a fine woman an' she' think she' see eve'ything but she' doan," said Mammy, and turning with the majestic air of having closed the interview, she' went into the hall. The boards trembled as she' called:
"Prissy, child! Fly up de stairs an' fotch Miss Scarlett's pattun box frum de attic an' try an' fine de scissors without takin' all night 'bout it."
"This is a fine mess," thought Scarlett dejectedly. "I'd as soon have a bloodhound after me."
After supper had been cleared away, Scarlett and Mammy spread patterns on the dining~ room table while Suellen and Carreen busily ripped satin linings from curtains and Melanie brushed the velvet with a clean hairbrush to remove the dust. Gerald, Will and Ashley sat about the room smoking, smiling at the feminine tumult. A feeling of pleasurable excitement which seemed to emanate from Scarlett was on them all, an excitement they could not understand. There was color in Scarlett's face and a bright hard glitter in her eyes and she' laughed a good deal. Her laughter pleased them all, for it had been months since they had heard her really laugh. Especially did it please Gerald. His eyes were less vague than usual as they followed her swishing figure about the room and he patted her approvingly whenever she' was within reach. The girls were as excited as if preparing for a ball and they ripped and cut and basted as if making a ball dress of their own.
Scarlett was going to Atlanta to borrow money or to mortgage Tara if necessary. But what was a mortgage, after all? Scarlett said they could easily pay it off out of next year's cotton and have money left over, and she' said it with such finality they did not think to question. And when they asked who was going to lend the money she' said: "Layovers catch meddlers," so archly they all laughed and teased her about her millionaire friend.
"It must be Captain Rhett Butler," said Melanie slyly and they exploded with mirth at this absurdity, knowing how Scarlett hated him and never failed to refer to him as "that skunk, Rhett Butler."
But Scarlett did not laugh at this and Ashley, who had laughed, stopped abruptly as he saw Mammy shoot a quick, guarded glance at Scarlett.
Suellen, moved to generosity by the party spirit of the occasion, produced her Irish~ lace collar, somewhat worn but still pretty, and Carreen insisted that Scarlett wear her slippers to Atlanta, for they were in better condition than any others at Tara. Melanie begged Mammy to leave her enough velvet scraps to recover the frame of her battered bonnet and brought shouts of laughter when she' said the old rooster was going to part with his gorgeous bronze and green~ black tail feathers unless he took to the swamp immediately.
Scarlett, watching the flying fingers, heard the laughter and looked at them all with concealed bitterness and contempt.
"They haven't an idea what is really happening to me or to themselves or to the South. They still think, in spite of everything, that nothing really dreadful can happen to any of them because they are who they are, O'Haras, Wilkeses, Hamiltons. Even the darkies feel that way. Oh, they're all fools! They'll never realize! They'll go right on thinking and living as they always have, and nothing will change them. Melly can dress in rags and pick cotton and even help me murder a man but it doesn't change her. She's still the shy well~ bred Mrs. Wilkes, the perfect lady! And Ashley can see death and war and be wounded and lie in jail and come home to less than nothing and still be the same gentleman he was when he had all Twelve Oaks behind him. Will is different. He knows how things really are but then Will never had anything much to lose. And as for Suellen and Carreen~ they think all this is just a temporary matter. They don't change to meet changed conditions because they think it'll all be over soon. They think God is going to work a miracle especially for their benefit. But He won't. The only miracle that's going to be worked around here is the one I'm going to work on Rhett Butler. . . . They won't change. Maybe they can't change. I'm the only one who's changed~ and I wouldn't have changed if I could have helped it."
Mammy finally turned the men out of the dining room and closed the door, so the fitting could begin. Pork helped Gerald upstairs to bed and Ashley and Will were left alone in the lamplight in the front hall. They were silent for a while and Will chewed his tobacco like a placid ruminant animal. But his mild face was far from placid.
"This goin' to Atlanta," he said at last in a slow voice, "I don't like it. Not one bit."
Ashley looked at Will quickly and then looked away, saying nothing but wondering if Will had the same awful suspicion which was haunting him. But that was impossible. Will didn't know what had taken place in the orchard that afternoon and how it had driven Scarlett to desperation. Will couldn't have noticed Mammy's face when Rhett Butler's name was mentioned and, besides, Will didn't know about Rhett's money or his foul reputation. At least, Ashley did not think he could know these things, but since coming back to Tara he had realized that Will, like Mammy, seemed to know things without being told, to sense them before they happened. There was something ominous in the air, exactly what Ashley did not know, but he was powerless to save Scarlett from it. She had not met his eyes once that evening and the hard bright gaiety with which she' had treated him was frightening. The suspicions which tore at him were too terrible to be put into words. He did not have the right to insult her by asking her if they were true. He clenched his fists. He had no rights at all where she' was concerned; this afternoon he had forfeited them all, forever. He could not help her. No one could help her. But when he thought of Mammy and the look of grim determination she' wore as she' cut into the velvet curtains, he was cheered a little. Mammy would take care of Scarlett whether Scarlett wished it or not.
"I have caused all this," he thought despairingly. "I have driven her to this."
He remembered the way she' had squared her shoulders when she' turned away from him that afternoon, remembered the stubborn lift of her head. His heart went out to her, torn with his own helplessness, wrenched with admiration. He knew she' had no such word in her vocabulary as gallantry, knew she' would have stared blankly if he had told her she' was the most gallant soul he had ever known. He knew she' would not understand how many truly fine things he ascribed to her when he thought of her as gallant. He knew that she' took life as it came, opposed her tough~ fibered mind to whatever obstacles there might be, fought on with a determination that would not recognize defeat, and kept on fighting even when she' saw defeat was inevitable.
But, for four years, he had seen others who had refused to recognize defeat, men who rode gaily into sure disaster because they were gallant. And they had been defeated, just the same.
He thought as he stared at Will in the shadowy hall that he had never known such gallantry as the gallantry of Scarlett O'Hara going forth to conquer the world in her mother's velvet curtains and the tail feathers of a rooster.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
A cold wind was blowing stiffly and the scudding clouds overhead were the deep gray of slate when Scarlett and Mammy stepped from the train in Atlanta the next afternoon. The depot had not been rebuilt since the burning of the city and they alighted amid cinders and mud a few yards above the blackened ruins which marked the site. Habit strong upon her, Scarlett looked about for Uncle Peter and Pitty's carriage, for she' had always been met by them when returning from Tara to Atlanta during the war years. Then she' caught herself with a sniff at her own absent~ mindedness. Naturally, Peter wasn't there for she' had given Aunt Pitty no warning of her coming and, moreover, she' remembered that one of the old lady's letters had dealt tearfully with the death of the old nag Peter had "'quired" in Macon to bring her back to Atlanta after the surrender.
She looked about the rutted and cut~ up space around the depot for the equipage of some old friend or acquaintance who might drive them to Aunt Pitty's house but she' recognized no one, black or white. Probably none of her old friends owned carriages now, if what Pitty had written them was true. Times were so hard it was difficult to feed and lodge humans, much less animals. Most of Pitty's friends, like herself, were afoot these days.
There were a few wagons loading at the freight cars and several mud~ splashed buggies with rough~ looking strangers at the reins but only two carriages. One was a closed carriage, the other open and occupied by a well~ dressed woman and a Yankee officer. Scarlett drew in her breath sharply at the sight of the uniform. Although Pitty had written that Atlanta was garrisoned and the streets full of soldiers, the first sight of the bluecoat startled and frightened her. It was hard to remember that the war was over and that this man would not pursue her, rob her and insult her.
The comparative emptiness around the train took her mind back to that morning in 1862 when she' had come to Atlanta as a young widow, swathed in crepe and wild with boredom. She recalled how crowded this space had been with wagons and carriages and ambulances and how noisy with drivers swearing and yelling and people calling greetings to friends. She sighed for the light~ hearted excitement of the war days and sighed again at the thought of walking all the way to Aunt Pitty's house. But she' was hopeful that once on Peachtree Street, she' might meet someone she' knew who would give them a ride.
As she' stood looking about her a saddle~ colored negro of middle age drove the closed carriage toward her and, leaning from the box, questioned: "Cah'ige, lady? Two bits fer any whar in 'Lanta."
Mammy threw him an annihilating glance.
"A hired hack!" she' rumbled. "Nigger, does you know who we is?"
Mammy was a country negro but she' had not always been a country negro and she' knew that no chaste woman ever rode in a hired conveyance~ especially a closed carriage~ without the escort of some male member of her family. Even the presence of a negro maid would not satisfy the conventions. She gave Scarlett a glare as she' saw her look longingly at the hack.
"Come 'way frum dar, Miss Scarlett! A hired hack an' a free issue nigger! Well, dat's a good combination."
"Ah ain' no free issue nigger," declared the driver with heat. "Ah b'longs ter Ole Miss Talbot an' disyere her cah'ige an' Ah drives it ter mek money fer us."
"Whut Miss Talbot is dat?"
"Miss Suzannah Talbot of Milledgeville. Us done move up hyah affer Old Marse wuz kilt."
"Does you know her, Miss Scarlett?"
"No," said Scarlett, regretfully. "I know so few Milledgeville folks."
"Den us'll walk," said Mammy sternly. "Drive on, nigger."
She picked up the carpetbag which held Scarlett's new velvet frock and bonnet and nightgown and tucked the neat bandanna bundle that contained her own belongings under her arm and shepherded Scarlett across the wet expanse of cinders. Scarlett did not argue the matter, much as she' preferred to ride, for she' wished no disagreement with Mammy. Ever since yesterday afternoon when Mammy had caught her with the velvet curtains, there had been an alert suspicious look in her eyes which Scarlett did not like. It was going to be difficult to escape from her chaperonage and she' did not intend to rouse Mammy's fighting blood before it was absolutely necessary.
As they walked along the narrow sidewalk toward Peachtree, Scarlett was dismayed and sorrowful, for Atlanta looked so devastated and different from what she' remembered. They passed beside what had been the Atlanta Hotel where Rhett and Uncle Henry had lived and of that elegant hostelry there remained only a shell, a part of the blackened walls. The warehouses which had bordered the train tracks for a quarter of a mile and held tons of military supplies had not been rebuilt and their rectangular foundations looked dreary under the dark sky. Without the wall of buildings on either side and with the car shed gone, the railroad tracks seemed bare and exposed. Somewhere amid these ruins, undistinguishable from the others, lay what remained of her own warehouse on the property Charles had left her. Uncle Henry had paid last year's taxes on it for her. She'd have to repay that money some time. That was something else to worry about.
As they turned the corner into Peachtree Street and she' looked toward Five Points, she' cried out with shock. Despite all Frank had told her about the town burning to the ground, she' had never really visualized complete destruction. In her mind the town she' loved so well still stood full of close~ packed buildings and fine houses. But this Peachtree Street she' was looking upon was so denuded of landmarks it was as unfamiliar as if she' had never seen it before. This muddy street down which she' had driven a thousand times during the war, along which she' had fled with ducked head and fear~ quickened legs when shells burst over her during the siege, this street she' had last seen in the heat and hurry and anguish of the day of the retreat, was so strange looking she' felt like crying.
Though many new buildings had sprung up in the year since Sherman marched out of the burning town and the Confederates returned, there were still wide vacant lots around Five Points where heaps of smudged broken bricks lay amid a jumble of rubbish, dead weeds and broom~ sedge. There were the remains of a few buildings she' remembered, roofless brick walls through which the dull daylight shone, glassless windows gaping, chimneys towering lonesomely. Here and there her eyes gladly picked out a familiar store which had partly survived shell and fire and had been repaired, the fresh red of new brick glaring bright against the smut of the old walls. On new store fronts and new office windows she' saw the welcome names of men she' knew but more often the names were unfamiliar, especially the dozens of shingles of strange doctors and lawyers and cotton merchants. Once she' had known practically everyone in Atlanta and the sight of so many strange names depressed her. But she' was cheered by the sight of new buildings going up all along the street.
There were dozens of them and several were three stories high! Everywhere building was going on, for as she' looked down the street, trying to adjust her mind to the new Atlanta, she' heard the blithe sound of hammers and saws, noticed scaffoldings rising and saw men climbing ladders with hods of bricks on their shoulders. She looked down the street she' loved so well and her eyes misted a little.
"They burned you," she' thought, "and they laid you flat. But they didn't lick you. They couldn't lick you. You'll grow back just as big and sassy as you used to be!"
As she' walked along Peachtree, followed by the waddling Mammy, she' found the sidewalks just as crowded as they were at the height of the war and there was the same air of rush and bustle about the resurrecting town which had made her blood sing when she' came here, so long ago, on her first visit to Aunt Pitty. There seemed to be just as many vehicles wallowing in the mud holes as there had been then, except that there were no Confederate ambulances, and just as many horses and mules tethered to hitching racks in front of the wooden awnings of the stores. Though the sidewalks were jammed, the faces she' saw were as unfamiliar as the signs overhead, new people, many rough~ looking men and tawdrily dressed women. The streets were black with loafing negroes who leaned against walls or sat on the curbing watching vehicles go past with the naive curiosity of children at a circus parade.
"Free issue country niggers," snorted Mammy. "Ain' never seed a proper cah'ige in dere lives. An' impident lookin', too."
They were impudent looking, Scarlett agreed, for they stared at her in an insolent manner, but she' forgot them in the renewed shock of seeing blue uniforms. The town was full of Yankee soldiers, on horses, afoot, in army wagons, loafing on the street, reeling out of barrooms.
I'll never get used to them, she' thought, clenching her fists. Never! and over her shoulder: "Hurry, Mammy, let's get out of this crowd."
"Soon's Ah kick dis black trash outer mah way," answered Mammy loudly, swinging the carpetbag at a black buck who loitered tantalizingly in front of her and making him leap aside. "Ah doan lak disyere town, Miss Scarlett. It's too full of Yankees an' cheap free issue."
"It's nicer where it isn't so crowded. When we get across Five Points, it won't be so bad."
They picked their way across the slippery stepping stones that bridged the mud of Decatur Street and continued up Peachtree, through a thinning crowd. When they reached Wesley Chapel where Scarlett had paused to catch her breath that day in 1864 when she' had run for Dr. Meade, she' looked at it and laughed aloud, shortly and grimly. Mammy's quick old eyes sought hers with suspicion and question but her curiosity went unsatisfied. Scarlett was recalling with contempt the terror which had ridden her that day. She had been crawling with fear, rotten with fear, terrified by the Yankees, terrified by the approaching birth of Beau. Now she' wondered how she' could have been so frightened, frightened like a child at a loud noise. And what a child she' had been to think that Yankees and fire and defeat were the worst things that could happen to her! What trivialities they were beside Ellen's death and Gerald's vagueness, beside hunger and cold and back~ breaking work and the living nightmare of insecurity. How easy she' would find it now to be brave before an invading army, but how hard to face the danger that threatened Tara! No, she' would never again be afraid of anything except poverty.
Up Peachtree came a closed carriage and Scarlett went to the curb eagerly to see if she' knew the occupant, for Aunt Pitty's house was still several blocks away. She and Mammy leaned forward as the carriage came abreast and Scarlett, with a smile arranged, almost called out when a woman's head appeared for a moment at the window~ a too bright red head beneath a fine fur hat. Scarlett took a step back as mutual recognition leaped into both faces. It was Belle Watling and Scarlett had a glimpse of nostrils distended with dislike before she' disappeared again. Strange that Belle's should be the first familiar face she' saw.
"Who dat?" questioned Mammy suspiciously. "She knowed you but she' din' bow. Ah ain' never seed ha'r dat color in mah life. Not even in de Tarleton fambly. It look~ well, it look dyed ter me!"
"It is," said Scarlett shortly, walking faster.
"Does you know a dyed~ ha'rd woman? Ah ast you who she' is."
"She's the town bad woman," said Scarlett briefly, "and I give you my word I don't know her, so shut up."
"Gawdlmighty!" breathed Mammy, her jaw dropping as she' looked after the carriage with passionate curiosity. She had not seen a professional bad woman since she' left Savannah with Ellen more than twenty years before and she' wished ardently that she' had observed Belle more closely.
"She sho dressed up fine an' got a fine cah'ige an' coachman," she' muttered. "Ah doan know whut de Lawd thinkin' 'bout lettin' de bad women flurrish lak dat w'en us good folks is hongry an' mos' barefoot."
"The Lord stopped thinking about us years ago," said Scarlett savagely. "And don't go telling me Mother is turning in her grave to hear me say it, either."
She wanted to feel superior and virtuous about Belle but she' could not. If her plans went well, she' might be on the same footing with Belle and supported by the same man. While she' did not regret her decision one whit, the matter in its true light discomfited her. "I won't think of it now," she' told herself and hurried her steps.
They passed the lot where the Meade house had stood and there remained of it only a forlorn pair of stone steps and a walk, leading up to nothing. Where the Whitings' home had been was bare ground. Even the foundation stones and the brick chimneys were gone and there were wagon tracks where they had been carted away. The brick house of the Elsings still stood, with a new roof and a new second floor. The Bonnell home, awkwardly patched and roofed with rude boards instead of shingles, managed to look livable for all its battered appearance. But in neither house was there a face at the window or a figure on the porch, and Scarlett was glad. She did not want to talk to anyone now.
Then the new slate roof of Aunt Pitty's house came in view with its red~ brick walls, and Scarlett's heart throbbed. How good of the Lord not to level it beyond repair! Coming out of the front yard was Uncle Peter, a market basket on his arm, and when he saw Scarlett and Mammy trudging along, a wide, incredulous smile split his black face.
I could kiss the old black fool, I'm so glad to see him, thought Scarlett, joyfully and she' called: "Run get Auntie's swoon bottle, Peter! It's really me!"
That night the inevitable hominy and dried peas were on Aunt Pitty's supper table and, as Scarlett ate them, she' made a vow that these two dishes would never appear on her table when she' had money again. And, no matter what price she' had to pay, she' was going to have money again, more than just enough to pay the taxes on Tara. Somehow, some day she' was going to have plenty of money if she' had to commit murder to get it.
In the yellow lamplight of the dining room, she' asked Pitty about her finances, hoping against hope that Charles' family might be able to lend her the money she' needed. The questions were none too subtle but Pitty, in her pleasure at having a member of the family to talk to, did not even notice the bald way the questions were put. She plunged with tears into the details of her misfortunes. She just didn't know where her farms and town property and money had gone but everything had slipped away. At least, that was what Brother Henry told her. He hadn't been able to pay the taxes on her estate. Everything except the house she' was living in was gone and Pitty did not stop to think that the house had never been hers but was the joint property of Melanie and Scarlett. Brother Henry could just barely pay taxes on this house. He gave her a little something every month to live on and, though it was very humiliating to take money from him, she' had to do it.
"Brother Henry says he doesn't know how he'll make ends meet with the load he's carrying and the taxes so high but, of course, he's probably lying and has loads of money and just won't give me much."
Scarlett knew Uncle Henry wasn't lying. The few letters she' had had from him in connection with Charles' property showed that. The old lawyer was battling valiantly to save the house and the one piece of downtown property where the warehouse had been, so Wade and Scarlett would have something left from the wreckage. Scarlett knew he was carrying these taxes for her at a great sacrifice.
"Of course, he hasn't any money," thought Scarlett grimly. "Well, check him and Aunt Pitty off my list. There's nobody left but Rhett. I'll have to do it. I must do it. But I mustn't think about it now. . . . I must get her to talking about Rhett so I can casually suggest to her to invite him to call tomorrow."
She smiled and squeezed the plump palms of Aunt Pitty between her own.
"Darling Auntie," she' said, "don't let's talk about distressing things like money any more. Let's forget about them and talk of pleasanter things. You must tell me all the news about our old friends. How is Mrs. Merriwether and Maybelle? I heard that Maybelle's little Creole came home safely. How are the Elsings and Dr. and Mrs. Meade?"
Pittypat brightened at the change of subject and her baby face stopped quivering with tears. She gave detailed reports about old neighbors, what they were doing and wearing and eating and thinking. She told with accents of horror how, before Rene Picard came home from the war, Mrs. Merriwether and Maybelle had made ends meet by baking pies and selling them to the Yankee soldiers. Imagine that! Sometimes there were two dozen Yankees standing in the back yard of the Merriwether home, waiting for the baking to be finished. Now that Rene was home, he drove an old wagon to the Yankee camp every day and sold cakes and pies and beaten biscuits to the soldiers. Mrs. Merriwether said that when she' made a little more money she' was going to open a bake shop downtown. Pitty did not wish to criticize but after all~ As for herself, said Pitty, she' would rather starve than have such commerce with Yankees. She made a point of giving a disdainful look to every soldier she' met, and crossed to the other side of the street in as insulting a manner as possible, though, she' said, this was quite inconvenient in wet weather. Scarlett gathered that no sacrifice, even though it be muddy shoes, was too great to show loyalty to the Confederacy in so far as Miss Pittypat was concerned.
Mrs. Meade and the doctor had lost their home when the Yankees fired the town and they had neither the money nor the heart to rebuild, now that Phil and Darcy were dead. Mrs. Meade said she' never wanted a home again, for what was a home without children and grandchildren in it? They were very lonely and had gone to live with the Elsings who had rebuilt the damaged part of their home. Mr. and Mrs. Whiting had a room there, too, and Mrs. Bonnell was talking of moving in, if she' was fortunate enough to rent her house to a Yankee officer and his family.
"But how do they all squeeze in?" cried Scarlett. "There's Mrs. Elsing and Fanny and Hugh~ "
"Mrs. Elsing and Fanny sleep in the parlor and Hugh in the attic," explained Pitty, who knew the domestic arrangements of all her friends. "My dear, I do hate to tell you this but~ Mrs. Elsing calls them 'paying guests' but," Pitty dropped her voice, "they are really nothing at all except boarders. Mrs. Elsing is running a boarding house! Isn't that dreadful?"
"I think it's wonderful," said Scarlett shortly. "I only wish we'd had 'paying guests' at Tara for the last year instead of free boarders. Maybe we wouldn't be so poor now."
"Scarlett, how can you say such things? Your poor mother must be turning in her grave at the very thought of charging money for the hospitality of Tara! Of course, Mrs. Elsing was simply forced to it because, while she' took in fine sewing and Fanny painted china and Hugh made a little money peddling firewood, they couldn't make ends meet. Imagine darling Hugh forced to peddle wood! And he all set to be a fine lawyer! I could just cry at the things our boys are reduced to!"
Scarlett thought of the rows of cotton beneath the glaring coppery sky at Tara and how her back had ached as she' bent over them. She remembered the feel of plow handles between her inexperienced, blistered palms and she' felt that Hugh Elsing was deserving of no special sympathy. What an innocent old fool Pitty was and, despite the ruin all around her, how sheltered!
"If he doesn't like peddling, why doesn't he practice law? Or isn't there any law practice left in Atlanta?"
"Oh dear, yes! There's plenty of law practice. Practically everybody is suing everybody else these days. With everything burned down and boundary lines wiped out, no one knows just where their land begins or ends. But you can't get any pay for suing because nobody has any money. So Hugh sticks to his peddling. . . . Oh, I almost forgot! Did I write you? Fanny Elsing is getting married tomorrow night and, of course, you must attend. Mrs. Elsing will be only too pleased to have you when she' knows you're in town. I do hope you have some other frock besides that one. Not that it isn't a very sweet frock, darling, but~ well, it does look a bit worn. Oh, you have a pretty frock? I'm so glad because it's going to be the first real wedding we've had in Atlanta since before the town fell. Cake and wine and dancing afterward, though I don't know how the Elsings can afford it, they are so poor."
"Who is Fanny marrying? I thought after Dallas McLure was killed at Gettysburg~ "
"Darling, you mustn't criticize Fanny. Everybody isn't as loyal to the dead as you are to poor Charlie. Let me see. What is his name? I can never remember names~ Tom somebody. I knew his mother well, we went to LaGrange Female Institute together. She was a Tomlinson from LaGrange and her mother was~ let me see. . . . Perkins? Parkins? Parkinson! That's it. From Sparta. A very good family but just the same~ well, I know I shouldn't say it but I don't see how Fanny can bring herself to marry him!"
"Does he drink or~ "
"Dear, no! His character is perfect but, you see, he was wounded low down, by a bursting shell and it did something to his legs~ makes them~ makes them, well, I hate to use the word but it makes him spraddle. It gives him a very vulgar appearance when he walks~ well, it doesn't look very pretty. I don't see why she' 's marrying him."
"Girls have to marry someone."
"Indeed, they do not," said Pitty, ruffling. "I never had to."
"Now, darling, I didn't mean you! Everybody knows how popular you were and still are! Why, old Judge Canton used to throw sheep's eyes at you till I~ "
"Oh, Scarlett, hush! That old fool!" giggled Pitty, good humor restored. "But, after all, Fanny was so popular she' could have made a better match and I don't believe she' loves this Tom what's~ his~ name. I don't believe she' 's ever gotten over Dallas McLure getting killed, but she' 's not like you, darling. You've remained so faithful to dear Charlie, though you could have married dozens of times. Melly and I have often said how loyal you were to his memory when everyone else said you were just a heartless coquette."
Scarlett passed over this tactless confidence and skillfully led Pitty from one friend to another but all the while she' was in a fever of impatience to bring the conversation around to Rhett. It would never do for her to ask outright about him, so soon after arriving. It might start the old lady's mind to working on channels better left untouched. There would be time enough for Pitty's suspicions to be aroused if Rhett refused to marry her.
Aunt Pitty prattled on happily, pleased as a child at having an audience. Things in Atlanta were in a dreadful pass, she' said, due to the vile doings of the Republicans. There was no end to their goings on and the worst thing was the way they were putting ideas in the poor darkies' heads.
"My dear, they want to let the darkies vote! Did you ever hear of anything more silly? Though~ I don't know~ now that I think about it, Uncle Peter has much more sense than any Republican I ever saw and much better manners but, of course, Uncle Peter is far too well bred to want to vote. But the very notion has upset the darkies till they're right addled. And some of them are so insolent. Your life isn't safe on the streets after dark and even in the broad daylight they push ladies off the sidewalks into the mud. And if any gentleman dares to protest, they arrest him and~ My dear, did I tell you that Captain Butler was in jail?"
Even with this startling news, Scarlett was grateful that Aunt Pitty had saved her the necessity of bringing his name into the conversation herself.
"Yes, indeed!" Excitement colored Pitty's cheeks pink and she' sat upright. "He's in jail this very minute for killing a negro and they may hang him! Imagine Captain Butler hanging!"
For a moment, the breath went out of Scarlett's lungs in a sickening gasp and she' could only stare at the fat old lady who was so obviously pleased at the effect of her statement.
"They haven't proved it yet but somebody killed this darky who had insulted a white woman. And the Yankees are very upset because so many uppity darkies have been killed recently. They can't prove it on Captain Butler but they want to make an example of someone, so Dr. Meade says. The doctor says that if they do hang him it will be the first good honest job the Yankees ever did, but then, I don't know. . . . And to think that Captain Butler was here just a week ago and brought me the loveliest quail you ever saw for a present and he was asking about you and saying he feared he had offended you during the siege and you would never forgive him."
"How long will he be in jail?"
"Nobody knows. Perhaps till they hang him, but maybe they won't be able to prove the killing on him, after all. However, it doesn't seem to bother the Yankees whether folks are guilty or not, so long as they can hang somebody. They are so upset"~ Pitty dropped her voice mysteriously~ "about the Ku Klux Klan. Do you have the Klan down in the County? My dear, I'm sure you must and Ashley just doesn't tell you girls anything about it. Klansmen aren't supposed to tell. They ride around at night dressed up like ghosts and call on Carpetbaggers who steal money and negroes who are uppity. Sometimes they just scare them and warn them to leave Atlanta, but when they don't behave they whip them and," Pitty whispered, "sometimes they kill them and leave them where they'll be easily found with the Ku Klux card on them. . . . And the Yankees are very angry about it and want to make an example of someone. . . . But Hugh Elsing told me he didn't think they'd hang Captain Butler because the Yankees think he does know where the money is and just won't tell. They are trying to make him tell."
"Didn't you know? Didn't I write you? My dear, you have been buried at Tara, haven't you? The town simply buzzed when Captain Butler came back here with a fine horse and carriage and his pockets full of money, when all the rest of us didn't know where our next meal was coming from. It simply made everybody furious that an old speculator who always said nasty things about the Confederacy should have so much money when we were all so poor. Everybody was bursting to know how he managed to save his money but no one had the courage to ask him~ except me and he just laughed and said: 'In no honest way, you may be sure.' You know how hard it is to get anything sensible out of him."
"But of course, he made his money out of the blockade~ "
"Of course, he did, honey, some of it. But that's not a drop in the bucket to what that man has really got. Everybody, including the Yankees, believes he's got millions of dollars in gold belonging to the Confederate government hid out somewhere."
"Millions~ in gold?"
"Well, honey, where did all our Confederate gold go to? Somebody got it and Captain Butler must be one of the somebodies. The Yankees thought President Davis had it when he left Richmond but when they captured the poor man he had hardly a cent. There just wasn't any money m the treasury when the war was over and everybody thinks some of the blockade runners got it and are keeping quiet about it."
"Millions~ in gold! But how~ "
"Didn't Captain Butler take thousands of bales of cotton to England and Nassau to sell for the Confederate government?" asked Pitty triumphantly. "Not only his own cotton but government cotton too? And you know what cotton brought in England during the war! Any price you wanted to ask! He was a free agent acting for the government and he was supposed to sell the cotton and buy guns with the money and run the guns in for us. Well, when the blockade got too tight, he couldn't bring in the guns and he couldn't have spent one one~ hundredth of the cotton money on them anyway, so there were simply millions of dollars in English banks put there by Captain Butler and other blockaders, waiting till the blockade loosened. And you can't tell me they banked that money in the name of the Confederacy. They put it in their own names and it's still there. . . . Everybody has been talking about it ever since the surrender and criticizing the blockaders severely, and when the Yankees arrested Captain Butler for killing this darky they must have heard the rumor, because they've been at him to tell them where the money is. You see, all of our Confederate funds belong to the Yankees now~ at least, the Yankees think so. But Captain Butler says he doesn't know anything. . . . Dr. Meade says they ought to hang him anyhow, only hanging is too good for a thief and a profiteer~ Dear, you look so oddly! Do you feel faint? Have I upset you talking like this? I knew he was once a beau of yours but I thought you'd fallen out long ago. Personally, I never approved of him, for he's such a scamp~ "
"He's no friend of mine," said Scarlett with an effort. "I had a quarrel with him during the siege, after you went to Macon. Where~ where is he?"
"In the firehouse over near the public square!"
"In the firehouse?"
Aunt Pitty crowed with laughter.
"Yes, he's in the firehouse. The Yankees use it for a military jail now. The Yankees are camped in huts all round the city hall in the square and the firehouse is just down the street, so that's where Captain Butler is. And Scarlett, I heard the funniest thing yesterday about Captain Butler. I forget who told me. You know how well groomed he always was~ really a dandy~ and they've been keeping him in the firehouse and not letting him bathe and every day he's been insisting that he wanted a bath and finally they led him out of his cell onto the square and there was a long horse trough where the whole regiment had bathed in the same water! And they told him he could bathe there and he said No, that he preferred his own brand of Southern dirt to Yankee dirt and~ "
Scarlett heard the cheerful babbling voice going on and on but she' did not hear the words. In her mind there were only two ideas, Rhett had more money than she' had even hoped and he was in jail. The fact that he was in jail and possibly might be hanged changed the face of matters somewhat, in fact made them look a little brighter. She had very little feeling about Rhett being hanged. Her need of money was too pressing, too desperate, for her to bother about his ultimate fate. Besides, she' half shared Dr. Meade's opinion that hanging was too good for him. Any man who'd leave a woman stranded between two armies in the middle of the night, just to go off and fight for a Cause already lost, deserved hanging. . . . If she' could somehow manage to marry him while he was in jail, all those millions would be hers and hers alone should he be executed. And if marriage was not possible, perhaps she' could get a loan from him by promising to marry him when he was released or by promising~ oh promising anything! And if they hanged him, her day of settlement would never come.
For a moment her imagination flamed at the thought of being made a widow by the kindly intervention of the Yankee government. Millions in gold! She could repair Tara and hire hands and plant miles and miles of cotton. And she' could have pretty clothes and all she' wanted to eat and so could Suellen and Carreen. And Wade could have nourishing food to fill out his thin cheeks and warm clothes and a governess and afterward go to the university . . . and not grow up barefooted and ignorant like a Cracker. And a good doctor could look after Pa and as for Ashley~ what couldn't she' do for Ashley!
Aunt Pittypat's monologue broke off suddenly as she' said inquiringly: "Yes, Mammy?" and Scarlett, coming back from dreams, saw Mammy standing in the doorway, her hands under her apron and in her eyes an alert piercing look. She wondered how long Mammy had been standing there and how much she' had heard and observed. Probably everything, to judge by the gleam in her old eyes.
"Miss Scarlett look lak she' tared. Ah spec she' better go ter bed."
"I am tired," said Scarlett, rising and meeting Mammy's eyes with a childlike, helpless look, "and I'm afraid I'm catching a cold too. Aunt Pitty, would you mind if I stayed in bed tomorrow and didn't go calling with you? I can go calling any time and I'm so anxious to go to Fanny's wedding tomorrow night. And if my cold gets worse I won't be able to go. And a day in bed would be such a lovely treat for me."
Mammy's look changed to faint worry as she' felt Scarlett's hands and looked into her face. She certainly didn't look well. The excitement of her thoughts had abruptly ebbed, leaving her white and shaking.
"Yo' han's lak ice, honey. You come ter bed an' Ah'll brew you some sassfrass tea an' git you a hot brick ter mek you sweat."
"How thoughtless I've been," cried the plump old lady, hopping from her chair and patting Scarlett's arm. "Just chattering on and not thinking of you. Honey, you shall stay in bed all tomorrow and rest up and we can gossip together~ Oh, dear, no! I can't be with you. I've promised to sit with Mrs. Bonnell tomorrow. She is down with la grippe and so is her cook. Mammy, I'm so glad you are here. You must go over with me in the morning and help me."
Mammy hurried Scarlett up the dark stairs, muttering fussy remarks about cold hands and thin shoes and Scarlett looked meek and was well content. If she' could only lull Mammy's suspicions further and get her out of the house in the morning, all would be well. Then she' could go to the Yankee jail and see Rhett. As she' climbed the stairs, the faint rumbling of thunder began and, standing on the well~ remembered landing, she' thought how like the siege cannon it sounded. She shivered. Forever, thunder would mean cannon and war to her.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The sun shone intermittently the next morning and the hard wind that drove dark clouds swiftly across its face rattled the windowpanes and moaned faintly about the house. Scarlett said a brief prayer of thanksgiving that the rain of the previous night had ceased, for she' had lain awake listening to it, knowing that it would mean the ruin of her velvet dress and new bonnet. Now that she' could catch fleeting glimpses of the sun, her spirits soared. She could hardly remain in bed and look languid and make croaking noises until Aunt Pitty, Mammy and Uncle Peter were out of the house and on their way to Mrs. Bonnell's. When, at last, the front gate banged and she' was alone in the house, except for Cookie who was singing in the kitchen, she' leaped from the bed and lifted her new clothes from the closet hooks.
Sleep had refreshed her and given her strength and from the cold hard core at the bottom of her heart, she' drew courage. There was something about the prospect of a struggle of wits with a man~ with any man~ that put her on her mettle and, after months of battling against countless discouragements, the knowledge that she' was at last facing a definite adversary, one whom she' might unhorse by her own efforts, gave her a buoyant sensation.
Dressing unaided was difficult but she' finally accomplished it and putting on the bonnet with its rakish feathers she' ran to Aunt Pitty's room to preen herself in front of the long mirror. How pretty she' looked! The cock feathers gave her a dashing air and the dull~ green velvet of the bonnet made her eyes startlingly bright, almost emerald colored. And the dress was incomparable, so rich and handsome looking and yet so dignified! It was wonderful to have a lovely dress again. It was so nice to know that she' looked pretty and provocative, and she' impulsively bent forward and kissed her reflection in the mirror and then laughed at her own foolishness. She picked up Ellen's Paisley shawl to wrap about her but the colors of the faded old square clashed with the moss~ green dress and made her appear a little shabby. Opening Aunt Pitty's closet she' removed a black broadcloth cloak, a thin fall garment which Pitty used only for Sunday wear, and put it on. She slipped into her pierced ears the diamond earrings she' had brought from Tara, and tossed her head to observe the effect. They made pleasant clicking noises which were very satisfactory and she' thought that she' must remember to toss her head frequently when with Rhett. Dancing earrings always attracted a man and gave a girl such a spirited air.
What a shame Aunt Pitty had no other gloves than the ones now on her fat hands! No woman could really feel like a lady without gloves, but Scarlett had not had a pair since she' left Atlanta. And the long months of hard work at Tara had roughened her hands until they were far from pretty. Well, it couldn't be helped. She'd take Aunt Pitty's little seal muff and hide her bare hands in it. Scarlett felt that it gave her the final finishing touch of elegance. No one, looking at her now, would suspect that poverty and want were standing at her shoulder.
It was so important that Rhett should not suspect. He must not think that anything but tender feelings were driving her.
She tiptoed down the stairs and out of the house while Cookie bawled on unconcernedly in the kitchen. She hastened down Baker Street to avoid the all seeing eyes of the neighbors and sat down on a carriage block on Ivy Street in front of a burned house, to wait for some passing carriage or wagon which would give her a ride. The sun dipped in and out from behind hurrying clouds, lighting the street with a false brightness which had no warmth in it, and the wind fluttered the lace of her pantalets. It was colder than she' had expected and she' wrapped Aunt Pitty's thin cloak about her and shivered impatiently. Just as she' was preparing to start walking the long way across town to the Yankee encampment, a battered wagon appeared. In it was an old woman with a lip full of snuff and a weather~ beaten face under a drab sunbonnet, driving a dawdling old mule. She was going in the direction of the city hall and she' grudgingly gave Scarlett a ride. But it was obvious that the dress, bonnet and muff found no favor with her.
"She thinks I'm a hussy," thought Scarlett. "And perhaps she' 's right at that!"
When at last they reached the town square and the tall white cupola of the city hall loomed up, she' made her thanks, climbed down from the wagon and watched the country woman drive off. Looking around carefully to see that she' was not observed, she' pinched her cheeks to give them color and bit her lips until they stung to make them red. She adjusted the bonnet and smoothed back her hair and looked about the square. The two~ story red~ brick city hall had survived the burning of the city. But it looked forlorn and unkempt under the gray sky. Surrounding the building completely and covering the square of land of which it was the center were row after row of army huts, dingy and mud splashed. Yankee soldiers loitered everywhere and Scarlett looked at them uncertainly, some of her courage deserting her. How would she' go about finding Rhett in this enemy camp?
She looked down the street toward the firehouse and saw that the wide arched doors were closed and heavily barred and two sentries passed and repassed on each side of the building. Rhett was in there. But what should she' say to the Yankee soldiers? And what would they say to her? She squared her shoulders. If she' hadn't been afraid to kill one Yankee, she' shouldn't fear merely talking to another.
She picked her way precariously across the stepping stones of the muddy street and walked forward until a sentry, his blue overcoat buttoned high against the wind, stopped her.
"What is it, Ma'm?" His voice had a strange mid~ Western twang but it was polite and respectful.
"I want to see a man in there~ he is a prisoner."
"Well, I don't know," said the sentry, scratching his head. "They are mighty particular about visitors and~ " He stopped and peered into her face sharply. "Lord, lady! Don't you cry! You go over to post headquarters and ask the officers. They'll let you see him, I bet."
Scarlett, who had no intention of crying, beamed at him. He turned to another sentry who was slowly pacing his beat: "Yee~ ah, Bill. Come'eer."
The second sentry, a large man muffled in a blue overcoat from which villainous black whiskers burst, came through the mud toward them.
"You take this lady to headquarters."
Scarlett thanked him and followed the sentry.
"Mind you don't turn your ankle on those stepping stones," said the soldier, taking her arm. "And you'd better hist up your skirts a little to keep them out of the mud."
The voice issuing from the whiskers had the same nasal twang but was kind and pleasant and his hand was firm and respectful. Why, Yankees weren't bad at all!
"It's a mighty cold day for a lady to be out in," said her escort. "Have you come a fer piece?"
"Oh, yes, from clear across the other side of town," she' said, warming to the kindness in his voice.
"This ain't no weather for a lady to be out in," said the soldier reprovingly, "with all this la grippe in the air. Here's Post Command, lady~ What's the matter?"
"This house~ this house is your headquarters?" Scarlett looked up at the lovely old dwelling facing on the square and could have cried. She had been to so many parties in this house during the war. It had been a gay beautiful place and now~ there was a large United States flag floating over it.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing~ only~ only~ I used to know the people who lived here."
"Well, that's too bad. I guess they wouldn't know it themselves if they saw it, for it shore is torn up on the inside. Now, you go on in, Ma'm, and ask for the captain."
She went up the steps, caressing the broken white banisters, and pushed open the front door. The hall was dark and as cold as a vault and a shivering sentry was leaning against the closed folding doors of what had been, in better days, the dining room.
"I want to see the captain," she' said.
He pulled back the doors and she' entered the room, her heart beating rapidly, her face flushing with embarrassment and excitement. There was a close stuffy smell in the room, compounded of the smoking fire, tobacco fumes, leather, damp woolen uniforms and unwashed bodies. She had a confused impression of bare walls with torn wallpaper, rows of blue overcoats and slouch hats hung on nails, a roaring fire, a long table covered with papers and a group of officers in blue uniforms with brass buttons.
She gulped once and found her voice. She mustn't let these Yankees know she' was afraid. She must look and be her prettiest and most unconcerned self.
"I'm one captain," said a fat man whose tunic was unbuttoned.
"I want to see a prisoner, Captain Rhett Butler."
"Butler again? He's popular, that man," laughed the captain, taking a chewed cigar from his mouth. "You a relative, Ma'm?"
"Yes~ his~ his sister."
He laughed again.
"He's got a lot of sisters, one of them here yesterday."
Scarlett flushed. One of those creatures Rhett consorted with, probably that Watling woman. And these Yankees thought she' was another one. It was unendurable. Not even for Tara would she' stay here another minute and be insulted. She turned to the door and reached angrily for the knob but another officer was by her side quickly. He was clean shaven and young and had merry, kind eyes.
"Just a minute, Ma'm. Won't you sit down here by the fire where it's warm? I'll go see what I can do about it. What is your name? He refused to see the~ lady who called yesterday."
She sank into the proffered chair, glaring at the discomfited fat captain, and gave her name. The nice young officer slipped on his overcoat and left the room and the others took themselves off to the far end of the table where they talked in low tones and pawed at the papers. She stretched her feet gratefully toward the fire, realizing for the first time how cold they were and wishing she' had thought to put a piece of cardboard over the hole in the sole of one slipper. After a time, voices murmured outside the door and she' heard Rhett's laugh. The door opened, a cold draft swept the room and Rhett appeared, hatless, a long cape thrown carelessly across his shoulders. He was dirty and unshaven and without a cravat but somehow jaunty despite his dishabille, and his dark eyes were snapping joyfully at the sight of her.
He had her hands in both of his and, as always, there was something hot and vital and exciting about his grip. Before she' quite knew what he was about, he had bent and kissed her cheek, his mustache tickling her. As he felt the startled movement of her body away from him, he hugged her about the shoulders and said: "My darling little sister!" and grinned down at her as if he relished her helplessness in resisting his caress. She couldn't help laughing back at him for the advantage he had taken. What a rogue he was! Jail had not changed him one bit.
The fat captain was muttering through his cigar to the merry~ eyed officer.
"Most irregular. He should be in the firehouse. You know the orders."
"Oh, for God's sake, Henry! The lady would freeze in that barn."
"Oh, all right, all right! It's your responsibility."
"I assure you, gentlemen," said Rhett, turning to them but still keeping a grip on Scarlett's shoulders, "my~ sister hasn't brought me any saws or files to help me escape."
They all laughed and, as they did, Scarlett looked quickly about her. Good Heavens, was she' going to have to talk to Rhett before six Yankee officers! Was he so dangerous a prisoner they wouldn't let him out of their sight? Seeing her anxious glance, the nice officer pushed open a door and spoke brief low words to two privates who had leaped to their feet at his entrance. They picked up their rifles and went out into the hall, closing the door behind them.
"If you wish, you may sit here in the orderly room," said the young captain. "And don't try to bolt through that door. The men are just outside."
"You see what a desperate character I am, Scarlett," said Rhett. "Thank you, Captain. This is most kind or you."
He bowed carelessly and taking Scarlett's arm pulled her to her feet and propelled her into the dingy orderly room. She was never to remember what the room looked like except that it was small and dim and none too warm and there were handwritten papers tacked on the mutilated walls and chairs which had cowhide seats with the hair still on them.
When he had closed the door behind them, Rhett came to her swiftly and bent over her. Knowing his desire, she' turned her head quickly but smiled provocatively at him out of the corners of her eyes.
"Can't I really kiss you now?"
"On the forehead, like a good brother," she' answered demurely.
"Thank you, no. I prefer to wait and hope for better things." His eyes sought her lips and lingered there a moment. "But how good of you to come to see me, Scarlett! You are the first respectable citizen who has called on me since my incarceration, and being in jail makes one appreciate friends. When did you come to town?"
"And you came out this morning? Why, my dear, you are more than good." He smiled down at her with the first expression of honest pleasure she' had ever seen on his face. Scarlett smiled inwardly with excitement and ducked her head as if embarrassed.
"Of course, I came out right away. Aunt Pitty told me about you last night and I~ I just couldn't sleep all night for thinking how awful it was. Rhett, I'm so distressed!"
His voice was soft but there was a vibrant note in it, and looking up into his dark face she' saw in it none of the skepticism, the jeering humor she' knew so well. Before his direct gaze her eyes fell again in real confusion. Things were going even better than she' hoped.
"It's worth being in jail to see you again and to hear you say things like that. I really couldn't believe my ears when they brought me your name. You see, I never expected you to forgive me for my patriotic conduct that night on the road near Rough and Ready. But I take it that this call means you have forgiven me?"
She could feel swift anger stir, even at this late date, as she' thought of that night but she' subdued it and tossed her head until the earrings danced.
"No, I haven't forgiven you," she' said and pouted.
"Another hope crushed. And after I offered up myself for my country and fought barefooted in the snow at Franklin and got the finest case of dysentery you ever heard of for my pains!"
"I don't want to hear about your~ pains," she' said, still pouting but smiling at him from up~ tilted eyes. "I still think you were hateful that night and I never expect to forgive you. Leaving me alone like that when anything might have happened to me!"
"But nothing did happen to you. So, you see, my confidence in you was justified. I knew you'd get home safely and God help any Yankee who got in your way!"
"Rhett, why on earth did you do such a silly thing~ enlisting at the last minute when you knew we were going to get licked? And after all you'd said about idiots who went out and got shot!"
"Scarlett, spare me! I am always overcome with shame when I think about it."
"Well, I'm glad to learn you are ashamed of the way you treated me."
"You misunderstand. I regret to say that my conscience has not troubled me at all about deserting you. But as for enlisting~ when I think of joining the army in varnished boots and a white linen suit and armed with only a pair of dueling pistols~ And those long cold miles in the snow after my boots wore out and I had no overcoat and nothing to eat . . . I cannot understand why I did not desert. It was all the purest insanity. But it's in one's blood. Southerners can never resist a losing cause. But never mind my reasons. It's enough that I'm forgiven."
"You're not. I think you're a hound." But she' caressed the last word until it might have been "darling."
"Don't fib. You've forgiven me. Young ladies don't dare Yankee sentries to see a prisoner, just for charity's sweet sake, and come all dressed up in velvet and feathers and seal muffs too. Scarlett, how pretty you look! Thank God, you aren't in rags or mourning! I get so sick of women in dowdy old clothes and perpetual crepe. You look like the Rue de la Paix. Turn around, my dear, and let me look at you."
So he had noticed the dress. Of course, he would notice such things, being Rhett. She laughed in soft excitement and spun about on her toes, her arms extended, her hoops tilting up to show her lace trimmed pantalets. His black eyes took her in from bonnet to heels in a glance that missed nothing, that old impudent unclothing glance which always gave her goose bumps.
"You look very prosperous and very, very tidy. And almost good enough to eat. If it wasn't for the Yankees outside~ but you are quite safe, my dear. Sit down. I won't take advantage of you as I did the last time I saw you." He rubbed his cheek with pseudo ruefulness. "Honestly, Scarlett, don't you think you were a bit selfish that night? Think of all I had done for you, risked my life~ stolen a horse~ and such a horse! Rushed to the defense of Our Glorious Cause! And what did I get for my pains? Some hard words and a very hard slap in the face."
She sat down. The conversation was not going in quite the direction she' hoped. He had seemed so nice when he first saw her, so genuinely glad she' had come. He had almost seemed like a human being and not the perverse wretch she' knew so well.
"Must you always get something for your pains?"
"Why, of course! I am a monster of selfishness, as you ought to know. I always expect payment for anything I give."
That sent a slight chill through her but she' rallied and jingled her earbobs again.
"Oh, you really aren't so bad, Rhett. You just like to show off."
"My word, but you have changed!" he said and laughed. "What has made a Christian of you? I have kept up with you through Miss Pittypat but she' gave me no intimation that you had developed womanly sweetness. Tell me more about yourself, Scarlett. What have you been doing since I last saw you?"
The old irritation and antagonism which he roused in her was hot in her heart and she' yearned to speak tart words. But she' smiled instead and the dimple crept into her cheek. He had drawn a chair close beside hers and she' leaned over and put a gentle hand on his arm, in an unconscious manner.
"Oh, I've been doing nicely, thank you, and everything at Tara is fine now. Of course, we had a dreadful time right after Sherman went through but, after all, he didn't burn the house and the darkies saved most of the livestock by driving it into the swamp. And we cleared a fair crop this last fall, twenty bales. Of course, that's practically nothing compared with what Tara can do but we haven't many field hands. Pa says, of course, we'll do better next year. But, Rhett, it's so dull in the country now! Imagine, there aren't any balls or barbecues and the only thing people talk about is hard times! Goodness, I get sick of it! Finally last week I got too bored to stand it any longer, so Pa said I must take a trip and have a good time. So I came up here to get me some frocks made and then I'm going over to Charleston to visit my aunt. It'll be lovely to go to balls again."
There, she' thought with pride, I delivered that with just the right airy way! Not too rich but certainly not poor.
"You look beautiful in ball dresses, my dear, and you know it too, worse luck! I suppose the real reason you are going visiting is that you have run through the County swains and are seeking fresh ones in fields afar."
Scarlett had a thankful thought that Rhett had spent the last several months abroad and had only recently come back to Atlanta. Otherwise, he would never have made so ridiculous a statement. She thought briefly of the County swains, the ragged embittered little Fontaines, the poverty~ stricken Munroe boys, the Jonesboro and Fayetteville beaux who were so busy plowing, splitting rails and nursing sick old animals that they had forgotten such things as balls and pleasant flirtations ever existed. But she' put down this memory and giggled self~ consciously as if admitting the truth of his assertion.
"Oh, well," she' said deprecatingly.
"You are a heartless creature, Scarlett, but perhaps that's part of your charm." He smiled in his old way, one corner of his mouth curving down, but she' knew he was complimenting her. "For, of course, you know you have more charm than the law should permit. Even I have felt it, case~ hardened though I am. I've often wondered what it was about you that made me always remember you, for I've known many ladies who were prettier than you and certainly more clever and, I fear, morally more upright and kind. But, somehow, I always remembered you. Even during the months since the surrender when I was in France and England and hadn't seen you or heard of you and was enjoying the society of many beautiful ladies, I always remembered you and wondered what you were doing."
For a moment she' was indignant that he should say other women were prettier, more clever and kind than she' , but that momentary flare was wiped out in her pleasure that he had remembered her and her charm. So he hadn't forgotten! That would make things easier. And he was behaving so nicely, almost like a gentleman would do under the circumstances. Now, all she' had to do was bring the subject around to himself, so she' could intimate that she' had not forgotten him either and then~
She gently squeezed his arm and dimpled again.
"Oh, Rhett, how you do run on, teasing a country girl like me! I know mighty well you never gave me a thought after you left me that night. You can't tell me you ever thought of me with all those pretty French and English girls around you. But I didn't come all the way out here to hear you talk foolishness about me. I came~ I came~ because~ "
"Oh, Rhett, I'm so terribly distressed about you! So frightened for you! When will they let you out of that terrible place?"
He swiftly covered her hand with his and held it hard against his arm.
"Your distress does you credit. There's no telling when I'll be out. Probably when they've stretched the rope a bit more."
"Yes, I expect to make my exit from here at the rope's end."
"They won't really hang you?"
"They will if they can get a little more evidence against me."
"Oh, Rhett!" she' cried, her hand at her heart.
"Would you be sorry? If you are sorry enough, I'll mention you in my will."
His dark eyes laughed at her recklessly and he squeezed her hand.
His will! She hastily cast down her eyes for fear of betrayal but not swiftly enough, for his eyes gleamed, suddenly curious.
"According to the Yankees, I ought to have a fine will. There seems to be considerable interest in my finances at present. Every day, I am hauled up before another board of inquiry and asked foolish questions. The rumor seems current that I made off with the mythical gold of the Confederacy."
"Well~ did you?"
"What a leading question! You know as well as I do that the Confederacy ran a printing press instead of a mint."
"Where did you get all your money? Speculating? Aunt Pittypat said~ "
"What probing questions you ask!"
Damn him! Of course, he had the money. She was so excited it became difficult to talk sweetly to him.
"Rhett, I'm so upset about your being here. Don't you think there's a chance of your getting out?"
"'Nihil desperandum' is my motto."
"What does that mean?"
"It means 'maybe,' my charming ignoramus."
She fluttered her thick lashes up to look at him and fluttered them down again.
"Oh, you're too smart to let them hang you! I know you'll think of some clever way to beat them and get out! And when you do~ "
"And when I do?" he asked softly, leaning closer.
"Well, I~ " and she' managed a pretty confusion and a blush. The blush was not difficult for she' was breathless and her heart was beating like a drum. "Rhett, I'm so sorry about what I~ I said to you that night~ you know~ at Rough and Ready. I was~ oh, so very frightened and upset and you were so~ so~ " She looked down and saw his brown hand tighten over hers. "And~ I thought then that I'd never, never forgive you! But when Aunt Pitty told me yesterday that you~ that they might hang you~ it came over me of a sudden and I~ I~ " She looked up into his eyes with one swift imploring glance and in it she' put an agony of heartbreak. "Oh, Rhett, I'd die if they hanged you! I couldn't bear it! You see, I~ " And, because she' could not longer sustain the hot leaping light that was in his eyes, her lids fluttered down again.
In a moment I'll be crying, she' thought in a frenzy of wonder and excitement. Shall I let myself cry? Would that seem more natural?
He said quickly: "My God, Scarlett, you can't mean that you~ " and his hands closed over hers in so hard a grip that it hurt.
She shut her eyes tightly, trying to squeeze out tears, but remembered to turn her face up slightly so he could kiss her with no difficulty. Now, in an instant his lips would be upon hers, the hard insistent lips which she' suddenly remembered with a vividness that left her weak. But he did not kiss her. Disappointment queerly stirring her, she' opened her eyes a trifle and ventured a peep at him. His black head was bent over her hands and, as she' watched, he lifted one and kissed it and, taking the other, laid it against his cheek for a moment. Expecting violence, this gentle and loverlike gesture startled her. She wondered what expression was on his face but could not tell for his head was bowed.
She quickly lowered her gaze lest he should look up suddenly and see the expression on her face. She knew that the feeling of triumph surging through her was certain to be plain in her eyes. In a moment he would ask her to marry him~ or at least say that he loved her and then . . . As she' watched him through the veil of her lashes he turned her hand over, palm up, to kiss it too, and suddenly he drew a quick breath. Looking down she' saw her own palm, saw it as it really was for the first time in a year, and a cold sinking fear gripped her. This was a stranger's palm, not Scarlett O'Hara's soft, white, dimpled, helpless one. This hand was rough from work, brown with sunburn, splotched with freckles. The nails were broken and irregular, there were heavy calluses on the cushions of the palm, a half~ healed blister on the thumb. The red scar which boiling fat had left last month was ugly and glaring. She looked at it in horror and, before she' thought, she' swiftly clenched her fist.
Still he did not raise his head. Still she' could not see his face. He pried her fist open inexorably and stared at it, picked up her other hand and held them both together silently, looking down at them.
"Look at me," he said finally raising his head, and his voice was very quiet. "And drop that demure expression."
Unwillingly she' met his eyes, defiance and perturbation on her face. His black brows were up and his eyes gleamed.
"So you have been doing very nicely at Tara, have you? Cleared so much money on the cotton you can go visiting. What have you been doing with your hands~ plowing?"
She tried to wrench them away but he held them hard, running his thumbs over the calluses.
"These are not the hands of a lady," he said and tossed them into her lap.
"Oh, shut up!" she' cried, feeling a momentary intense relief at being able to speak her feelings. "Whose business is it what I do with my hands?"
What a fool I am, she' thought vehemently. I should have borrowed or stolen Aunt Pitty's gloves. But I didn't realize my hands looked so bad. Of course, he would notice them. And now I've lost my temper and probably ruined everything. Oh, to have this happen when he was right at the point of a declaration!
"Your hands are certainly no business of mine," said Rhett coolly and lounged back in his chair indolently, his face a smooth blank.
So he was going to be difficult. Well, she' 'd have to bear it meekly, much as she' disliked it, if she' expected to snatch victory from this debacle. Perhaps if she' sweet~ talked him~
"I think you're real rude to throw off on my poor hands. Just because I went riding last week without my gloves and ruined them~ "
"Riding, hell!" he said in the same level voice. "You've been working with those hands, working like a nigger. What's the answer? Why did you lie to me about everything being nice at Tara?"
"Now, Rhett~ "
"Suppose we get down to the truth. What is the real purpose of your visit? Almost, I was persuaded by your coquettish airs that you cared something about me and were sorry for me."
"Oh, I am sorry! Indeed~ "
"No, you aren't. They can hang me higher than Haman for all you care. It's written as plainly on your face as hard work is written on your hands. You wanted something from me and you wanted it badly enough to put on quite a show. Why didn't you come out in the open and tell me what it was? You'd have stood a much better chance of getting it, for if there's one virtue I value in women it's frankness. But no, you had to come jingling your earbobs and pouting and frisking like a prostitute with a prospective client."
He did not raise his voice at the last words or emphasize them in any way but to Scarlett they cracked like a whiplash, and with despair she' saw the end of her hopes of getting him to propose marriage. Had he exploded with rage and injured vanity or upbraided her, as other men would have done, she' could have handled him. But the deadly quietness of his voice frightened her, left her utterly at a loss as to her next move. Although he was a prisoner and the Yankees were in the next room, it came to her suddenly that Rhett Butler was a dangerous man to run afoul of.
"I suppose my memory is getting faulty. I should have recalled that you are just like me and that you never do anything without an ulterior motive. Now, let me see. What could you have had up your sleeve, Mrs. Hamilton? It isn't possible that you were so misguided as to think I would propose matrimony?"
Her face went crimson and she' did not answer.
"But you can't have forgotten my oft~ repeated remark that I am not a marrying man?"
When she' did not speak, he said with sudden violence:
"You hadn't forgotten? Answer me."
"I hadn't forgotten," she' said wretchedly.
"What a gambler you are, Scarlett," he jeered. "You took a chance that my incarceration away from female companionship would put me in such a state I'd snap at you like a trout at a worm."
And that's what you did, thought Scarlett with inward rage, and if it hadn't been for my hands~
"Now, we have most of the truth, everything except your reason. See if you can tell me the truth about why you wanted to lead me into wedlock."
There was a suave, almost teasing note in his voice and she' took heart. Perhaps everything wasn't lost, after all. Of course, she' had ruined any hope of marriage but, even in her despair, she' was glad. There was something about this immobile man which frightened her, so that now the thought of marrying him was fearful. But perhaps if she' was clever and played on his sympathies and his memories, she' could secure a loan. She pulled her face into a placating and childlike expression.
"Oh, Rhett, you can help me so much~ if you'll just be sweet."
"There's nothing I like better than being~ sweet."
"Rhett, for old friendship's sake, I want you to do me a favor."
"So, at last the horny~ handed lady comes to her real mission. I feared that 'visiting the sick and the imprisoned' was not your proper role. What do you want? Money?"
The bluntness of his question ruined all hopes of leading up to the matter in any circuitous and sentimental way.
"Don't be mean, Rhett," she' coaxed. "I do want some money. I want you to lend me three hundred dollars."
"The truth at last. Talking love and thinking money. How truly feminine! Do you need the money badly?"
"Oh, ye~ Well, not so terribly but I could use it."
"Three hundred dollars. That's a vast amount of money. What do you want it for?"
"To pay taxes on Tara."
"So you want to borrow some money. Well, since you're so businesslike, I'll be businesslike too. What collateral will you give me?"
"Collateral. Security on my investment. Of course, I don't want to lose all that money." His voice was deceptively smooth, almost silky, but she' did not notice. Maybe everything would turn out nicely after all.
"I'm not interested in earrings."
"I'll give you a mortgage on Tara."
"Now just what would I do with a farm?"
"Well, you could~ you could~ it's a good plantation. And you wouldn't lose. I'd pay you back out of next year's cotton."
"I'm not so sure." He tilted back in his chair and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Cotton prices are dropping. Times are so hard and money's so tight."
"Oh, Rhett, you are teasing me! You know you have millions!"
There was a warm dancing malice in his eyes as he surveyed her.
"So everything is going nicely and you don't need the money very badly. Well, I'm glad to hear that. I like to know that all is well with old friends."
"Oh, Rhett, for God's sake . . ." she' began desperately, her courage and control breaking.
"Do lower your voice. You don't want the Yankees to hear you, I hope. Did anyone ever tell you you had eyes like a cat~ a cat in the dark?"
"Rhett, don't! I'll tell you everything. I do need the money so badly. I~ I lied about everything being all right. Everything's as wrong as it could be. Father is~ is~ he's not himself. He's been queer ever since Mother died and he can't help me any. He's just like a child. And we haven't a single field hand to work the cotton and there's so many to feed, thirteen of us. And the taxes~ they are so high. Rhett, I'll tell you everything. For over a year we've been just this side of starvation. Oh, you don't know! You can't know! We've never had enough to eat and it's terrible to wake up hungry and go to sleep hungry. And we haven't any warm clothes and the children are always cold and sick and~ "
"Where did you get the pretty dress?"
"It's made out of Mother's curtains," she' answered, too desperate to lie about this shame. "I could stand being hungry and cold but now~ now the Carpetbaggers have raised our taxes. And the money's got to be paid right away. And I haven't any money except one five~ dollar gold piece. I've got to have money for the taxes! Don't you see? If I don't pay them, I'll~ we'll lose Tara and we just can't lose it! I can't let it go!"
"Why didn't you tell me all this at first instead of preying on my susceptible heart~ always weak where pretty ladies are concerned? No, Scarlett, don't cry. You've tried every trick except that one and I don't think I could stand it. My feelings are already lacerated with disappointment at discovering it was my money and not my charming self you wanted."
She remembered that he frequently told bald truths about himself when he spoke mockingly~ mocking himself as well as others, and she' hastily looked up at him. Were his feelings really hurt? Did he really care about her? Had he been on the verge of a proposal when he saw her palms? Or had he only been leading up to another such odious proposal as he had made twice before? If he really cared about her, perhaps she' could smooth him down. But his black eyes raked her in no lover~ like way and he was laughing softly.
"I don't like your collateral. I'm no planter. What else have you to offer?"
Well, she' had come to it at last. Now for it! She drew a deep breath and met his eyes squarely, all coquetry and airs gone as her spirit rushed out to grapple that which she' feared most.
"I~ I have myself."
Her jaw line tightened to squareness and her eyes went emerald.
"You remember that night on Aunt Pitty's porch, during the siege? You said~ you said then that you wanted me."
He leaned back carelessly in his chair and looked into her tense face and his own dark face was inscrutable. Something flickered behind his eyes but he said nothing.
"You said~ you said you'd never wanted a woman as much as you wanted me. If you still want me, you can have me. Rhett, I'll do anything you say but, for God's sake, write me a draft for the money! My word's good. I swear it. I won't go back on it. I'll put it in writing if you like."
He looked at her oddly, still inscrutable and as she' hurried on she' could not tell if he were amused or repelled. If he would only say something, anything! She felt her cheeks getting hot.
"I have got to have the money soon, Rhett. They'll turn us out in the road and that damned overseer of Father's will own the place and~ "
"Just a minute. What makes you think I still want you? What makes you think you are worth three hundred dollars? Most women don't come that high."
She blushed to her hair line and her humiliation was complete.
"Why are you doing this? Why not let the farm go and live at Miss Pittypat's. You own half that house."
"Name of God!" she' cried. "Are you a fool? I can't let Tara go. It's home. I won't let it go. Not while I've got breath left in me!"
"The Irish," said he, lowering his chair back to level and removing his hands from his pockets, "are the damnedest race. They put so much emphasis on so many wrong things. Land, for instance. And every bit of earth is just like every other bit. Now, let me get this straight, Scarlett. You are coming to me with a business proposition. I'll give you three hundred dollars and you'll become my mistress."
Now that the repulsive word had been said, she' felt somehow easier and hope awoke in her again. He had said "I'll give you." There was a diabolic gleam in his eyes as if something amused him greatly.
"And yet, when I had the effrontery to make you this same proposition, you turned me out of the house. And also you called me a number of very hard names and mentioned in passing that you didn't want a 'passel of brats.' No, my dear, I'm not rubbing it in. I'm only wondering at the peculiarities of your mind. You wouldn't do it for your own pleasure but you will to keep the wolf away from the door. It proves my point that all virtue is merely a matter of prices."
"Oh, Rhett, how you run on! If you want to insult me, go on and do it but give me the money."
She was breathing easier now. Being what he was, Rhett would naturally want to torment and insult her as much as possible to pay her back for past slights and for her recent attempted trickery. Well, she' could stand it. She could stand anything. Tara was worth it all. For a brief moment it was mid~ summer and the afternoon skies were blue and she' lay drowsily in the thick clover of Tara's lawn, looking up at the billowing cloud castles, the fragrance of white blossoms in her nose and the pleasant busy humming of bees in her ears. Afternoon and hush and the far~ off sound of the wagons coming in from the spiraling red fields. Worth it all, worth more.
Her head went up.
"Are you going to give me the money?"
He looked as if he were enjoying himself and when he spoke there was suave brutality in his voice.
"No, I'm not," he said.
For a moment her mind could not adjust itself to his words.
"I couldn't give it to you, even if I wanted to. I haven't a cent on me. Not a dollar in Atlanta. I have some money, yes, but not here. And I'm not saying where it is or how much. But if I tried to draw a draft on it, the Yankees would be on me like a duck on a June bug and then neither of us would get it. What do you think of that?"
Her face went an ugly green, freckles suddenly standing out across her nose and her contorted mouth was like Gerald's in a killing rage. She sprang to her feet with an incoherent cry which made the hum of voices in the next room cease suddenly. Swift as a panther, Rhett was beside her, his heavy hand across her mouth, his arm tight about her waist. She struggled against him madly, trying to bite his hand, to kick his legs, to scream her rage, despair, hate, her agony of broken pride. She bent and twisted every way against the iron of his arm, her heart near bursting, her tight stays cutting off her breath. He held her so tightly, so roughly that it hurt and the hand over her mouth pinched into her jaws cruelly. His face was white under its tan, his eyes hard and anxious as he lifted her completely off her feet, swung her up against his chest and sat down in the chair, holding her writhing in his lap.
"Darling, for God's sake! Stop! Hush! Don't yell. They'll be in here in a minute if you do. Do calm yourself. Do you want the Yankees to see you like this?"
She was beyond caring who saw her, beyond anything except a fiery desire to kill him, but dizziness was sweeping her. She could not breathe; he was choking her; her stays were like a swiftly compressing band of iron; his arms about her made her shake with helpless hate and fury. Then his voice became thin and dim and his face above her swirled in a sickening mist which became heavier and heavier until she' no longer saw him~ or anything else.
When she' made feeble swimming motions to come back to consciousness, she' was tired to her bones, weak, bewildered. She was lying back in the chair, her bonnet off, Rhett was slapping her wrist, his black eyes searching her face anxiously. The nice young captain was trying to pour a glass of brandy into her mouth and had spilled it down her neck. The other officers hovered helplessly about, whispering and waving their hands.
"I~ guess I must have fainted," she' said, and her voice sounded so far away it frightened her.
"Drink this," said Rhett, taking the glass and pushing it against her lips. Now she' remembered and glared feebly at him but she' was too tired for anger.
"Please, for my sake."
She gulped and choked and began coughing but he pushed it to her mouth again. She swallowed deeply and the hot liquid burned suddenly in her throat.
"I think she' 's better now, gentlemen," said Rhett, "and I thank you very much. The realization that I'm to be executed was too much for her."
The group in blue shuffled their feet and looked embarrassed and after several clearings of throats, they tramped out. The young captain paused in the doorway.
"If there's anything more I can do~ "
"No, thank you."
He went out, closing the door behind him.
"Drink some more," said Rhett.
She swallowed another mouthful and the warmth began spreading through her body and strength flowed slowly back into her shaking legs. She pushed away the glass and tried to rise but he pressed her back.
"Take your hands off me. I'm going."
"Not yet. Wait a minute. You might faint again."
"I'd rather faint in the road than be here with you."
"Just the same, I won't have you fainting in the road."
"Let me go. I hate you."
A faint smile came back to his face at her words.
"That sounds more like you. You must be feeling better."
She lay relaxed for a moment, trying to summon anger to her aid, trying to draw on her strength. But she' was too tired. She was too tired to hate or to care very much about anything. Defeat lay on her spirit like lead. She had gambled everything and lost everything. Not even pride was left. This was the dead end of her last hope. This was the end of Tara, the end of them all. For a long time she' lay back with her eyes closed, hearing his heavy breathing near her, and the glow of the brandy crept gradually over her, giving a false strength and warmth. When finally she' opened her eyes and looked him in the face, anger had roused again. As her slanting eyebrows rushed down together in a frown Rhett's old smile came back.
"Now you are better. I can tell it by your scowl."
"Of course, I'm all right. Rhett Butler, you are hateful, a skunk, if ever I saw one! You knew very well what I was going to say as soon as I started talking and you knew you weren't going to give me the money. And yet you let me go right on. You could have spared me~ "
"Spared you and missed hearing all that? Not much. I have so few diversions here. I don't know when I've ever heard anything so gratifying." He laughed his sudden mocking laugh. At the sound she' leaped to her feet, snatching up her bonnet.
He suddenly had her by the shoulders.
"Not quite yet. Do you feel well enough to talk sense?"
"Let me go!"
"You are well enough, I see. Then, tell me this. Was I the only iron you had in the fire?" His eyes were keen and alert, watching every change in her face.
"What do you mean?"
"Was I the only man you were going to try this on?"
"Is that any of your business?"
"More than you realize. Are there any other men on your string? Tell me!"
"Incredible. I can't imagine you without five or six in reserve. Surely someone will turn up to accept your interesting proposition. I feel so sure of it that I want to give you a little advice."
"I don't want your advice."
"Nevertheless I will give it. Advice seems to be the only thing I can give you at present. Listen to it, for it's good advice. When you are trying to get something out of a man, don't blurt it out as you did to me. Do try to be more subtle, more seductive. It gets better results. You used to know how, to perfection. But just now when you offered me your~ er~ collateral for my money you looked as hard as nails. I've seen eyes like yours above a dueling pistol twenty paces from me and they aren't a pleasant sight. They evoke no ardor in the male breast. That's no way to handle men, my dear. You are forgetting your early training."
"I don't need you to tell me how to behave," she' said and wearily put on her bonnet. She wondered how he could jest so blithely with a rope about his neck and her pitiful circumstances before him. She did not even notice that his hands were jammed in his pockets in hard fists as if he were straining at his own impotence.
"Cheer up," he said, as she' tied the bonnet strings. "You can come to my hanging and it will make you feel lots better. It'll even up all your old scores with me~ even this one. And I'll mention you in my will."
"Thank you, but they may not hang you till it's too late to pay the taxes," she' said with a sudden malice that matched his own, and she' meant it.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
It was raining when she' came out of the building and the sky was a dull putty color. The soldiers on the square had taken shelter in their huts and the streets were deserted. There was no vehicle in sight and she' knew she' would have to walk the long way home.
The brandy glow faded as she' trudged along. The cold wind made her shiver and the chilly needle~ like drops drove hard into her face. The rain quickly penetrated Aunt Pitty's thin cloak until it hung in clammy folds about her. She knew the velvet dress was being ruined and as for the tail feathers on the bonnet, they were as drooping and draggled as when their former owner had worn them about the wet barn yard of Tara. The bricks of the sidewalk were broken and, for long stretches, completely gone. In these spots the mud was ankle deep and her slippers stuck in it as if it were glue, even coming completely off her feet. Every time she' bent over to retrieve them, the hem of the dress fell in the mud. She did not even try to avoid puddles but stepped dully into them, dragging her heavy skirts after her. She could feel her wet petticoat and pantalets cold about her ankles, but she' was beyond caring about the wreck of the costume on which she' had gambled so much. She was chilled and disheartened and desperate.
How could she' ever go back to Tara and face them after her brave words? How could she' tell them they must all go~ somewhere? How could she' leave it all, the red fields, the tall pines, the dark swampy bottom lands, the quiet burying ground where Ellen lay in the cedars' deep shade?
Hatred of Rhett burned in her heart as she' plodded along the slippery way. What a blackguard he was! She hoped they did hang him, so she' would never have to face him again with his knowledge of her disgrace and her humiliation. Of course, he could have gotten the money for her if he'd wanted to get it. Oh, hanging was too good for him! Thank God, he couldn't see her now, with her clothes soaking wet and her hair straggling and her teeth chattering. How hideous she' must look and how he would laugh!
The negroes she' passed turned insolent grins at her and laughed among themselves as she' hurried by, slipping and sliding in the mud, stopping, panting to replace her slippers. How dared they laugh, the black apes! How dared they grin at her, Scarlett O'Hara of Tara! She'd like to have them all whipped until the blood ran down their backs. What devils the Yankees were to set them free, free to jeer at white people!
As she' walked down Washington Street, the landscape was as dreary as her own heart. Here there was none of the bustle and cheerfulness which she' had noted on Peachtree Street. Here many handsome homes had once stood, but few of them had been rebuilt. Smoked foundations and the lonesone blackened chimneys, now known as "Sherman's Sentinels," appeared with disheartening frequency. Overgrown paths led to what had been houses~ old lawns thick with dead weeds, carriage blocks bearing names she' knew so well, hitching posts which would never again know the knot of reins. Cold wind and rain, mud and bare trees, silence and desolation. How wet her feet were and how long the journey home!
She heard the splash of hooves behind her and moved farther over on the narrow sidewalk to avoid more mud splotches on Aunt Pittypat's cloak. A horse and buggy came slowly up the road and she' turned to watch it, determined to beg a ride if the driver was a white person. The rain obscured her vision as the buggy came abreast, but she' saw the driver peer over the tarpaulin that stretched from the dashboard to his chin. There was something familiar about his face and as she' stepped out into the road to get a closer view, there was an embarrassed little cough from the man and a well~ known voice cried in accents of pleasure and astonishment: "Surely, it can't be Miss Scarlett!"
"Oh, Mr. Kennedy!" she' cried, splashing across the road and leaning on the muddy wheel, heedless of further damage to the cloak. "I was never so glad to see anybody in my life!"
He colored with pleasure at the obvious sincerity of her words, hastily squirted a stream of tobacco juice from the opposite side of the buggy and leaped spryly to the ground. He shook her hand enthusiastically and holding up the tarpaulin, assisted her into the buggy.
"Miss Scarlett, what are you doing over in this section by yourself? Don't you know it's dangerous these days? And you are soaking wet. Here, wrap the robe around your feet."
As he fussed over her, clucking like a hen, she' gave herself up to the luxury of being taken care of. It was nice to have a man fussing and clucking and scolding, even if it was only that old maid in pants, Frank Kennedy. It was especially soothing after Rhett's brutal treatment. And oh, how good to see a County face when she' was so far from home! He was well dressed, she' noticed, and the buggy was new too. The horse looked young and well fed, but Frank looked far older than his years, older than on that Christmas eve when he had been at Tara with his men. He was thin and sallow faced and his yellow eyes were watery and sunken in creases of loose flesh. His ginger~ colored beard was scantier than ever, streaked with tobacco juice and as ragged as if he clawed at it incessantly. But he looked bright and cheerful, in contrast with the lines of sorrow and worry and weariness which Scarlett saw in faces everywhere.
"It's a pleasure to see you," said Frank warmly. "I didn't know you were in town. I saw Miss Pittypat only last week and she' didn't tell me you were coming. Did~ er~ ahem~ did anyone else come up from Tara with you?"
He was thinking of Suellen, the silly old fool.
"No," she' said, wrapping the warm lap robe about her and trying to pull it up around her neck. "I came alone. I didn't give Aunt Pitty any warning."
He chirruped to the horse and it plodded off, picking its way carefully down the slick road.
"All the folks at Tara well?"
"Oh, yes, so~ so."
She must think of something to talk about, yet it was so hard to talk. Her mind was leaden with defeat and all she' wanted was to lie back in this warm blanket and say to herself: "I won't think of Tara now. I'll think of it later, when it won't hurt so much." If she' could just get him started talking on some subject which would hold him all the way home, so she' would have nothing to do but murmur "How nice" and "You certainly are smart" at intervals.
"Mr. Kennedy, I'm so surprised to see you. I know I've been a bad girl, not keeping up with old friends, but I didn't know you were here in Atlanta. I thought somebody told me you were in Marietta."
"I do business in Marietta, a lot of business," he said. "Didn't Miss Suellen tell you I had settled in Atlanta? Didn't she' tell you about my store?"
Vaguely she' had a memory of Suellen chattering about Frank and a store but she' never paid much heed to anything Suellen said. It had been sufficient to know that Frank was alive and would some day take Suellen off her hands.
"No, not a word," she' lied. "Have you a store? How smart you must be!"
He looked a little hurt at hearing that Suellen had not published the news but brightened at the flattery.
"Yes, I've got a store, and a pretty good one I think. Folks tell me I'm a born merchant."
He laughed pleasedly, the tittery cackling laugh which she' always found so annoying.
Conceited old fool, she' thought.
"Oh, you could be a success at anything you turned your hand to, Mr. Kennedy. But how on earth did you ever get started with the store? When I saw you Christmas before last you said you didn't have a cent in the world."
He cleared his throat raspingly, clawed at his whiskers and smiled his nervous timid smile.
"Well, it's a long story, Miss Scarlett."
Thank the Lord! she' thought. Perhaps it will hold him till we get home. And aloud: "Do tell!"
"You recall when we came to Tara last, hunting for supplies? Well, not long after that I went into active service. I mean real fighting. No more commissary for me. There wasn't much need for a commissary, Miss Scarlett, because we couldn't hardly pick up a thing for the army, and I thought the place for an able~ bodied man was in the fighting line. Well, I fought along with the cavalry for a spell till I got a minie ball through the shoulder."
He looked very proud and Scarlett said: "How dreadful!"
"Oh, it wasn't so bad, just a flesh wound," he said deprecatingly. "I was sent down south to a hospital and when I was just about well, the Yankee raiders came through. My, my, but that was a hot time! We didn't have much warning and all of us who could walk helped haul out the army stores and the hospital equipment to the train tracks to move it. We'd gotten one train about loaded when the Yankees rode in one end of town and out we went the other end as fast as we could go. My, my, that was a mighty sad sight, sitting on top of that train and seeing the Yankees burn those supplies we had to leave at the depot. Miss Scarlett, they burned about a half~ mile of stuff we had piled up there along the tracks. We just did get away ourselves."
"Yes, that's the word. Dreadful. Our men had come back into Atlanta then and so our train was sent here. Well, Miss Scarlett, it wasn't long before the war was over and~ well, there was a lot of china and cots and mattresses and blankets and nobody claiming them. I suppose rightfully they belonged to the Yankees. I think those were the terms of the surrender, weren't they?"
"Um," said Scarlett absently. She was getting warmer now and a little drowsy.
"I don't know till now if I did right," he said, a little querulously. "But the way I figured it, all that stuff wouldn't do the Yankees a bit of good. They'd probably burn it. And our folks had paid good solid money for it, and I thought it still ought to belong to the Confederacy or to the Confederates. Do you see what I mean?"
"I'm glad you agree with me, Miss Scarlett. In a way, it's been on my conscience. Lots of folks have told me: 'Oh, forget about it, Frank,' but I can't. I couldn't hold up my head if I thought I'd done what wasn't right. Do you think I did right?"
"Of course," she' said, wondering what the old fool had been talking about. Some struggle with his conscience. When a man got as old as Frank Kennedy he ought to have learned not to bother about things that didn't matter. But he always was so nervous and fussy and old maidish.
"I'm glad to hear you say it. After the surrender I had about ten dollars in silver and nothing else in the world. You know what they did to Jonesboro and my house and store there. I just didn't know what to do. But I used the ten dollars to put a roof on an old store down by Five Points and I moved the hospital equipment in and started selling it. Everybody needed beds and china and mattresses and I sold them cheap, because I figured it was about as much other folks' stuff as it was mine. But I cleared money on it and bought some more stuff and the store just went along fine. I think I'll make a lot of money on it if things pick up."
At the word "money," her mind came back to him, crystal clear.
"You say you've made money?"
He visibly expanded under her interest. Few women except Suellen had ever given him more than perfunctory courtesy and it was very flattering to have a former belle like Scarlett hanging on his words. He slowed the horse so they would not reach home before he had finished his story.
"I'm not a millionaire, Miss Scarlett, and considering the money I used to have, what I've got now sounds small. But I made a thousand dollars this year. Of course, five hundred of it went to paying for new stock and repairing the store and paying the rent. But I've made five hundred clear and as things are certainly picking up, I ought to clear two thousand next year. I can sure use it, too, for you see, I've got another iron in the fire."
Interest had sprung up sharply in her at the talk of money. She veiled her eyes with thick bristly lashes and moved a little closer to him.
"What does that mean, Mr. Kennedy?"
He laughed and slapped the reins against the horse's back.
"I guess I'm boring you, talking about business, Miss Scarlett. A pretty little woman like you doesn't need to know anything about business."
The old fool.
"Oh, I know I'm a goose about business but I'm so interested! Please tell me all about it and you can explain what I don't understand."
"Well, my other iron is a sawmill."
"A mill to cut up lumber and plane it. I haven't bought it yet but I'm going to. There's a man named Johnson who has one, way out Peachtree road, and he's anxious to sell it. He needs some cash right away, so he wants to sell and stay and run it for me at a weekly wage. It's one of the few mills in this section, Miss Scarlett. The Yankees destroyed most of them. And anyone who owns a sawmill owns a gold mine, for nowadays you can ask your own price for lumber. The Yankees burned so many houses here and there aren't enough for people to live in and it looks like folks have gone crazy about rebuilding. They can t get enough lumber and they can't get it fast enough. People are just pouring into Atlanta now, all the folks from the country districts who can't make a go of farming without darkies and the Yankees and Carpetbaggers who are swarming in trying to pick our bones a little barer than they already are. I tell you Atlanta's going to be a big town soon. They've got to have lumber for their houses, so I'm going to buy this mill just as soon as~ well, as soon as some of the bills owing me are paid. By this time next year, I ought to be breathing easier about money. I~ I guess you know why I'm so anxious to make money quickly, don't you?"
He blushed and cackled again. He's thinking of Suellen, Scarlett thought in disgust.
For a moment she' considered asking him to lend her three hundred dollars, but wearily she' rejected the idea. He would be embarrassed; he would stammer; he would offer excuses, but he wouldn't lend it to her. He had worked hard for it, so he could marry Suellen in the spring and if he parted with it, his wedding would be postponed indefinitely. Even if she' worked on his sympathies and his duty toward his future family and gained his promise of a loan, she' knew Suellen would never permit it. Suellen was getting more and more worried over the fact that she' was practically an old maid and she' would move heaven and earth to prevent anything from delaying her marriage.
What was there in that whining complaining girl to make this old fool so anxious to give her a soft nest? Suellen didn't deserve a loving husband and the profits of a store and a sawmill. The minute Sue got her hands on a little money she' 'd give herself unendurable airs and never contribute one cent toward the upkeep of Tara. Not Suellen! She'd think herself well out of it and not care if Tara went for taxes or burned to the ground, so long as she' had pretty clothes and a "Mrs." in front of her name.
As Scarlett thought of Suellen's secure future and the precarious one of herself and Tara, anger flamed in her at the unfairness of life. Hastily she' looked out of the buggy into the muddy street, lest Frank should see her expression. She was going to lose everything she' had, while Sue~ Suddenly a determination was born in her.
Suellen should not have Frank and his store and his mill!
Suellen didn't deserve them. She was going to have them herself. She thought of Tara and remembered Jonas Wilkerson, venomous as a rattler, at the foot of the front steps, and she' grasped at the last straw floating above the shipwreck of her life. Rhett had failed her but the Lord had provided Frank.
But can I get him? Her fingers clenched as she' looked unseeingly into the rain. Can I make him forget Sue and propose to me real quick? If I could make Rhett almost propose, I know I could get Frank! Her eyes went over him, her lids flickering. Certainly, he's no beauty, she' thought coolly, and he's got very bad teeth and his breath smells bad and he's old enough to be my father. Moreover, he's nervous and timid and well meaning, and I don't know of any more damning qualities a man can have. But at least, he's a gentleman and I believe I could stand living with him better than with Rhett. Certainly I could manage him easier. At any rate, beggars can't be choosers.
That he was Suellen's fiance caused her no qualm of conscience. After the complete moral collapse which had sent her to Atlanta and to Rhett, the appropriation of her sister's betrothed seemed a minor affair and one not to be bothered with at this time.
With the rousing of fresh hope, her spine stiffened and she' forgot that her feet were wet and cold. She looked at Frank so steadily, her eyes narrowing, that he became somewhat alarmed and she' dropped her gaze swiftly, remembering Rhett's words: "I've seen eyes like yours above a dueling pistol. . . . They evoke no ardor in the male breast."
"What's the matter, Miss Scarlett? You got a chill?"
"Yes," she' answered helplessly. "Would you mind~ " She hesitated timidly. "Would you mind if I put my hand in your coat pocket? It's so cold and my muff is soaked through."
"Why~ why~ of course not! And you haven't any gloves! My, my, what a brute I've been idling along like this, talking my head off when you must be freezing and wanting to get to a fire. Giddap, Sally! By the way, Miss Scarlett, I've been so busy talking about myself I haven't even asked you what you were doing in this section in this weather?"
"I was at the Yankee headquarters," she' answered before she' thought. His sandy brows went up in astonishment.
"But Miss Scarlett! The soldiers~ Why~ "
"Mary, Mother of God, let me think of a real good lie," she' prayed hastily. It would never do for Frank to suspect she' had seen Rhett. Frank thought Rhett the blackest of blackguards and unsafe for decent women to speak to.
"I went there~ I went there to see if~ if any of the officers would buy fancy work from me to send home to their wives. I embroider very nicely."
He sank back against the seat aghast, indignation struggling with bewilderment.
"You went to the Yankees~ But Miss Scarlett! You shouldn't. Why~ why . . . Surely your father doesn't know! Surely, Miss Pittypat~ "
"Oh, I shall die if you tell Aunt Pittypat!" she' cried in real anxiety and burst into tears. It was easy to cry, because she' was so cold and miserable, but the effect was startling. Frank could not have been more embarrassed or helpless if she' had suddenly begun disrobing. He clicked his tongue against his teeth several times, muttering "My! My!" and made futile gestures at her. A daring thought went through his mind that he should draw her head onto his shoulder and pat her but he had never done this to any woman and hardly knew how to go about it. Scarlett O'Hara, so high spirited and pretty, crying here in his buggy. Scarlett O'Hara, the proudest of the proud, trying to sell needlework to the Yankees. His heart burned.
She sobbed on, saying a few words now and then, and he gathered that all was not well at Tara. Mr. O'Hara was still "not himself at all," and there wasn't enough food to go around for so many. So she' had to come to Atlanta to try to make a little money for herself and her boy. Frank clicked his tongue again and suddenly he found that her head was on his shoulder. He did not quite know how it got there. Surely he had not placed it there, but there her head was and there was Scarlett helplessly sobbing against his thin chest, an exciting and novel sensation for him. He patted her shoulder timidly, gingerly at first, and when she' did not rebuff him he became bolder and patted her firmly. What a helpless, sweet, womanly little thing she' was. And how brave and silly to try her hand at making money by her needle. But dealing with the Yankees~ that was too much.
"I won't tell Miss Pittypat, but you must promise me, Miss Scarlett, that you won't do anything like this again. The idea of your father's daughter~ "
Her wet green eyes sought his helplessly.
"But, Mr. Kennedy, I must do something. I must take care of my poor little boy and there is no one to look after us now."
"You are a brave little woman," he pronounced, "but I won't have you do this sort of thing. Your family would die of shame."
"Then what will I do?" The swimming eyes looked up to him as if she' knew he knew everything and was hanging on his words.
"Well, I don't know right now. But I'll think of something."
"Oh, I know you will! You are so smart~ Frank."
She had never called him by his first name before and the sound came to him as a pleasant shock and surprise. The poor girl was probably so upset she' didn't even notice her slip. He felt very kindly toward her and very protecting. If there was anything he could do for Suellen O'Hara's sister, he would certainly do it. He pulled out a red bandanna handkerchief and handed it to her and she' wiped her eyes and began to smile tremulously.
"I'm such a silly little goose," she' said apologetically. "Please forgive me."
"You aren't a silly little goose. You're a very brave little woman and you are trying to carry to heavy a load. I'm afraid Miss Pittypat isn't going to be much help to you. I hear she' lost most of her property and Mr. Henry Hamilton's in bad shape himself. I only wish I had a home to offer you shelter in. But, Miss Scarlett, you just remember this, when Miss Suellen and I are married, there'll always be a place for you under our roof and for Wade Hampton too."
Now was the time! Surely the saints and angels watched over her to give her such a Heaven~ sent opportunity. She managed to look very startled and embarrassed and opened her mouth as if to speak quickly and then shut it with a pop.
"Don't tell me you didn't know I was to be your brother~ in~ law this spring," he said with nervous jocularity.
And then, seeing her eyes fill up with tears, he questioned in alarm: "What's the matter? Miss Sue's not ill, is she' ?"
"Oh, no! No!"
"There is something wrong. You must tell me."
"Oh, I can't! I didn't know! I thought surely she' must have written you~ Oh, how mean!"
"Miss Scarlett, what is it?"
"Oh, Frank, I didn't mean to let it out but I thought, of course, you knew~ that she' had written you~ "
"Written me what?" He was trembling.
"Oh, to do this to a fine man like you!"
"What's she' done?"
"She didn't write you? Oh, I guess she' was too ashamed to write you. She should be ashamed! Oh, to have such a mean sister!"
By this time, Frank could not even get questions to his lips. He sat staring at her, gray faced, the reins slack in his hands.
"She's going to marry Tony Fontaine next month. Oh, I'm so sorry, Frank. So sorry to be the one to tell you. She just got tired of waiting and she' was afraid she' 'd be an old maid."
Mammy was standing on the front porch when Frank helped Scarlett out of the buggy. She had evidently been standing there for some time, for her head rag was damp and the old shawl clutched tightly about her showed rain spots. Her wrinkled black face was a study in anger and apprehension and her lip was pushed out farther than Scarlett could ever remember. She peered quickly at Frank and, when she' saw who it was, her face changed~ pleasure, bewilderment and something akin to guilt spreading over it. She waddled forward to Frank with pleased greetings and grinned and curtsied when he shook her hand.
"It sho is good ter see home folks," she' said. "How is you, Mist' Frank? My, ain' you lookin' fine an' gran'! Effen Ah'd knowed Miss Scarlett wuz out wid you, Ah wouldn' worrit so. Ah'd knowed she' wuz tekken keer of. Ah come back hyah an' fine she' gone an' Ah been as 'stracted as a chicken wid its haid off, thinkin' she' runnin' roun' dis town by herseff wid all dese trashy free issue niggers on de street. Huccome you din' tell me you gwine out, honey? An' you wid a cole!"
Scarlett winked slyly at Frank and, for all his distress at the bad news he had just heard, he smiled, knowing she' was enjoining silence and making him one in a pleasant conspiracy.
"You run up and fix me some dry clothes, Mammy," she' said. "And some hot tea."
"Lawd, yo' new dress is plum ruint," grumbled Mammy. "Ah gwine have a time dryin' it an' brushin' it, so it'll be fit ter be wo' ter de weddin' ternight."
She went into the house and Scarlett leaned close to Frank and whispered: "Do come to supper tonight. We are so lonesome. And we're going to the wedding afterward. Do be our escort! And, please don't say anything to Aunt Pitty about~ about Suellen. It would distress her so much and I can't bear for her to know that my sister~ "
"Oh, I won't! I won't!" Frank said hastily, wincing from the very thought.
"You've been so sweet to me today and done me so much good. I feel right brave again." She squeezed his hand in parting and turned the full battery of her eyes upon him.
Mammy, who was waiting just inside the door, gave her an inscrutable look and followed her, puffing, up the stairs to the bedroom. She was silent while she' stripped off the wet clothes and hung them over chairs and tucked Scarlett into bed. When she' had brought up a cup of hot tea and a hot brick, rolled in flannel, she' looked down at Scarlett and said, with the nearest approach to an apology in her voice Scarlett had ever heard: "Lamb, huccome you din' tell yo' own Mammy whut you wuz upter? Den Ah wouldn' had ter traipse all dis way up hyah ter 'Lanta. Ah is too ole an' too fat fer sech runnin' roun'."
"What do you mean?"
"Honey, you kain fool me. Ah knows you. An' Ah seed Mist' Frank's face jes' now an' Ah seed yo' face, an' Ah kin read yo' mine lak a pahson read a Bible. An' Ah heerd dat whisperin' you wuz givin' him 'bout Miss Suellen. Effen Ah'd had a notion 'twuz Mist' Frank you wuz affer, Ah'd stayed home whar Ah b'longs."
"Well," said Scarlett shortly, snuggling under the blankets and realizing it was useless to try to throw Mammy off the scent, "who did you think it was?"
"Chile, Ah din' know but Ah din' lak de look on yo' face yestiddy. An' Ah 'membered Miss Pittypat writin' Miss Melly dat dat rapscallion Butler man had lots of money an' Ah doan fergit whut Ah hears. But Mist' Frank, he a gempmum even ef he ain' so pretty."
Scarlett gave her a sharp look and Mammy returned the gaze with calm omniscience.
"Well, what are you going to do about it? Tattle to Suellen?"
"Ah is gwine ter he'p you pleasure Mist' Frank eve'y way Ah knows how," said Mammy, tucking the covers about Scarlett's neck.
Scarlett lay quietly for a while, as Mammy fussed about the room, relief flooding her that there was no need for words between them. No explanations were asked, no reproaches made. Mammy understood and was silent. In Mammy, Scarlett had found a realist more uncompromising than herself. The mottled wise old eyes saw deeply, saw clearly, with the directness of the savage and the child, undeterred by conscience when danger threatened her pet. Scarlett was her baby and what her baby wanted, even though it belonged to another, Mammy was willing to help her obtain. The rights of Suellen and Frank Kennedy did not even enter her mind, save to cause a grim inward chuckle. Scarlett was in trouble and doing the best she' could, and Scarlett was Miss Ellen's child. Mammy rallied to her with never a moment's hesitation.
Scarlett felt the silent reinforcement and, as the hot brick at her feet warmed her, the hope which had flickered faintly on the cold ride home grew into a flame. It swept through her, making her heart pump the blood through her veins in pounding surges. Strength was coming back and a reckless excitement which made her want to laugh aloud. Not beaten yet, she' thought exultantly.
"Hand me the mirror, Mammy," she' said.
"Keep yo' shoulders unner dat kivver," ordered Mammy, passing the hand mirror to her, a smile on her thick lips.
Scarlett looked at herself.
"I look white as a hant," she' said, "and my hair is as wild as a horse's tail."
"You doan look peart as you mout."
"Hum. . . . Is it raining very hard?"
"You know it's po'in'."
"Well, just the same, you've got to go downtown for me."
"Not in dis rain, Ah ain'."
"Yes, you are or I'll go myself."
"Whut you got ter do dat woan wait? Look ter me lak you done nuff fer one day."
"I want," said Scarlett, surveying herself carefully in the mirror, "a bottle of cologne water. You can wash my hair and rinse it with cologne. And buy me a jar of quince~ seed jelly to make it lie down flat."
"Ah ain' gwine wash yo' ha'r in dis wedder an' you ain' gwine put no cologne on yo' haid lak a fas' woman needer. Not w'ile Ah got breaf in mah body."
"Oh, yes, I am. Look in my purse and get that five~ dollar gold piece out and go to town. And~ er, Mammy, while you are downtown, you might get me a~ a pot of rouge."
"Whut dat?" asked Mammy suspiciously.
Scarlett met her eyes with a coldness she' was far from feeling. There was never any way of knowing just how far Mammy could be bullied.
"Never you mind. Just ask for it."
"Ah ain' buyin nuthin' dat Ah doan know whut 'tis."
"Well, it's paint, if you're so curious! Face paint. Don't stand there and swell up like a toad. Go on."
"Paint!" ejaculated Mammy. "Face paint! Well, you ain' so big dat Ah kain whup you! Ah ain' never been so scan'lized! You is los' yo' mine! Miss Ellen be tuhnin' in her grabe dis minute! Paintin' yo face lak a~ "
"You know very well Grandma Robillard painted her face and~ "
"Yas'm, an' wo' only one petticoat an' it wrang out wid water ter mek it stick an' show de shape of her laigs, but dat ain' sayin' you is gwine do sumpin' lak dat! Times wuz scan'lous w'en Ole Miss wuz young but times changes, dey do an'~ "
"Name of God!" cried Scarlett, losing her temper and throwing back the covers. "You can go straight back to Tara!"
"You kain sen' me ter Tara ness Ah wants ter go. Ah is free," said Mammy heatedly. "An' Ah is gwine ter stay right hyah. Git back in dat baid. Does you want ter ketch pneumony jes' now? Put down dem stays! Put dem down, honey. Now, Miss Scarlett, you ain' gwine nowhars in dis wedder. Lawd God! But you sho look lak yo' pa! Git back in baid~ Ah kain go buyin' no paint! Ah die of shame, eve'ybody knowin 'it wud fer mah chile! Miss Scarlett, you is so sweet an' pretty lookin' you doan need no paint. Honey, doan nobody but bad womens use dat stuff."
"Well, they get results, don't they?"
"Jesus, hear her! Lamb, doan say bad things lak dat! Put down dem wet stockin's, honey. Ah kain have you buy dat stuff yo'seff. Miss Ellen would hant me. Git back in baid. Ah'll go. Maybe Ah fine me a sto' whar dey doan know us."
That night at Mrs. Elsing's, when Fanny had been duly married and old Levi and the other musicians were tuning up for the dance, Scarlett looked about her with gladness. It was so exciting to be actually at a party again. She was pleased also with the warm reception she' had received. When she' entered the house on Frank's arm, everyone had rushed to her with cries of pleasure and welcome, kissed her, shaken her hand, told her they had missed her dreadfully and that she' must never go back to Tara. The men seemed gallantly to have forgotten she' had tried her best to break their hearts in other days and the girls that she' had done everything in her power to entice their beaux away from them. Even Mrs. Merriwether, Mrs. Whiting, Mrs. Meade and the other dowagers who had been so cool to her during the last days of the war, forgot her flighty conduct and their disapproval of it and recalled only that she' had suffered in their common defeat and that she' was Pitty's niece and Charles' widow. They kissed her and spoke gently with tears in their eyes of her dear mother's passing and asked at length about her father and her sisters. Everyone asked about Melanie and Ashley, demanding the reason why they, too, had not come back to Atlanta.
In spite of her pleasure at the welcome, Scarlett felt a slight uneasiness which she' tried to conceal, an uneasiness about the appearance of her velvet dress. It was still damp to the knees and still spotted about the hem, despite the frantic efforts of Mammy and Cookie with a steaming kettle, a clean hair brush and frantic wavings in front of an open fire. Scarlett was afraid someone would notice her bedraggled state and realize that this was her only nice dress. She was a little cheered by the fact that many of the dresses of the other guests looked far worse than hers. They were so old and had such carefully mended and pressed looks. At least, her dress was whole and new, damp though it was~ in fact, the only new dress at the gathering with the exception of Fanny's white~ satin wedding gown.
Remembering what Aunt Pitty had told her about the Elsing finances, she' wondered where the money for the satin dress had been obtained and for the refreshments and decorations and musicians too. It must have cost a pretty penny. Borrowed money probably or else the whole Elsing clan had contributed to give Fanny this expensive wedding. Such a wedding in these hard times seemed to Scarlett an extravagance on a par with the tombstones of the Tarleton boys and she' felt the same irritation and lack of sympathy she' had felt as she' stood in the Tarleton burying ground. The days when money could be thrown away carelessly had passed. Why did these people persist in making the gestures of the old days when the old days were gone?
But she' shrugged off her momentary annoyance. It wasn't her money and she' didn't want her evening's pleasure spoiled by irritation at other people's foolishness.
She discovered she' knew the groom quite well, for he was Tommy Wellburn from Sparta and she' had nursed him in 1863 when he had a wound in his shoulder. He had been a handsome young six~ footer then and had given up his medical studies to go in the cavalry. Now he looked like a little old man, so bent was he by the wound in his hip. He walked with some difficulty and, as Aunt Pitty had remarked, spraddled in a very vulgar way. But he seemed totally unaware of his appearance, or unconcerned about it, and had the manner of one who asks no odds from any man. He had given up all hope of continuing his medical studies and was now a contractor, working a labor crew of Irishmen who were building the new hotel. Scarlett wondered how he managed so onerous a job in his condition but asked no questions, realizing wryly that almost anything was possible when necessity drove.
Tommy and Hugh Elsing and the little monkey~ like Rene Picard stood talking with her while the chairs and furniture were pushed back to the wall in preparation for the dancing. Hugh had not changed since Scarlett last saw him in 1862. He was still the thin sensitive boy with the same lock of pale brown hair hanging over his forehead and the same delicate useless~ looking hands she' remembered so well. But Rene had changed since that furlough when he married Maybelle Merriwether. He still had the Gallic twinkle in his black eyes and the Creole zest for living but, for all his easy laughter, there was something hard about his face which had not been there in the early days of the war. And the air of supercilious elegance which had clung about him in his striking Zouave uniform was completely gone.
"Cheeks lak ze rose, eyes lak ze emerald!" he said, kissing Scarlett's hand and paying tribute to the rouge upon her face. "Pretty lak w'en I first see you at ze bazaar. You remembaire? Nevaire have I forgot how you toss your wedding ring in my basket. Ha, but zat was brave! But I should nevaire have zink you wait so long to get anothaire ring!"
His eyes sparkled wickedly and he dug his elbow into Hugh's ribs.
"And I never thought you'd be driving a pie wagon, Renny Picard," she' said. Instead of being ashamed at having his degrading occupation thrown in his face, he seemed pleased and laughed uproariously, slapping Hugh on the back.
"Touche!" he cried. "Belle Mere, Madame Merriwether, she' mek me do eet, ze first work I do en all my life, Rene Picard, who was to grow old breeding ze race horse, playing ze feedle! Now, I drive ze pie wagon and I lak eet! Madame Belle Mere, she' can mek a man do annyzing. She should have been ze general and we win ze war, eh, Tommy?"
Well! thought Scarlett. The idea of liking to drive a pie wagon when his people used to own ten miles along the Mississippi River and a big house in New Orleans, too!
"If we'd had our mothers~ in~ law in the ranks, we'd have beat the Yankees in a week," agreed Tommy, his eyes straying to the slender, indomitable form of his new mother~ in~ law. "The only reason we lasted as long as we did was because of the ladies behind us who wouldn't give up."
"Who'll NEVER give up," amended Hugh, and his smile was proud but a little wry. "There's not a lady here tonight who has surrendered, no matter what her men folks did at Appomattox. It's a lot worse on them than it ever was on us. At least, we took it out in fighting."
"And they in hating," finished Tommy. "Eh, Scarlett? It bothers the ladies to see what their men folks have come down to lots more than it bothers us. Hugh was to be a judge, Rene was to play the fiddle before the crowned heads of Europe~ " He ducked as Rene aimed a blow at him. "And I was to be a doctor and now~ "
"Geeve us ze time!" cried Rene. "Zen I become ze Pie Prince of ze South! And my good Hugh ze King of ze Kindling and you, my Tommy, you weel own ze Irish slaves instead of ze darky slaves. What changes~ what fun! And what eet do for you, Mees Scarlett, and Mees Melly? You meelk ze cow, peek ze cotton?"
"Indeed, no!" said Scarlett coolly, unable to understand Rene's gay acceptance of hardships. "Our darkies do that."
"Mees Melly, I hear she' call her boy 'Beauregard.' You tell her I, Rene, approve and say that except for 'Jesus' there is no bettaire name."
And though he smiled, his eyes glowed proudly at the name of Louisiana's dashing hero.
"Well, there's 'Robert Edward Lee,'" observed Tommy. "And while I'm not trying to lessen Old Beau's reputation, my first son is going to be named 'Bob Lee Wellburn.'"
Rend laughed and shrugged.
"I recount to you a joke but eet eez a true story. And you see how Creoles zink of our brave Beauregard and of your General Lee. On ze train near New Orleans a man of Virginia, a man of General Lee, he meet wiz a Creole of ze troops of Beauregard. And ze man of Virginia, he talk, talk, talk how General Lee do zis, General Lee say zat. And ze Creole, he look polite and he wreenkle hees forehead lak he try to remembaire, and zen he smile and say: 'General Lee! Ah, oui! Now I know! General Lee! Ze man General Beauregard speak well of!'"
Scarlett tried to join politely in the laughter but she' did not see any point to the story except that Creoles were just as stuck up as Charleston and Savannah people. Moreover, she' had always thought Ashley's son should have been named after him.
The musicians after preliminary tunings and whangings broke into "Old Dan Tucker" and Tommy turned to her.
"Will you dance, Scarlett? I can't favor you but Hugh or Rene~ "
"No, thank you. I'm still mourning my mother," said Scarlett hastily. "I will sit them out."
Her eyes singled out Frank Kennedy and beckoned him from the side of Mrs. Elsing.
"I'll sit in that alcove yonder if you'll bring me some refreshments and then we can have a nice chat," she' told Frank as the other three men moved off.
When he had hurried away to bring her a glass of wine and a paper thin slice of cake, Scarlett sat down in the alcove at the end of the drawing room and carefully arranged her skirts so that the worst spots would not show. The humiliating events of the morning with Rhett were pushed from her mind by the excitement of seeing so many people and hearing music again. Tomorrow she' would think of Rhett's conduct and her shame and they would make her writhe again. Tomorrow she' would wonder if she' had made any impression on Frank's hurt and bewildered heart. But not tonight. Tonight she' was alive to her finger tips, every sense alert with hope, her eyes sparkling.
She looked from the alcove into the huge drawing room and watched the dancers, remembering how beautiful this room had been when first she' came to Atlanta during the war. Then the hardwood floors had shone like glass, and overhead the chandelier with its hundreds of tiny prisms had caught and reflected every ray of the dozens of candles it bore, flinging them, like gleams from diamonds, flame and sapphire about the room. The old portraits on the walls had been dignified and gracious and had looked down upon guests with an air of mellowed hospitality. The rosewood sofas had been soft and inviting and one of them, the largest, had stood in the place of honor in this same alcove where she' now sat. It had been Scarlett's favorite seat at parties. From this point stretched the pleasant vista of drawing room and dining room beyond, the oval mahogany table which seated twenty and the twenty slim~ legged chairs demurely against the walls, the massive sideboard and buffet weighted with heavy silver, with seven~ branched candlesticks, goblets, cruets, decanters and shining little glasses. Scarlett had sat on that sofa so often in the first years of the war, always with some handsome officer beside her, and listened to violin and bull fiddle, accordion and banjo, and heard the exciting swishing noises which dancing feet made on the waxed and polished floor.
Now the chandelier hung dark. It was twisted askew and most of the prisms were broken, as if the Yankee occupants had made their beauty a target for their boots. Now an oil lamp and a few candles lighted the room and the roaring fire in the wide hearth gave most of the illumination. Its flickering light showed how irreparably scarred and splintered the dull old floor was. Squares on the faded paper on the wall gave evidence that once the portraits had hung there, and wide cracks in the plaster recalled the day during the siege when a shell had exploded on the house and torn off parts of the roof and second floor. The heavy old mahogany table, spread with cake and decanters, still presided in the empty~ looking dining room but it was scratched and the broken legs showed signs of clumsy repair. The sideboard, the silver and the spindly chairs were gone. The dull~ gold damask draperies which had covered the arching French windows at the back of the room were missing, and only the remnants of the lace curtains remained, clean but obviously mended.
In place of the curved sofa she' had liked so much was a hard bench that was none too comfortable. She sat upon it with as good grace as possible, wishing her skirts were in such condition that she' could dance. It would be so good to dance again. But, of course, she' could do more with Frank in this sequestered alcove than in a breathless reel and she' could listen fascinated to his talk and encourage him to greater flights of foolishness.
But the music certainly was inviting. Her slipper patted longingly in time with old Levi's large splayed foot as he twanged a strident banjo and called the figures of the reel. Feet swished and scraped and patted as the twin lines danced toward each other, retreated, whirled and made arches of their arms.
"'Ole Dan Tucker he got drunk~ ' [Swing yo' padners!] 'Fell in de fiah' an' he kick up a chunk!' [Skip light, ladies!]"
After the dull and exhausting months at Tara it was good to hear music again and the sound of dancing feet, good to see familiar friendly faces laughing in the feeble light, calling old jokes and catchwords, bantering, rallying, coquetting. It was like coming to life again after being dead. It almost seemed that the bright days of five years ago had come back again. If she' could close her eyes and not see the worn made~ over dresses and the patched boots and mended slippers, if her mind did not call up the faces of boys missing from the reel, she' might almost think that nothing had changed. But as she' looked, watching the old men grouped about the decanter in the dining room, the matrons lining the walls, talking behind fanless hands, and the swaying, skipping young dancers, it came to her suddenly, coldly, frighteningly that it was all as greatly changed as if these familiar figures were ghosts.
They looked the same but they were different. What was it? Was it only that they were five years older? No, it was something more than the passing of time. Something had gone out of them, out of their world. Five years ago, a feeling of security had wrapped them all around so gently they were not even aware of it. In its shelter they had flowered. Now it was gone and with it had gone the old thrill, the old sense of something delightful and exciting just around the corner, the old glamor of their way of living.
She knew she' had changed too, but not as they had changed, and it puzzled her. She sat and watched them and she' felt herself an alien among them, as alien and lonely as if she' had come from another world, speaking a language they did not understand and she' not understanding theirs. Then she' knew that this feeling was the same one she' felt with Ashley. With him and with people of his kind~ and they made up most of her world~ she' felt outside of something she' could not understand.
Their faces were little changed and their manners not at all but it seemed to her that these two things were all that remained of her old friends. An ageless dignity, a timeless gallantry still clung about them and would cling until they died but they would carry undying bitterness to their graves, a bitterness too deep for words. They were a soft~ spoken, fierce, tired people who were defeated and would not know defeat, broken yet standing determinedly erect. They were crushed and helpless, citizens of conquered provinces. They were looking on the state they loved, seeing it trampled by the enemy, rascals making a mock of the law, their former slaves a menace, their men disfranchised, their women insulted. And they were remembering graves.
Everything in their old world had changed but the old forms. The old usages went on, must go on, for the forms were all that were left to them. They were holding tightly to the things they knew best and loved best in the old days, the leisured manners, the courtesy, the pleasant casualness in human contacts and, most of all, the protecting attitude of the men toward their women. True to the tradition in which they had been reared, the men were courteous and tender and they almost succeeded in creating an atmosphere of sheltering their women from all that was harsh and unfit for feminine eyes. That, thought Scarlett, was the height of absurdity, for there was little, now, which even the most cloistered women had not seen and known in the last five years. They had nursed the wounded, closed dying eyes, suffered war and fire and devastation, known terror and flight and starvation.
But, no matter what sights they had seen, what menial tasks they had done and would have to do, they remained ladies and gentlemen, royalty in exile~ bitter, aloof, incurious, kind to one another, diamond hard, as bright and brittle as the crystals of the broken chandelier over their heads. The old days had gone but these people would go their ways as if the old days still existed, charming, leisurely, determined not to rush and scramble for pennies as the Yankees did, determined to part with none of the old ways.
Scarlett knew that she' , too, was greatly changed. Otherwise she' could not have done the things she' had done since she' was last in Atlanta; otherwise she' would not now be contemplating doing what she' desperately hoped to do. But there was a difference in their hardness and hers and just what the difference was, she' could not, for the moment, tell. Perhaps it was that there was nothing she' would not do, and there were so many things these people would rather die than do. Perhaps it was that they were without hope but still smiling at life, bowing gracefully and passing it by. And this Scarlett could not do.
She could not ignore life. She had to live it and it was too brutal, too hostile, for her even to try to gloss over its harshness with a smile. Of the sweetness and courage and unyielding pride of her friends, Scarlett saw nothing. She saw only a silly stiff~ neckedness which observed facts but smiled and refused to look them in the face.
As she' stared at the dancers, flushed from the reel, she' wondered if things drove them as she' was driven, dead lovers, maimed husbands, children who were hungry, acres slipping away, beloved roofs that sheltered strangers. But, of course, they were driven! She knew their circumstances only a little less thoroughly than she' knew her own. Their losses had been her losses, their privations her privations, their problems her same problems. Yet they had reacted differently to them. The faces she' was seeing in the room were not faces; they were masks, excellent masks which would never drop.
But if they were suffering as acutely from brutal circumstances as she' was~ and they were~ how could they maintain this air of gaiety and lightness of heart? Why, indeed, should they even try to do it? They were beyond her comprehension and vaguely irritating. She couldn't be like them. She couldn't survey the wreck of the world with an air of casual unconcern. She was as hunted as a fox, running with a bursting heart, trying to reach a burrow before the hounds caught up.
Suddenly she' hated them all because they were different from her, because they carried their losses with an air that she' could never attain, would never wish to attain. She hated them, these smiling, light~ footed strangers, these proud fools who took pride in something they had lost, seeming to be proud that they had lost it. The women bore themselves like ladies and she' knew they were ladies, though menial tasks were their daily lot and they didn't know where their next dress was coming from. Ladies all! But she' could not feel herself a lady, for all her velvet dress and scented hair, for all the pride of birth that stood behind her and the pride of wealth that had once been hers. Harsh contact with the red earth of Tara had stripped gentility from her and she' knew she' would never feel like a lady again until her table was weighted with silver and crystal and smoking with rich food, until her own horses and carriages stood in her stables, until black hands and not white took the cotton from Tara.
"Ah!" she' thought angrily, sucking in her breath. "That's the difference! Even though they're poor, they still feel like ladies and I don't. The silly fools don't seem to realize that you can't be a lady without money!"
Even in this flash of revelation, she' realized vaguely that, foolish though they seemed, theirs was the right attitude. Ellen would have thought so. This disturbed her. She knew she' should feel as these people felt, but she' could not. She knew she' should believe devoutly, as they did, that a born lady remained a lady, even if reduced to poverty, but she' could not make herself believe it now.
All her life she' had heard sneers hurled at the Yankees because their pretensions to gentility were based on wealth, not breeding. But at this moment, heresy though it was, she' could not help thinking the Yankees were right on this one matter, even if wrong in all others. It took money to be a lady. She knew Ellen would have fainted had she' ever heard such words from her daughter. No depth of poverty could ever have made Ellen feel ashamed. Ashamed! Yes, that was how Scarlett felt. Ashamed that she' was poor and reduced to galling shifts and penury and work that negroes should do.
She shrugged in irritation. Perhaps these people were right and she' was wrong but, just the same, these proud fools weren't looking forward as she' was doing, straining every nerve, risking even honor and good name to get back what they had lost. It was beneath the dignity of any of them to indulge in a scramble for money. The times were rude and hard. They called for rude and hard struggle if one was to conquer them. Scarlett knew that family tradition would forcibly restrain many of these people from such a struggle~ with the making of money admittedly its aim. They all thought that obvious money~ making and even talk of money were vulgar in the extreme. Of course, there were exceptions. Mrs. Merriwether and her baking and Rene driving the pie wagon. And Hugh Elsing cutting and peddling firewood and Tommy contracting. And Frank having the gumption to start a store. But what of the rank and file of them? The planters would scratch a few acres and live in poverty. The lawyers and doctors would go back to their professions and wait for clients who might never come. And the rest, those who had lived in leisure on their incomes? What would happen to them?
But she' wasn't going to be poor all her life. She wasn't going to sit down and patiently wait for a miracle to help her. She was going to rush into life and wrest from it what she' could. Her father had started as a poor immigrant boy and had won the broad acres of Tara. What he had done, his daughter could do. She wasn't like these people who had gambled everything on a Cause that was gone and were content to be proud of having lost that Cause, because it was worth any sacrifice. They drew their courage from the past. She was drawing hers from the future. Frank Kennedy, at present, was her future. At least, he had the store and he had cash money. And if she' could only marry him and get her hands on that money, she' could make ends meet at Tara for another year. And after that~ Frank must buy the sawmill. She could see for herself how quickly the town was rebuilding and anyone who could establish a lumber business now, when there was so little competition, would have a gold mine.
There came to her, from the recesses of her mind, words Rhett had spoken in the early years of the war about the money he made in the blockade. She had not taken the trouble to understand them then, but now they seemed perfectly clear and she' wondered if it had been only her youth or plain stupidity which had kept her from appreciating them.
"There's just as much money to be made in the wreck of a civilization as in the upbuilding of one."
"This is the wreck he foresaw," she' thought, "and he was right. There's still plenty of money to be made by anyone who isn't afraid to work~ or to grab."
She saw Frank coming across the floor toward her with a glass of blackberry wine in his hand and a morsel of cake on a saucer and she' pulled her face into a smile. It did not occur to her to question whether Tara was worth marrying Frank. She knew it was worth it and she' never gave the matter a second thought.
She smiled up at him as she' sipped the wine, knowing that her cheeks were more attractively pink than any of the dancers'. She moved her skirts for him to sit by her and waved her handkerchief idly so that the faint sweet smell of the cologne could reach his nose. She was proud of the cologne, for no other woman in the room was wearing any and Frank had noticed it. In a fit of daring he had whispered to her that she' was as pink and fragrant as a rose.
If only he were not so shy! He reminded her of a timid old brown field rabbit. If only he had the gallantry and ardor of the Tarleton boys or even the coarse impudence of Rhett Butler. But, if he possessed those qualities, he'd probably have sense enough to feel the desperation that lurked just beneath her demurely fluttering eyelids. As it was, he didn't know enough about women even to suspect what she' was up to. That was her good fortune but it did not increase her respect for him.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
She married Frank Kennedy two weeks later after a whirlwind courtship which she' blushingly told him left her too breathless to oppose his ardor any longer.
He did not know that during those two weeks she' had walked the floor at night, gritting her teeth at the slowness with which he took hints and encouragements, praying that no untimely letter from Suellen would reach him and ruin her plans. She thanked God that her sister was the poorest of correspondents, delighting to receive letters and disliking to write them. But there was always a chance, always a chance, she' thought in the long night hours as she' padded back and forth across the cold floor of her bedroom, with Ellen's faded shawl clutched about her nightdress. Frank did not know she' had received a laconic letter from Will, relating that Jonas Wilkerson had paid another call at Tara and, finding her gone to Atlanta, had stormed about until Will and Ashley threw him bodily off the place. Will's letter hammered into her mind the fact she' knew only too well~ that time was getting shorter and shorter before the extra taxes must be paid. A fierce desperation drove her as she' saw the days slipping by and she' wished she' might grasp the hourglass in her hands and keep the sands from running.
But so well did she' conceal her feelings, so well did she' enact her role, Frank suspected nothing, saw no more than what lay on the surface~ the pretty and helpless young widow of Charles Hamilton who greeted him every night in Miss Pittypat's parlor and listened, breathless with admiration, as he told of future plans for his store and how much money he expected to make when he was able to buy the sawmill. Her sweet sympathy and her bright~ eyed interest in every word he uttered were balm upon the wound left by Suellen's supposed defection. His heart was sore and bewildered at Suellen's conduct and his vanity, the shy, touchy vanity of a middle~ aged bachelor who knows himself to be unattractive to women, was deeply wounded. He could not write Suellen, upbraiding her for her faithlessness; he shrank from the very idea. But he could ease his heart by talking about her to Scarlett. Without saying a disloyal word about Suellen, she' could tell him she' understood how badly her sister had treated him and what good treatment he merited from a woman who really appreciated him.
Little Mrs. Hamilton was such a pretty pink~ cheeked person, alternating between melancholy sighs when she' thought of her sad plight, and laughter as gay and sweet as the tinkling of tiny silver bells when he made small jokes to cheer her. Her green gown, now neatly cleaned by Mammy, showed off her slender figure with its tiny waist to perfection, and how bewitching was the faint fragrance which always clung about her handkerchief and her hair! It was a shame that such a fine little woman should be alone and helpless in a world so rough that she' didn't even understand its harshness. No husband nor brother nor even a father now to protect her. Frank thought the world too rude a place for a lone woman and, in that idea, Scarlett silently and heartily concurred.
He came to call every night, for the atmosphere of Pitty's house was pleasant and soothing. Mammy's smile at the front door was the smile reserved for quality folks, Pitty served him coffee laced with brandy and fluttered about him and Scarlett hung on his every utterance. Sometimes in the afternoons he took Scarlett riding with him in his buggy when he went out on business. These rides were merry affairs because she' asked so many foolish questions~ "just like a woman," he told himself approvingly. He couldn't help laughing at her ignorance about business matters and she' laughed too, saying: "Well, of course, you can't expect a silly little woman like me to understand men's affairs."
She made him feel, for the first time in his old~ maidish life, that he was a strong upstanding man fashioned by God in a nobler mold than other men, fashioned to protect silly helpless women.
When, at last, they stood together to be married, her confiding little hand in his and her downcast lashes throwing thick black crescents on her pink cheeks, he still did not know how it all came about. He only knew he had done something romantic and exciting for the first time in his life. He, Frank Kennedy, had swept this lovely creature off her feet and into his strong arms. That was a heady feeling.
No friend or relative stood up with them at their marriage. The witnesses were strangers called in from the street. Scarlett had insisted on that and he had given in, though reluctantly, for he would have liked his sister and his brother~ in~ law from Jonesboro to be with him. And a reception with toasts drunk to the bride in Miss Pitty's parlor amid happy friends would have been a joy to him. But Scarlett would not hear of even Miss Pitty being present.
"Just us two, Frank," she' begged, squeezing his arm. "Like an elopement. I always did want to run away and be married! Please, sweetheart, just for me!"
It was that endearing term, still so new to his ears, and the bright teardrops which edged her pale green eyes as she' looked up pleadingly at him that won him over. After all, a man had to make some concessions to his bride, especially about the wedding, for women set such a store by sentimental things.
And before he knew it, he was married.
Frank gave her the three hundred dollars, bewildered by her sweet urgency, reluctant at first, because it meant the end of his hope of buying the sawmill immediately. But he could not see her family evicted, and his disappointment soon faded at the sight of her radiant happiness, disappeared entirely at the loving way she' "took on" over his generosity. Frank had never before had a woman "take on" over him and he came to feel that the money had been well spent, after all.
Scarlett dispatched Mammy to Tara immediately for the triple purpose of giving Will the money, announcing her marriage and bringing Wade to Atlanta. In two days she' had a brief note from Will which she' carried about with her and read and reread with mounting joy. Will wrote that the taxes had been paid and Jonas Wilkerson "acted up pretty bad" at the news but had made no other threats so far. Will closed by wishing her happiness, a laconic formal statement which he qualified in no way. She knew Will understood what she' had done and why she' had done it and neither blamed nor praised. But what must Ashley think? she' wondered feverishly. What must he think of me now, after what I said to him so short a while ago in the orchard at Tara?
She also had a letter from Suellen, poorly spelled, violent, abusive, tear splotched, a letter so full of venom and truthful observations upon her character that she' was never to forget it nor forgive the writer. But even Suellen's words could not dim her happiness that Tara was safe, at least from immediate danger.
It was hard to realize that Atlanta and not Tara was her permanent home now. In her desperation to obtain the tax money, no thought save Tara and the fate which threatened it had any place in her mind. Even at the moment of marriage, she' had not given a thought to the fact that the price she' was paying for the safety of home was permanent exile from it. Now that the deed was done, she' realized this with a wave of homesickness hard to dispel. But there it was. She had made her bargain and she' intended to stand by it. And she' was so grateful to Frank for saving Tara she' felt a warm affection for him and an equally warm determination that he should never regret marrying her.
The ladies of Atlanta knew their neighbors' business only slightly less completely than they knew their own and were far more interested in it. They all knew that for years Frank Kennedy had had an "understanding" with Suellen O'Hara. In fact, he had said, sheepishly, that he expected to get married in the spring. So the tumult of gossip, surmise and deep suspicion which followed the announcement of his quiet wedding to Scarlett was not surprising. Mrs. Merriwether, who never let her curiosity go long unsatisfied if she' could help it, asked him point~ blank just what he meant by marrying one sister when he was betrothed to the other. She reported to Mrs. Elsing that all the answer she' got for her pains was a silly look. Not even Mrs. Merriwether, doughty soul that she' was, dared to approach Scarlett on the subject. Scarlett seemed demure and sweet enough these days, but there was a pleased complacency in her eyes which annoyed people and she' carried a chip on her shoulder which no one cared to disturb.
She knew Atlanta was talking but she' did not care. Alter all, there wasn't anything immoral in marrying a man. Tara was safe. Let people talk. She had too many other matters to occupy her mind. The most important was how to make Frank realize, in a tactful manner, that his store should bring in more money. After the fright Jonas Wilkerson had given her, she' would never rest easy until she' and Frank had some money ahead. And even if no emergency developed, Frank would need to make more money, if she' was going to save enough for next year's taxes. Moreover, what Frank had said about the sawmill stuck in her mind. Frank could make lots of money out of a mill. Anybody could, with lumber selling at such outrageous prices. She fretted silently because Frank's money had not been enough to pay the taxes on Tara and buy the mill as well. And she' made up her mind that he had to make more money on the store somehow, and do it quickly, so he could buy that mill before some one else snapped it up. She could see it was a bargain.
If she' were a man she' would have that mill, if she' had to mortgage the store to raise the money. But, when she' intimated this delicately to Frank, the day after they married, he smiled and told her not to bother her sweet pretty little head about business matters. It had come as a surprise to him that she' even knew what a mortgage was and, at first, he was amused. But this amusement quickly passed and a sense of shock took its place in the early days of their marriage. Once, incautiously, he had told her that "people" [he was careful not to mention names] owed him money but could not pay just now and he was, of course, unwilling to press old friends and gentlefolk. Frank regretted ever mentioning it for, thereafter, she' had questioned him about it again and again. She had the most charmingly childlike air but she' was just curious, she' said, to know who owed him and how much they owed. Frank was very evasive about the matter. He coughed nervously and waved his hands and repeated his annoying remark about her sweet pretty little head.
It had begun to dawn on him that this same sweet pretty little head was a "good head for figures." In fact, a much better one than his own and the knowledge was disquieting. He was thunderstruck to discover that she' could swiftly add a long column of figures in her head when he needed a pencil and paper for more than three figures. And fractions presented no difficulties to her at all. He felt there was something unbecoming about a woman understanding fractions and business matters and he believed that, should a woman be so unfortunate as to have such unladylike comprehension, she' should pretend not to. Now he disliked talking business with her as much as he had enjoyed it before they were married. Then he had thought it all beyond her mental grasp and it had been pleasant to explain things to her. Now he saw that she' understood entirely too well and he felt the usual masculine indignation at the duplicity of women. Added to it was the usual masculine disillusionment in discovering that a woman has a brain.
Just how early in his married life Frank learned of the deception Scarlett had used in marrying him, no one ever knew. Perhaps the truth dawned on him when Tony Fontaine, obviously fancy free, came to Atlanta on business. Perhaps it was told him more directly in letters from his sister in Jonesboro who was astounded at his marriage. Certainly he never learned from Suellen herself. She never wrote him and naturally he could not write her and explain. What good would explanations do anyway, now that he was married? He writhed inwardly at the thought that Suellen would never know the truth and would always think he had senselessly jilted her. Probably everyone else was thinking this too and criticizing him. It certainly put him in an awkward position. And he had no way of clearing himself, for a man couldn't go about saying he had lost his head about a woman~ and a gentleman couldn't advertise the fact that his wife had entrapped him with a lie.
Scarlett was his wife and a wife was entitled to the loyalty of her husband. Furthermore, he could not bring himself to believe she' had married him coldly and with no affection for him at all. His masculine vanity would not permit such a thought to stay long in his mind. It was more pleasant to think she' had fallen so suddenly in love with him she' had been willing to lie to get him. But it was all very puzzling. He knew he was no great catch for a woman half his age and pretty and smart to boot, but Frank was a gentleman and he kept his bewilderment to himself. Scarlett was his wife and he could not insult her by asking awkward questions which, after all, would not remedy matters.
Not that Frank especially wanted to remedy matters, for it appeared that his marriage would be a happy one. Scarlett was the most charming and exciting of women and he thought her perfect in all things~ except that she' was so headstrong. Frank learned early in his marriage that so long as she' had her own way, life could be very pleasant, but when she' was opposed~ Given her own way, she' was as gay as a child, laughed a good deal, made foolish little jokes, sat on his knee and tweaked his beard until he vowed he felt twenty years younger. She could be unexpectedly sweet and thoughtful, having his slippers toasting at the fire when he came home at night, fussing affectionately about his wet feet and interminable head colds, remembering that he always liked the gizzard of the chicken and three spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee. Yes, life was very sweet and cozy with Scarlett~ as long as she' had her own way.
When the marriage was two weeks old, Frank contracted the grippe and Dr. Meade put him to bed. In the first year of the war, Frank had spent two months in the hospital with pneumonia and he had lived in dread of another attack since that time, so he was only too glad to lie sweating under three blankets and drink the hot concoctions Mammy and Aunt Pitty brought him every hour.
The illness dragged on and Frank worried more and more about the store as each day passed. The place was in charge of the counter boy, who came to the house every night to report on the day's transactions, but Frank was not satisfied. He fretted until Scarlett who had only been waiting for such an opportunity laid a cool hand on his forehead and said: "Now, sweetheart, I shall be vexed if you take on so. I'll go to town and see how things are."
And she' went, smiling as she' smothered his feeble protests. During the three weeks of her new marriage, she' had been in a fever to see his account books and find out just how money matters stood. What luck that he was bedridden!
The store stood near Five Points, its new roof glaring against the smoked bricks of the old walls. Wooden awnings covered the sidewalk to the edge of the street, and at the long iron bars connecting the uprights horses and mules were hitched, their heads bowed against the cold misty rain, their backs covered with torn blankets and quilts. The inside of the store was almost like Bullard's store in Jonesboro, except that there were no loungers about the roaring red~ hot stove, whittling and spitting streams of tobacco juice at the sand boxes. It was bigger than Bullard's store and much darker. The wooden awnings cut off most of the winter daylight and the interior was dim and dingy, only a trickle of light coming in through the small fly~ specked windows high up on the side walls. The floor was covered with muddy sawdust and everywhere was dust and dirt. There was a semblance of order in the front of the store, where tall shelves rose into the gloom stacked with bright bolts of cloth, china, cooking utensils and notions. But in the back, behind the partition, chaos reigned.
Here there was no flooring and the assorted jumble of stock was piled helter~ skelter on the hard~ packed earth. In the semi~ darkness she' saw boxes and bales of goods, plows and harness and saddles and cheap pine coffins. Secondhand furniture, ranging from cheap gum to mahogany and rosewood, reared up in the gloom, and the rich but worn brocade and horsehair upholstery gleamed incongruously in the dingy surroundings. China chambers and bowl and pitcher sets littered the floor and all around the four walls were deep bins, so dark she' had to hold the lamp directly over them to discover they contained seeds, nails, bolts and carpenters' tools.
"I'd think a man as fussy and old maidish as Frank would keep things tidier," she' thought, scrubbing her grimy hands with her handkerchief. "This place is a pig pen. What a way to run a store! If he'd only dust up this stuff and put it out in front where folks could see it, he could sell things much quicker."
And if his stock was in such condition, what mustn't his accounts be!
I'll look at his account book now, she' thought and, picking up the lamp, she' went into the front of the store. Willie, the counter boy, was reluctant to give her the large dirty~ backed ledger. It was obvious that, young as he was, he shared Frank's opinion that women had no place in business. But Scarlett silenced him with a sharp word and sent him out to get his dinner. She felt better when he was gone, for his disapproval annoyed her, and she' settled herself in a split~ bottomed chair by the roaring stove, tucked one foot under her and spread the book across her lap. It was dinner time and the streets were deserted. No customers called and she' had the store to herself.
She turned the pages slowly, narrowly scanning the rows of names and figures written in Frank's cramped copperplate hand. It was just as she' had expected, and she' frowned as she' saw this newest evidence of Frank's lack of business sense. At least five hundred dollars in debts, some of them months old, were set down against the names of people she' knew well, the Merriwethers and the Elsings among other familiar names. From Frank's deprecatory remarks about the money "people" owed him, she' had imagined the sums to be small. But this!
"If they can't pay, why do they keep on buying?" she' thought irritably. "And if he knows they can't pay, why does he keep on selling them stuff? Lots of them could pay if he'd just make them do it. The Elsings certainly could if they could give Fanny a new satin dress and an expensive wedding. Frank's just too soft hearted, and people take advantage of him. Why, if he'd collected half this money, he could have bought the sawmill and easily spared me the tax money, too."
Then she' thought: "Just imagine Frank trying to operate a sawmill! God's nightgown! If he runs this store like a charitable institution, how could he expect to make money on a mill? The sheriff would have it in a month. Why, I could run this store better than he does! And I could run a mill better than he could, even if I don't know anything about the lumber business!"
A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright. Of course, she' had discovered that this was not altogether true but the pleasant fiction still stuck in her mind. Never before had she' put this remarkable idea into words. She sat quite still, with the heavy book across her lap, her mouth a little open with surprise, thinking that during the lean months at Tara she' had done a man's work and done it well. She had been brought up to believe that a woman alone could accomplish nothing, yet she' had managed the plantation without men to help her until Will came. Why, why, her mind stuttered, I believe women could manage everything in the world without men's help~ except having babies, and God knows, no woman in her right mind would have babies if she' could help it.
With the idea that she' was as capable as a man came a sudden rush of pride and a violent longing to prove it, to make money for herself as men made money. Money which would be her own, which she' would neither have to ask for nor account for to any man.
"I wish I had money enough to buy that mill myself," she' said aloud and sighed. "I'd sure make it hum. And I wouldn't let even one splinter go out on credit."
She sighed again. There was nowhere she' could get any money, so the idea was out of the question. Frank would simply have to collect this money owing him and buy the mill. It was a sure way to make money, and when he got the mill, she' would certainly find some way to make him be more businesslike in its operation than he had been with the store.
She pulled a back page out of the ledger and began copying the list of debtors who had made no payments in several months. She'd take the matter up with Frank just as soon as she' reached home. She'd make him realize that these people had to pay their bills even if they were old friends, even if it did embarrass him to press them for money. That would probably upset Frank, for he was timid and fond of the approbation of his friends. He was so thin skinned he'd rather lose the money than be businesslike about collecting it.
And he'd probably tell her that no one had any money with which to pay him. Well, perhaps that was true. Poverty was certainly no news to her. But nearly everybody had saved some silver or jewelry or was hanging on to a little real estate. Frank could take them in lieu of cash.
She could imagine how Frank would moan when she' broached such an idea to him. Take the jewelry and property of his friends! Well, she' shrugged, he can moan all he likes. I'm going to tell him that he may be willing to stay poor for friendship's sake but I'm not. Frank will never get anywhere if he doesn't get up some gumption. And he's got to get somewhere! He's got to make money, even if I've got to wear the pants in the family to make him do.
She was writing busily, her face screwed up with the effort, her tongue clamped between her teeth, when the front door opened and a great draft of cold wind swept the store. A tall man came into the dingy room walking with a light Indian~ like tread, and looking up she' saw Rhett Butler.
He was resplendent in new clothes and a greatcoat with a dashing cape thrown back from his heavy shoulders. His tall hat was off in a deep bow when her eyes met his and his hand went to the bosom of a spotless pleated shirt. His white teeth gleamed startlingly against his brown face and his bold eyes raked her.
"My dear Mrs. Kennedy," he said, walking toward her. "My very dear Mrs. Kennedy!" and he broke into a loud merry laugh.
At first she' was as startled as if a ghost had invaded the store and then, hastily removing her foot from beneath her, she' stiffened her spine and gave him a cold stare.
"What are you doing here?"
"I called on Miss Pittypat and learned of your marriage and so I hastened here to congratulate you."
The memory of her humiliation at his hands made her go crimson with shame.
"I don't see how you have the gall to face me!" she' cried.
"On the contrary! How have you the gall to face me?"
"Oh, you are the most~ "
"Shall we let the bugles sing truce?" he smiled down at her, a wide flashing smile that had impudence in it but no shame for his own actions or condemnation for hers. In spite of herself, she' had to smile too, but it was a wry, uncomfortable smile.
"What a pity they didn't hang you!"
"Others share your feeling, I fear. Come, Scarlett, relax. You look like you'd swallowed a ramrod and it isn't becoming. Surely, you've had time to recover from my~ er~ my little joke."
"Joke? Ha! I'll never get over it!"
"Oh, yes, you will. You are just putting on this indignant front because you think it's proper and respectable. May I sit down?"
He sank into a chair beside her and grinned.
"I hear you couldn't even wait two weeks for me," he said and gave a mock sigh. "How fickle is woman!"
When she' did not reply he continued.
"Tell me, Scarlett, just between friends~ between very old and very intimate friends~ wouldn't it have been wiser to wait until I got out of jail? Or are the charms of wedlock with old Frank Kennedy more alluring than illicit relations with me?"
As always when his mockery aroused wrath within her, wrath fought with laughter at his impudence.
"Don't be absurd."
"And would you mind satisfying my curiosity on one point which has bothered me for some time? Did you have no womanly repugnance, no delicate shrinking from marrying not just one man but two for whom you had no love or even affection? Or have I been misinformed about the delicacy of our Southern womanhood?"
"I have my answer. I always felt that women had a hardness and endurance unknown to men, despite the pretty idea taught me in childhood that women are frail, tender, sensitive creatures. But after all, according to the Continental code of etiquette, it's very bad form for husband and wife to love each other. Very bad taste, indeed. I always felt that the Europeans had the right idea in that matter. Marry for convenience and love for pleasure. A sensible system, don't you think? You are closer to the old country than I thought."
How pleasant it would be to shout at him: "I did not marry for convenience!" But unfortunately, Rhett had her there and any protest of injured innocence would only bring more barbed remarks from him.
"How you do run on," she' said coolly. Anxious to change the subject, she' asked: "How did you ever get out of jail?"
"Oh, that!" he answered, making an airy gesture. "Not much trouble. They let me out this morning. I employed a delicate system of blackmail on a friend in Washington who is quite high in the councils of the Federal government. A splendid fellow~ one of the staunch Union patriots from whom I used to buy muskets and hoop skirts for the Confederacy. When my distressing predicament was brought to his attention in the right way, he hastened to use his influence, and so I was released. Influence is everything, and guilt or innocence merely an academic question."
"I'll take oath you weren't innocent."
"No, now that I am free of the toils, I'll frankly admit that I'm as guilty as Cain. I did kill the nigger. He was uppity to a lady, and what else could a Southern gentleman do? And while I'm confessing, I must admit that I shot a Yankee cavalryman after some words in a barroom. I was not charged with that peccadillo, so perhaps some other poor devil has been hanged for it, long since."
He was so blithe about his murders her blood chilled. Words of moral indignation rose to her lips but suddenly she' remembered the Yankee who lay under the tangle of scuppernong vines at Tara. He had not been on her conscience any more than a roach upon which she' might have stepped. She could not sit in judgment on Rhett when she' was as guilty as he.
"And, as I seem to be making a clean breast of it, I must tell you, in strictest confidence [that means, don't tell Miss Pittypat!] that I did have the money, safe in a bank in Liverpool."
"Yes, the money the Yankees were so curious about. Scarlett, it wasn't altogether meanness that kept me from giving you the money you wanted. If I'd drawn a draft they could have traced it somehow and I doubt if you'd have gotten a cent. My only hope lay in doing nothing. I knew the money was pretty safe, for if worst came to worst, if they had located it and tried to take it away from me, I would have named every Yankee patriot who sold me bullets and machinery during the war. Then there would have been a stink, for some of them are high up in Washington now. In fact, it was my threat to unbosom my conscience about them that got me out of jail. I~ "
"Do you mean you~ you actually have the Confederate gold?"
"Not all of it. Good Heavens, no! There must be fifty or more ex~ blockaders who have plenty salted away in Nassau and England and Canada. We will be pretty unpopular with the Confederates who weren't as slick as we were. I have got close to half a million. Just think, Scarlett, a half~ million dollars, if you'd only restrained your fiery nature and not rushed into wedlock again!"
A half~ million dollars. She felt a pang of almost physical sickness at the thought of so much money. His jeering words passed over her head and she' did not even hear them. It was hard to believe there was so much money in all this bitter and poverty~ stricken world. So much money, so very much money, and someone else had it, someone who took it lightly and didn't need it. And she' had only a sick elderly husband and this dirty, piddling, little store between her and a hostile world. It wasn't fair that a reprobate like Rhett Butler should have so much and she' , who carried so heavy a load, should have so little. She hated him, sitting there in his dandified attire, taunting her. Well, she' wouldn't swell his conceit by complimenting him on his cleverness. She longed viciously for sharp words with which to cut him.
"I suppose you think it's honest to keep the Confederate money. Well, it isn't. It's plain out and out stealing and you know it. I wouldn't have that on my conscience."
"My! How sour the grapes are today!" he exclaimed, screwing up his face. "And just whom am I stealing from?"
She was silent, trying to think just whom indeed. After all, he had only done what Frank had done on a small scale.
"Half the money is honestly mine," he continued, "honestly made with the aid of honest Union patriots who were willing to sell out the Union behind its back~ for one~ hundred~ per~ cent profit on their goods. Part I made out of my little investment in cotton at the beginning of the war, the cotton I bought cheap and sold for a dollar a pound when the British mills were crying for it. Part I got from food speculation. Why should I let the Yankees have the fruits of my labor? But the rest did belong to the Confederacy. It came from Confederate cotton which I managed to run through the blockade and sell in Liverpool at sky~ high prices. The cotton was given me in good faith to buy leather and rifles and machinery with. And it was taken by me in good faith to buy the same. My orders were to leave the gold in English banks, under my own name, in order that my credit would be good. You remember when the blockade tightened, I couldn't get a boat out of any Confederate port or into one, so there the money stayed in England. What should I have done? Drawn out all that gold from English banks, like a simpleton, and tried to run it into Wilmington? And let the Yankees capture it? Was it my fault that the blockade got too tight? Was it my fault that our Cause failed? The money belonged to the Confederacy. Well, there is no Confederacy now~ though you'd never know it, to hear some people talk. Whom shall I give the money to? The Yankee government? I should so hate for people to think me a thief."
He removed a leather case from his pocket, extracted a long cigar and smelled it approvingly, meanwhile watching her with pseudo anxiety as if he hung on her words.
Plague take him, she' thought, he's always one jump ahead of me. There is always something wrong with his arguments but I never can put my finger on just what it is.
"You might," she' said with dignity, "distribute it to those who are in need. The Confederacy is gone but there are plenty of Confederates and their families who are starving."
He threw back his bead and laughed rudely.
"You are never so charming or so absurd as when you are airing some hypocrisy like that," he cried in frank enjoyment. "Always tell the truth, Scarlett. You can't lie. The Irish are the poorest liars in the world. Come now, be frank. You never gave a damn about the late lamented Confederacy and you care less about the starving Confederates. You'd scream in protest if I even suggested giving away all the money unless I started off by giving you the lion's share."
"I don't want your money," she' began, trying to be coldly dignified.
"Oh, don't you! Your palm is itching to beat the band this minute. If I showed you a quarter, you'd leap on it."
"If you have come here to insult me and laugh at my poverty, I will wish you good day," she' retorted, trying to rid her lap of the heavy ledger so she' might rise and make her words more impressive. Instantly, he was on his feet bending over her, laughing as he pushed her back into her chair.
"When will you ever get over losing your temper when you hear the truth? You never mind speaking the truth about other people, so why should you mind hearing it about yourself? I'm not insulting you. I think acquisitiveness is a very fine quality."
She was not sure what acquisitiveness meant but as he praised it she' felt slightly mollified.
"I didn't come to gloat over your poverty but to wish you long life and happiness in your marriage. By the way, what did sister Sue think of your larceny?"
"Your stealing Frank from under her nose."
"I did not~ "
"Well, we won't quibble about the word. What did she' say?"
"She said nothing," said Scarlett. His eyes danced as they gave her the lie.
"How unselfish of her. Now, let's hear about your poverty. Surely I have the right to know, after your little trip out to the jail not long ago. Hasn't Frank as much money as you hoped?"
There was no evading his impudence. Either she' would have to put up with it or ask him to leave. And now she' did not want him to leave. His words were barbed but they were the barbs of truth. He knew what she' had done and why she' had done it and he did not seem to think the less of her for it. And though his questions were unpleasantly blunt, they seemed actuated by a friendly interest. He was one person to whom she' could tell the truth. That would be a relief, for it had been so long since she' had told anyone the truth about herself and her motives. Whenever she' spoke her mind everyone seemed to be shocked. Talking to Rhett was comparable only to one thing, the feeling of ease and comfort afforded by a pair of old slippers after dancing in a pair too tight.
"Didn't you get the money for the taxes? Don't tell me the wolf is still at the door of Tara." There was a different tone in his voice.
She looked up to meet his dark eyes and caught an expression which startled and puzzled her at first, and then made her suddenly smile, a sweet and charming smile which was seldom on her face these days. What a perverse wretch he was, but how nice he could be at times! She knew now that the real reason for his call was not to tease her but to make sure she' had gotten the money for which she' had been so desperate. She knew now that he had hurried to her as soon as he was released, without the slightest appearance of hurry, to lend her the money if she' still needed it. And yet he would torment and insult her and deny that such was his intent, should she' accuse him. He was quite beyond all comprehension. Did he really care about her, more than he was willing to admit? Or did he have some other motive? Probably the latter, she' thought. But who could tell? He did such strange things sometimes.
"No," she' said, "the wolf isn't at the door any longer. I~ I got the money."
"But not without a struggle, I'll warrant. Did you manage to restrain yourself until you got the wedding ring on your finger?"
She tried not to smile at his accurate summing up of her conduct but she' could not help dimpling. He seated himself again, sprawling his long legs comfortably.
"Well, tell me about your poverty. Did Frank, the brute, mislead you about his prospects? He should be soundly thrashed for taking advantage of a helpless female. Come, Scarlett, tell me everything. You should have no secrets from me. Surely, I know the worst about you."
"Oh, Rhett, you're the worst~ well, I don't know what! No, he didn't exactly fool me but~ " Suddenly it became a pleasure to unburden herself. "Rhett, if Frank would just collect the money people owe him, I wouldn't be worried about anything. But, Rhett, fifty people owe him and he won't press them. He's so thin skinned. He says a gentleman can't do that to another gentleman. And it may be months and may be never before we get the money."
"Well, what of it? Haven't you enough to eat on until he does collect?"
"Yes, but~ well, as a matter of fact, I could use a little money right now." Her eyes brightened as she' thought of the mill. "Perhaps~ "
"What for? More taxes?"
"Is that any of your business?"
"Yes, because you are getting ready to touch me for a loan. Oh, I know all the approaches. And I'll lend it to you~ without, my dear Mrs. Kennedy, that charming collateral you offered me a short while ago. Unless, of course, you insist."
"You are the coarsest~ "
"Not at all. I merely wanted to set your mind at ease. I knew you'd be worried about that point. Not much worried but a little. And I'm willing to lend you the money. But I do want to know how you are going to spend it. I have that right, I believe. If it's to buy you pretty frocks or a carriage, take it with my blessing. But if it's to buy a new pair of breeches for Ashley Wilkes, I fear I must decline to lend it."
She was hot with sudden rage and she' stuttered until words came.
"Ashley Wilkes has never taken a cent from me! I couldn't make him take a cent if he were starving! You don't understand him, how honorable, how proud he is! Of course, you can't understand him, being what you are~ "
"Don't let's begin calling names. I could call you a few that would match any you could think of for me. You forget that I have been keeping up with you through Miss Pittypat, and the dear soul tells all she' knows to any sympathetic listener. I know that Ashley has been at Tara ever since he came home from Rock Island. I know that you have even put up with having his wife around, which must have been a strain on you."
"Ashley is~ "
"Oh, yes," he said, waving his hand negligently. "Ashley is too sublime for my earthy comprehension. But please don't forget I was an interested witness to your tender scene with him at Twelve Oaks and something tells me he hasn't changed since then. And neither have you. He didn't cut so sublime a figure that day, if I remember rightly. And I don't think the figure he cuts now is much better. Why doesn't he take his family and get out and find work? And stop living at Tara? Of course, it's just a whim of mine, but I don't intend to lend you a cent for Tara to help support him. Among men, there's a very unpleasant name for men who permit women to support them."
"How dare you say such things? He's been working like a field hand!" For all her rage, her heart was wrung by the memory of Ashley splitting fence rails.
"And worth his weight in gold, I dare say. What a hand he must be with the manure and~ "
"Oh, yes, I know. Let's grant that he does the best he can but I don't imagine he's much help. You'll never make a farm hand out of a Wilkes~ or anything else that's useful. The breed is purely ornamental. Now, quiet your ruffled feathers and overlook my boorish remarks about the proud and honorable Ashley. Strange how these illusions will persist even in women as hard headed as you are. How much money do you want and what do you want it for?"
When she' did not answer he repeated:
"What do you want it for? And see if you can manage to tell me the truth. It will do as well as a lie. In fact, better, for if you lie to me, I'll be sure to find it out, and think how embarrassing that would be. Always remember this, Scarlett, I can stand anything from you but a lie~ your dislike for me, your tempers, all your vixenish ways, but not a lie. Now what do you want it for?"
Raging as she' was at his attack on Ashley, she' would have given anything to spit on him and throw his offer of money proudly into his mocking face. For a moment she' almost did, but the cold hand of common sense held her back. She swallowed her anger with poor grace and tried to assume an expression of pleasant dignity. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs toward the stove.
"If there's one thing in the world that gives me more amusement than anything else," he remarked, "it's the sight of your mental struggles when a matter of principle is laid up against something practical like money. Of course, I know the practical in you will always win, but I keep hanging around to see if your better nature won't triumph some day. And when that day comes I shall pack my bag and leave Atlanta forever. There are too many women whose better natures are always triumphing. . . . Well, let's get back to business. How much and what for?"
"I don't know quite how much I'll need," she' said sulkily. "But I want to buy a sawmill~ and I think I can get it cheap. And I'll need two wagons and two mules. I want good mules, too. And a horse and buggy for my own use."
"Yes, and if you'll lend me the money, I'll give you a half~ interest in it."
"Whatever would I do with a sawmill?"
"Make money! We can make loads of money. Or I'll pay you interest on the loan~ let's see, what is good interest?"
"Fifty per cent is considered very fine."
"Fifty~ oh, but you are joking! Stop laughing, you devil. I'm serious."
"That's why I'm laughing. I wonder if anyone but me realizes what goes on in that head back of your deceptively sweet face."
"Well, who cares? Listen, Rhett, and see if this doesn't sound like good business to you. Frank told me about this man who has a sawmill, a little one out Peachtree road, and he wants to sell it. He's got to have cash money pretty quick and he'll sell it cheap. There aren't many sawmills around here now, and the way people are rebuilding~ why, we could sell lumber sky high. The man will stay and run the mill for a wage. Frank told me about it. Frank would buy the mill himself if he had the money. I guess he was intending buying it with the money he gave me for the taxes."
"Poor Frank! What is he going to say when you tell him you've bought it yourself right out from under him? And how are you going to explain my lending you the money without compromising your reputation?"
Scarlett had given no thought to this, so intent was she' upon the money the mill would bring in.
"Well, I just won't tell him."
"He'll know you didn't pick it off a bush."
"I'll tell him~ why, yes, I'll tell him I sold you my diamond earbobs. And I will give them to you, too. That'll be my collat~ my whatchucallit."
"I wouldn't take your earbobs."
"I don't want them. I don't like them. They aren't really mine, anyway."
"Whose are they?"
Her mind went swiftly back to the still hot noon with the country hush deep about Tara and the dead man in blue sprawled in the hall.
"They were left with me~ by someone who's dead. They're mine all right. Take them. I don't want them. I'd rather have the money for them."
"Good Lord!" he cried impatiently. "Don't you ever think of anything but money?"
"No," she' replied frankly, turning hard green eyes upon him. "And if you'd been through what I have, you wouldn't either. I've found out that money is the most important thing in the world and, as God is my witness, I don't ever intend to be without it again."
She remembered the hot sun, the soft red earth under her sick head, the niggery smell of the cabin behind the ruins of Twelve Oaks, remembered the refrain her heart had beaten: "I'll never be hungry again. I'll never be hungry again."
"I'm going to have money some day, lots of it, so I can have anything I want to eat. And then there'll never be any hominy or dried peas on my table. And I'm going to have pretty clothes and all of them are going to be silk~ "
"All," she' said shortly, not even troubling to blush at his implication. "I'm going to have money enough so the Yankees can never take Tara away from me. And I'm going to have a new roof for Tara and a new barn and fine mules for plowing and more cotton than you ever saw. And Wade isn't ever going to know what it means to do without the things he needs. Never! He's going to have everything in the world. And all my family, they aren't ever going to be hungry again. I mean it. Every word. You don't understand, you're such a selfish hound. You've never had the Carpetbaggers trying to drive you out. You've never been cold and ragged and had to break your back to keep from starving!"
He said quietly: "I was in the Confederate Army for eight months. I don't know any better place for starving."
"The army! Bah! You've never had to pick cotton and weed corn. You've~ Don't you laugh at me!"
His hands were on hers again as her voice rose harshly.
"I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at the difference in what you look and what you really are. And I was remembering the first time I ever saw you, at the barbecue at the Wilkes'. You had on a green dress and little green slippers, and you were knee deep in men and quite full of yourself. I'll wager you didn't know then how many pennies were in a dollar. There was only one idea in your whole mind then and that was ensnaring Ash~ "
She jerked her hands away from him.
"Rhett, if we are to get on at all, you'll have to stop talking about Ashley Wilkes. We'll always fall out about him, because you can't understand him."
"I suppose you understand him like a book," said Rhett maliciously. "No, Scarlett, if I am to lend you the money I reserve the right to discuss Ashley Wilkes in any terms I care to. I waive the right to collect interest on my loan but not that right. And there are a number of things about that young man I'd like to know."
"I do not have to discuss him with you," she' answered shortly.
"Oh, but you do! I hold the purse strings, you see. Some day when you are rich, you can have the power to do the same to others. . . . It's obvious that you still care about him~ "
"I do not."
"Oh, it's so obvious from the way you rush to his defense. You~ "
"I won't stand having my friends sneered at."
"Well, we'll let that pass for the moment. Does he still care for you or did Rock Island make him forget? Or perhaps he's learned to appreciate what a jewel of a wife he has?"
At the mention of Melanie, Scarlett began to breathe hard and could scarcely restrain herself from crying out the whole story, that only honor kept Ashley with Melanie. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it.
"Oh. So he still hasn't enough sense to appreciate Mrs. Wilkes? And the rigors of prison didn't dim his ardor for you?"
"I see no need to discuss the subject."
"I wish to discuss it," said Rhett. There was a low note in his voice which Scarlett did not understand but did not like to hear. "And, by God, I will discuss it and I expect you to answer me. So he's still in love with you?"
"Well, what if he is?" cried Scarlett, goaded. "I don't care to discuss him with you because you can't understand him or his kind of love. The only kind of love you know about is just~ well, the kind you carry on with creatures like that Watling woman."
"Oh," said Rhett softly. "So I am only capable of carnal lusts?"
"Well, you know it's true."
"Now I appreciate your hesitance in discussing the matter with me. My unclean hands and lips besmirch the purity of his love."
"Well, yes~ something like that."
"I'm interested in this pure love~ "
"Don't be so nasty, Rhett Butler. If you are vile enough to think there's ever been anything wrong between us~ "
"Oh, the thought never entered my head, really. That's why it all interests me. Just why hasn't there been anything wrong between you?"
"If you think that Ashley would~ "
"Ah, so it's Ashley, and not you, who has fought the fight for purity. Really, Scarlett, you should not give yourself away so easily."
Scarlett looked into his smooth unreadable face in confusion and indignation.
"We won't go any further with this and I don't want your money. So, get out!"
"Oh, yes, you do want my money and, as we've gone this far, why stop? Surely there can be no harm in discussing so chaste an idyl~ when there hasn't been anything wrong. So Ashley loves you for your mind, your soul, your nobility of character?"
Scarlett writhed at his words. Of course, Ashley loved her for just these things. It was this knowledge that made life endurable, this knowledge that Ashley, bound by honor, loved her from afar for beautiful things deep buried in her that he alone could see. But they did not seem so beautiful when dragged to the light by Rhett, especially in that deceptively smooth voice that covered sarcasm.
"It gives me back my boyish ideals to know that such a love can exist in this naughty world," he continued. "So there's no touch of the flesh in his love for you? It would be the same if you were ugly and didn't have that white skin? And if you didn't have those green eyes which make a man wonder just what you would do if he took you in his arms? And a way of swaying your hips, that's an allurement to any man under ninety? And those lips which are~ well, I mustn't let my carnal lusts obtrude. Ashley sees none of these things? Or if he sees them, they move him not at all?"
Unbidden, Scarlett's mind went back to that day in the orchard when Ashley's arms shook as he held her, when his mouth was hot on hers as if he would never let her go. She went crimson at the memory and her blush was not lost on Rhett.
"So," he said and there was a vibrant note almost like anger in his voice. "I see. He loves you for your mind alone."
How dare he pry with dirty fingers, making the one beautiful sacred thing in her life seem vile? Coolly, determinedly, he was breaking down the last of her reserves and the information he wanted was forthcoming.
"Yes, he does!" she' cried, pushing back the memory of Ashley's lips.
"My dear, he doesn't even know you've got a mind. If it was your mind that attracted him, he would not need to struggle against you, as he must have done to keep this love so~ shall we say 'holy'? He could rest easily for, after all, a man can admire a woman's mind and soul and still be an honorable gentleman and true to his wife. But it must be difficult for him to reconcile the honor of the Wilkeses with coveting your body as he does."
"You judge everybody's mind by your own vile one!"
"Oh, I've never denied coveting you, if that's what you mean. But, thank God, I'm not bothered about matters of honor. What I want I take if I can get it, and so I wrestle neither with angels nor devils. What a merry hell you must have made for Ashley! Almost I can be sorry for him."
"I~ I make a hell for him?"
"Yes, you! There you are, a constant temptation to him, but like most of his breed he prefers what passes in these parts as honor to any amount of love. And it looks to me as if the poor devil now had neither love nor honor to warm himself!"
"He has love! . . . I mean, he loves me!"
"Does he? Then answer me this and we are through for the day and you can take the money and throw it in the gutter for all I care."
Rhett rose to his feet and threw his half~ smoked cigar into the spittoon. There was about his movements the same pagan freedom and leashed power Scarlett had noted that night Atlanta fell, something sinister and a little frightening. "If he loved you, then why in hell did he permit you to come to Atlanta to get the tax money? Before I'd let a woman I loved do that, I'd~ "
"He didn't know! He had no idea that I~ "
"Doesn't it occur to you that he should have known?" There was barely suppressed savagery in his voice. "Loving you as you say he does, he should have known just what you would do when you were desperate. He should have killed you rather than let you come up here~ and to me, of all people! God in Heaven!"
"But he didn't know!"
"If he didn't guess it without being told, he'll never know anything about you and your precious mind."
How unfair he was! As if Ashley was a mind reader! As if Ashley could have stopped her, even had he known! But, she' knew suddenly, Ashley could have stopped her. The faintest intimation from him, in the orchard, that some day things might be different and she' would never have thought of going to Rhett. A word of tenderness, even a parting caress when she' was getting on the train, would have held her back. But he had only talked of honor. Yet~ was Rhett right? Should Ashley have known her mind? Swiftly she' put the disloyal thought from her. Of course, he didn't suspect. Ashley would never suspect that she' would even think of doing anything so immoral. Ashley was too fine to have such thoughts. Rhett was just trying to spoil her love. He was trying to tear down what was most precious to her. Some day, she' thought viciously, when the store was on its feet and the mill doing nicely and she' had money, she' would make Rhett Butler pay for the misery and humiliation he was causing her.
He was standing over her, looking down at her, faintly amused. The emotion which had stirred him was gone.
"What does it all matter to you anyway?" she' asked. "It's my business and Ashley's and not yours."
"Only this. I have a deep and impersonal admiration for your endurance, Scarlett, and I do not like to see your spirit crushed beneath too many millstones. There's Tara. That's a man~ sized job in itself. There's your sick father added on. He'll never be any help to you. And the girls and the darkies. And now you've taken on a husband and probably Miss Pittypat, too. You've enough burdens without Ashley Wilkes and his family on your hands."
"He's not on my hands. He helps~ "
"Oh, for God's sake," he said impatiently. "Don't let's have any more of that. He's no help. He's on your hands and he'll be on them, or on somebody's, till he dies. Personally, I'm sick of him as a topic of conversation. . . . How much money do you want?"
Vituperative words rushed to her lips. After all his insults, after dragging from her those things which were most precious to her and trampling on them, he still thought she' would take his money!
But the words were checked unspoken. How wonderful it would be to scorn his offer and order him out of the store! But only the truly rich and the truly secure could afford this luxury. So long as she' was poor, just so long would she' have to endure such scenes as this. But when she' was rich~ oh, what a beautiful warming thought that was!~ when she' was rich, she' wouldn't stand anything she' didn't like, do without anything she' desired or even be polite to people unless they pleased her.
I shall tell them all to go to Halifax, she' thought, and Rhett Butler will be the first one!
The pleasure in the thought brought a sparkle into her green eyes and a half~ smile to her lips. Rhett smiled too.
"You're a pretty person, Scarlett," he said. "Especially when you are meditating devilment. And just for the sight of that dimple I'll buy you a baker's dozen of mules if you want them."
The front door opened and the counter boy entered, picking his teeth with a quill. Scarlett rose, pulled her shawl about her and tied her bonnet strings firmly under her chin. Her mind was made up.
"Are you busy this afternoon? Can you come with me now?" she' asked.
"I want you to drive to the mill with me. I promised Frank I wouldn't drive out of town by myself."
"To the mill in this rain?"
"Yes, I want to buy that mill now, before you change your mind."
He laughed so loudly the boy behind the counter started and looked at him curiously.
"Have you forgotten you are married? Mrs. Kennedy can't afford to be seen driving out into the country with that Butler reprobate, who isn't received in the best parlors. Have you forgotten your reputation?"
"Reputation, fiddle~ dee~ dee! I want that mill before you change your mind or Frank finds out that I'm buying it. Don't be a slow poke, Rhett. What's a little rain? Let's hurry."
That sawmill! Frank groaned every time he thought of it, cursing himself for ever mentioning it to her. It was bad enough for her to sell her earrings to Captain Butler [of all people!] and buy the mill without even consulting her own husband about it, but it was worse still that she' did not turn it over to him to operate. That looked bad. As if she' did not trust him or his judgment.
Frank, in common with all men he knew, felt that a wife should be guided by her husband's superior knowledge, should accept his opinions in full and have none of her own. He would have given most women their own way. Women were such funny little creatures and it never hurt to humor their small whims. Mild and gentle by nature, it was not in him to deny a wife much. He would have enjoyed gratifying the foolish notions of some soft little person and scolding her lovingly for her stupidity and extravagance. But the things Scarlett set her mind on were unthinkable.
That sawmill, for example. It was the shock of his life when she' told him with a sweet smile, in answer to his questions, that she' intended to run it herself. "Go into the lumber business myself," was the way she' put it. Frank would never forget the horror of that moment. Go into business for herself! It was unthinkable. There were no women in business in Atlanta. In fact, Frank had never heard of a woman in business anywhere. If women were so unfortunate as to be compelled to make a little money to assist their families in these hard times, they made it in quiet womanly ways~ baking as Mrs. Merriwether was doing, or painting china and sewing and keeping boarders, like Mrs. Elsing and Fanny, or teaching school like Mrs. Meade or giving music lessons like Mrs. Bonnell. These ladies made money but they kept themselves at home while they did it, as a woman should. But for a woman to leave the protection of her home and venture out into the rough world of men, competing with them in business, rubbing shoulders with them, being exposed to insult and gossip. . . . Especially when she' wasn't forced to do it, when she' had a husband amply able to provide for her!
Frank had hoped she' was only teasing or playing a joke on him, a joke of questionable taste, but he soon found she' meant what she' said. She did operate the sawmill. She rose earlier than he did to drive out Peachtree road and frequently did not come home until long after he had locked up the store and returned to Aunt Pitty's for supper. She drove the long miles to the mill with only the disapproving Uncle Peter to protect her and the woods were full of free niggers and Yankee riffraff. Frank couldn't go with her, the store took all of his time, but when he protested, she' said shortly: "If I don't keep an eye on that slick scamp, Johnson, he'll steal my lumber and sell it and put the money in his pocket. When I can get a good man to run the mill for me, then I won't have to go out there so often. Then I can spend my time in town selling lumber."
Selling lumber in town! That was worst of all. She frequently did take a day off from the mill and peddle lumber and, on those days, Frank wished he could hide in the dark back room of his store and see no one. His wife selling lumber!
And people were talking terrible about her. Probably about him too, for permitting her to behave in so unwomanly a fashion. It embarrassed him to face his customers over the counter and hear them say: "I saw Mrs. Kennedy a few minutes ago over at . . ." Everyone took pains to tell him what she' did. Everyone was talking about what happened over where the new hotel was being built. Scarlett had driven up just as Tommy Wellburn was buying some lumber from another man and she' climbed down out of the buggy among the rough Irish masons who were laying the foundations, and told Tommy briefly that he was being cheated. She said her lumber was better and cheaper too, and to prove it she' ran up a long column of figures in her head and gave him an estimate then and there. It was bad enough that she' had intruded herself among strange rough workmen, but it was still worse for a woman to show publicly that she' could do mathematics like that. When Tommy accepted her estimate and gave her the order, Scarlett had not taken her departure speedily and meekly but had idled about, talking to Johnnie Gallegher, the foreman of the Irish workers, a hard~ bitten little gnome of a man who had a very bad reputation. The town talked about it for weeks.
On top of everything else, she' was actually making money out of the mill, and no man could feel right about a wife who succeeded in so unwomanly an activity. Nor did she' turn over the money or any part of it to him to use in the store. Most of it went to Tara and she' wrote interminable letters to Will Benteen telling him just how it should be spent. Furthermore, she' told Frank that if the repairs at Tara could ever be completed, she' intended to lend out her money on mortgages.
"My! My!" moaned Frank whenever he thought of this. A woman had no business even knowing what a mortgage was.
Scarlett was full of plans these days and each one of them seemed worse to Frank than the previous one. She even talked of building a saloon on the property where her warehouse had been until Sherman burned it. Frank was no teetotaler but he feverishly protested against the idea. Owning saloon property was a bad business, an unlucky business, almost as bad as renting to a house of prostitution. Just why it was bad, he could not explain to her and to his lame arguments she' said "Fiddle~ dee~ dee!"
"Saloons are always good tenants. Uncle Henry said so," she' told him. "They always pay their rent and, look here, Frank, I could put up a cheap salon out of poor~ grade lumber I can't sell and get good rent for it, and with the rent money and the money from the mill and what I could get from mortgages, I could buy some more sawmills."
"Sugar, you don't need any more sawmills!" cried Frank, appalled. "What you ought to do is sell the one you've got. It's wearing you out and you know what trouble you have keeping free darkies at work there~ "
"Free darkies are certainly worthless," Scarlett agreed, completely ignoring his hint that she' should sell. "Mr. Johnson says he never knows when he comes to work in the morning whether he'll have a full crew or not. You just can't depend on the darkies any more. They work a day or two and then lay off till they've spent their wages, and the whole crew is like as not to quit overnight. The more I see of emancipation the more criminal I think it is. It's just ruined the darkies. Thousands of them aren't working at all and the ones we can get to work at the mill are so lazy and shiftless they aren't worth having. And if you so much as swear at them, much less hit them a few licks for the good of their souls, the Freedmen's Bureau is down on you like a duck on a June bug."
"Sugar, you aren't letting Mr. Johnson beat those~ "
"Of course not," she' returned impatiently. "Didn't I just say the Yankees would put me in jail if I did?"
"I'll bet your pa never hit a darky a lick in his life," said Frank.
"Well, only one. A stable boy who didn't rub down his horse after a day's hunt. But, Frank; it was different then. Free issue niggers are something else, and a good whipping would do some of them a lot of good."
Frank was not only amazed at his wife's views and her plans but at the change which had come over her in the few months since their marriage. This wasn't the soft, sweet, feminine person he had taken to wife. In the brief period of the courtship, he thought he had never known a woman more attractively feminine in her reactions to life, ignorant, timid and helpless. Now her reactions were all masculine. Despite her pink cheeks and dimples and pretty smiles, she' talked and acted like a man. Her voice was brisk and decisive and she' made up her mind instantly and with no girlish shilly~ shallying. She knew what she' wanted and she' went after it by the shortest route, like a man, not by the hidden and circuitous routes peculiar to women.
It was not that Frank had never seen commanding women before this. Atlanta, like all Southern towns, had its share of dowagers whom no one cared to cross. No one could be more dominating than stout Mrs. Merriwether, more imperious than frail Mrs. Elsing, more artful in securing her own ends than the silver~ haired sweet~ voiced Mrs. Whiting. But no matter what devices these ladies employed in order to get their own way, they were always feminine devices. They made a point of being deferential to men's opinions, whether they were guided by them or not. They had the politeness to appear to be guided by what men said, and that was what mattered. But Scarlett was guided by no one but herself and was conducting her affairs in a masculine way which had the whole town talking about her.
"And," thought Frank miserably, "probably talking about me too, for letting her act so unwomanly."
Then, there was that Butler man. His frequent calls at Aunt Pitty's house were the greatest humiliation of all. Frank had always disliked him, even when he had done business with him before the war. He often cursed the day he had brought Rhett to Twelve Oaks and introduced him to his friends. He despised him for the cold~ blooded way he had acted in his speculations during the war and for the fact that he had not been in the army. Rhett's eight months' service with the Confederacy was known only to Scarlett, for Rhett had begged her, with mock fear, not to reveal his "shame" to anyone. Most of all Frank had contempt for him for holding on to the Confederate gold, when honest men like Admiral Bulloch and others confronted with the same situation had turned back thousands to the Federal treasury. But whether Frank liked it or not, Rhett was a frequent caller.
Ostensibly it was Miss Pitty he came to see and she' had no better sense than to believe it and give herself airs over his visits. But Frank had an uncomfortable feeling that Miss Pitty was not the attraction which brought him. Little Wade was very fond of him, though the boy was shy of most people, and even called him "Uncle Rhett," which annoyed Frank. And Frank could not help remembering that Rhett had squired Scarlett about during the war days and there had been talk about them then. He imagined there might be even worse talk about them now. None of his friends had the courage to mention anything of this sort to Frank, for all their outspoken words on Scarlett's conduct in the matter of the mill. But he could not help noticing that he and Scarlett were less frequently invited to meals and parties and fewer and fewer people came to call on them. Scarlett disliked most of her neighbors and was too busy with her mill to care about seeing the ones she' did like, so the lack of calls did not disturb her. But Frank felt it keenly.
All of his life, Frank had been under the domination of the phrase "What will the neighbors say?" and he was defenseless against the shocks of his wife's repeated disregard of the proprieties. He felt that everyone disapproved of Scarlett and was contemptuous of him for permitting her to "unsex herself." She did so many things a husband should not permit, according to his views, but if he ordered her to stop them, argued or even criticized, a storm broke on his head.
"My! My!" he thought helplessly. "She can get mad quicker and stay mad longer than any woman I ever saw!"
Even at the times when things were most pleasant, it was amazing how completely and how quickly the teasing, affectionate wife who hummed to herself as she' went about the house could be transformed into an entirely different person. He had only to say: "Sugar, if I were you, I wouldn't~ " and the tempest would break.
Her black brows rushed together to meet in a sharp angle over her nose and Frank cowered, almost visibly. She had the temper of a Tartar and the rages of a wild cat and, at such times, she' did not seem to care what she' said or how much it hurt. Clouds of gloom hung over the house on such occasions. Frank went early to the store and stayed late. Pitty scrambled into her bedroom like a rabbit panting for its burrow. Wade and Uncle Peter retired to the carriage house and Cookie kept to her kitchen and forebore to raise her voice to praise the Lord in song. Only Mammy endured Scarlett's temper with equanimity and Mammy had had many years of training with Gerald O'Hara and his explosions.
Scarlett did not mean to be short tempered and she' really wanted to make Frank a good wife, for she' was fond of him and grateful for his help in saving Tara. But he did try her patience to the breaking point so often and in so many different ways.
She could never respect a man who let her run over him and the timid, hesitant attitude he displayed in any unpleasant situation, with her or with others, irritated her unbearably. But she' could have overlooked these things and even been happy, now that some of her money problems were being solved, except for her constantly renewed exasperation growing out of the many incidents which showed that Frank was neither a good business man nor did he want her to be a good business man.
As she' expected, he had refused to collect the unpaid bills until she' prodded him into it, and then he had done it apologetically and half heartedly. That experience was the final evidence she' needed to show her that the Kennedy family would never have more than a bare living, unless she' personally made the money she' was determined to have. She knew now that Frank would be contented to dawdle along with his dirty little store for the rest of his life. He didn't seem to realize what a slender fingerhold they had on security and how important it was to make more money in these troublous times when money was the only protection against fresh calamities.
Frank might have been a successful business man in the easy days before the war but he was so annoyingly old~ fashioned, she' thought, and so stubborn about wanting to do things in the old ways, when the old ways and the old days were gone. He was utterly lacking in the aggressiveness needed in these new bitter times. Well, she' had the aggressiveness and she' intended to use it, whether Frank liked it or not. They needed money and she' was making money and it was hard work. The very least Frank could do, in her opinion, was not to interfere with her plans which were getting results.
With her inexperience, operating the new mill was no easy job and competition was keener now than it had been at first, so she' was usually tired and worried and cross when she' came home at nights. And when Frank would cough apologetically and say: "Sugar, I wouldn't do this," or "I wouldn't do that, Sugar, if I were you," it was all she' could do to restrain herself from flying into a rage, and frequently she' did not restrain herself. If he didn't have the gumption to get out and make some money, why was he always finding fault with her? And the things he nagged her about were so silly! What difference did it make in times like these if she' was being unwomanly? Especially when her unwomanly sawmill was bringing in money they needed so badly, she' and the family and Tara, and Frank too.
Frank wanted rest and quiet. The war in which he had served so conscientiously had wrecked his health, cost him his fortune and made him an old man. He regretted none of these things and after four years of war, all he asked of life was peace and kindliness, loving faces about him and the approval of friends. He soon found that domestic peace had its price, and that price was letting Scarlett have her own way, no matter what she' might wish to do. So, because he was tired, he bought peace at her own terms. Sometimes, he thought it was worth it to have her smiling when she' opened the front door in the cold twilights, kissing him on the ear or the nose or some other inappropriate place, to feel her head snuggling drowsily on his shoulder at night under warm quilts. Home life could be so pleasant when Scarlett was having her own way. But the peace he gained was hollow, only an outward semblance, for he had purchased it at the cost of everything he held to be right in married life.
"A woman ought to pay more attention to her home and her family and not be gadding about like a man," he thought. "Now, if she' just had a baby~ "
He smiled when he thought of a baby and he thought of a baby very often. Scarlett had been most outspoken about not wanting a child, but then babies seldom waited to be invited. Frank knew that many women said they didn't want babies but that was all foolishness and fear. If Scarlett had a baby, she' would love it and be content to stay home and tend it like other women. Then she' would be forced to sell the mill and his problems would be ended. All women needed babies to make them completely happy and Frank knew that Scarlett was not happy. Ignorant as he was of women, he was not so blind that he could not see she' was unhappy at times.
Sometimes he awoke at night and heard the soft sound of tears muffled in the pillow. The first time he had waked to feel the bed shaking with her sobbing, he had questioned, in alarm: "Sugar, what is it?" and had been rebuked by a passionate cry: "Oh, let me alone!"
Yes, a baby would make her happy and would take her mind off things she' had no business fooling with. Sometimes Frank sighed, thinking he had caught a tropic bird, all flame and jewel color, when a wren would have served him just as well. In fact, much better.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
It was on a wild wet night in April that Tony Fontaine rode in from Jonesboro on a lathered horse that was half dead from exhaustion and came knocking at their door, rousing her and Frank from sleep with their hearts in their throats. Then for the second time in four months, Scarlett was made to feel acutely what Reconstruction in all its implications meant, made to understand more completely what was in Will's mind when he said "Our troubles have just begun," to know that the bleak words of Ashley, spoken in the wind~ swept orchard of Tara, were true: "This that's facing all of us is worse than war~ worse than prison~ worse than death."
The first time she' had come face to face with Reconstruction was when she' learned that Jonas Wilkerson with the aid of the Yankees could evict her from Tara. But Tony's advent brought it all home to her in a far more terrifying manner. Tony came in the dark and the lashing rain and in a few minutes he was gone back into the night forever, but in the brief interval between he raised the curtain on a scene of new horror, a curtain that she' felt hopelessly would never be lowered again.
That stormy night when the knocker hammered on the door with such hurried urgency, she' stood on the landing, clutching her wrapper to her and, looking down into the hall below, had one glimpse of Tony's swarthy saturnine face before he leaned forward and blew out the candle in Frank's hand. She hurried down in the darkness to grasp his cold wet hand and hear him whisper: "They're after me~ going to Texas~ my horse is about dead~ and I'm about starved. Ashley said you'd~ Don't light the candle! Don't wake the darkies. . . . I don't want to get you folks in trouble if I can help it."
With the kitchen blinds drawn and all the shades pulled down to the sills, he permitted a light and he talked to Frank in swift jerky sentences as Scarlett hurried about, trying to scrape together a meal for him.
He was without a greatcoat and soaked to the skin. He was hatless and his black hair was plastered to his little skull. But the merriment of the Fontaine boys, a chilling merriment that night, was in his little dancing eyes as he gulped down the whisky she' brought him. Scarlett thanked God that Aunt Pittypat was snoring undisturbed upstairs. She would certainly swoon if she' saw this apparition.
"One damned bast~ Scallawag less," said Tony, holding out his glass for another drink. "I've ridden hard and it'll cost me my skin if I don't get out of here quick, but it was worth it. By God, yes! I'm going to try to get to Texas and lay low there. Ashley was with me in Jonesboro and he told me to come to you all. Got to have another horse, Frank, and some money. My horse is nearly dead~ all the way up here at a dead run~ and like a fool I went out of the house today like a bat out of hell without a coat or hat or a cent of money. Not that there's much money in our house."
He laughed and applied himself hungrily to the cold corn pone and cold turnip greens on which congealed grease was thick in white flakes.
"You can have my horse," said Frank calmly. "I've only ten dollars with me but if you can wait till morning~ "
"Hell's afire, I can't wait!" said Tony, emphatically but jovially. "They're probably right behind me. I didn't get much of a start. If it hadn't been for Ashley dragging me out of there and making me get on my horse, I'd have stayed there like a fool and probably had my neck stretched by now. Good fellow, Ashley."
So Ashley was mixed up in this frightening puzzle. Scarlett went cold, her hand at her throat. Did the Yankees have Ashley now? Why, why didn't Frank ask what it was all about? Why did he take it all so coolly, so much as a matter of course? She struggled to get the question to her lips.
"What~ " she' began. "Who~ "
"Your father's old overseer~ that damned~ Jonas Wilkerson."
"Did you~ is he dead?"
"My God, Scarlett O'Hara!" said Tony peevishly. "When I start out to cut somebody up, you don't think I'd be satisfied with scratching him with the blunt side of my knife, do you? No, by God, I cut him to ribbons."
"Good," said Frank casually. "I never liked the fellow."
Scarlett looked at him. This was not the meek Frank she' knew, the nervous beard clawer who she' had learned could be bullied with such ease. There was an air about him that was crisp and cool and he was meeting the emergency with no unnecessary words. He was a man and Tony was a man and this situation of violence was men's business in which a woman had no part.
"But Ashley~ Did he~ "
"No. He wanted to kill him but I told him it was my right, because Sally is my sister~ in~ law, and he saw reason finally. He went into Jonesboro with me, in case Wilkerson got me first. But I don't think old Ash will get in any trouble about it. I hope not. Got any jam for this corn pone? And can you wrap me up something to take with me?"
"I shall scream if you don't tell me everything."
"Wait till I've gone and then scream if you've got to. I'll tell you about it while Frank saddles the horse. That damned~ Wilkerson has caused enough trouble already. I know how he did you about your taxes. That's just one of his meannesses. But the worst thing was the way he kept the darkies stirred up. If anybody had told me I'd ever live to see the day when I'd hate darkies! Damn their black souls, they believe anything those scoundrels tell them and forget every living thing we've done for them. Now the Yankees are talking about letting the darkies vote. And they won't let us vote. Why, there's hardly a handful of Democrats in the whole County who aren't barred from voting, now that they've ruled out every man who fought in the Confederate Army. And if they give the negroes the vote, it's the end of us. Damn it, it's our state! It doesn't belong to the Yankees! By God, Scarlett, it isn't to be borne! And it won't be borne! We'll do something about it if it means another war. Soon we'll be having nigger judges, nigger legislators~ black apes out of the jungle~ "
"Please~ hurry, tell me! What did you do?"
"Give me another mite of that pone before you wrap it up. Well, the word got around that Wilkerson had gone a bit too far with his nigger~ equality business. Oh, yes, he talks it to those black fools by the hour. He had the gall~ the~ " Tony spluttered helplessly, "to say niggers had a right to~ to~ white women."
"Oh, Tony, no!"
"By God, yes! I don't wonder you look sick. But hell's afire, Scarlett, it can't be news to you. They've been telling it to them here in Atlanta."
"I~ I didn't know."
"Well, Frank would have kept it from you. Anyway, after that, we all sort of thought we'd call on Mr. Wilkerson privately by night and tend to him, but before we could~ You remember that black buck, Eustis, who used to be our foreman?"
"Came to the kitchen door today while Sally was fixing dinner and~ I don't know what he said to her. I guess I'll never know now. But he said something and I heard her scream and I ran into the kitchen and there he was, drunk as a fiddler's bitch~ I beg your pardon, Scarlett, it just slipped out."
"I shot him and when Mother ran in to take care of Sally, I got my horse and started to Jonesboro for Wilkerson. He was the one to blame. The damned black fool would never have thought of it but for him. And on the way past Tara, I met Ashley and, of course, he went with me. He said to let him do it because of the way Wilkerson acted about Tara and I said No, it was my place because Sally was my own dead brother's wife, and he went with me arguing the whole way. And when we got to town, by God, Scarlett, do you know I hadn't even brought my pistol, I'd left it in the stable. So mad I forgot~ "
He paused and gnawed the tough pone and Scarlett shivered. The murderous rages of the Fontaines had made County history long before this chapter had opened.
"So I had to take my knife to him. I found him in the barroom. I got him in a corner with Ashley holding back the others and I told him why before I lit into him. Why, it was over before I knew it," said Tony reflecting. "First thing I knew, Ashley had me on my horse and told me to come to you folks. Ashley's a good man in a pinch. He keeps his head."
Frank came in, his greatcoat over his arm, and handed it to Tony. It was his only heavy coat but Scarlett made no protest. She seemed so much on the outside of this affair, this purely masculine affair.
"But Tony~ they need you at home. Surely, if you went back and explained~ "
"Frank, you've married a fool," said Tony with a grin, struggling into the coat. "She thinks the Yankees will reward a man for keeping niggers off his women folks. So they will, with a drumhead court and a rope. Give me a kiss, Scarlett. Frank won't mind and I may never see you again. Texas is a long way off. I won't dare write, so let the home folks know I got this far in safety."
She let him kiss her and the two men went out into the driving rain and stood for a moment, talking on the back porch. Then she' heard a sudden splashing of hooves and Tony was gone. She opened the door a crack and saw Frank leading a heaving, stumbling horse into the carriage house. She shut the door again and sat down, her knees trembling.
Now she' knew what Reconstruction meant, knew as well as if the house were ringed about by naked savages, squatting in breech clouts. Now there came rushing to her mind many things to which she' had given little thought recently, conversations she' had heard but to which she' had not listened, masculine talk which had been checked half finished when she' came into rooms, small incidents in which she' had seen no significance at the time, Frank's futile warnings to her against driving out to the mill with only the feeble Uncle Peter to protect her. Now they fitted themselves together into one horrifying picture.
The negroes were on top and behind them were the Yankee bayonets. She could be killed, she' could be raped and, very probably, nothing would ever be done about it. And anyone who avenged her would be hanged by the Yankees, hanged without benefit of trial by judge and jury. Yankee officers who knew nothing of law and cared less for the circumstances of the crime could go through the motions of holding a trial and put a rope around a Southerner's neck.
"What can we do?" she' thought, wringing her hands in an agony of helpless fear. "What can we do with devils who'd hang a nice boy like Tony just for killing a drunken buck and a scoundrelly Scallawag to protect his women folks?"
"It isn't to be borne!" Tony had cried and he was right. It couldn't be borne. But what could they do except bear it, helpless as they were? She fell to trembling and, for the first time in her life, she' saw people and events as something apart from herself, saw clearly that Scarlett O'Hara, frightened and helpless, was not all that mattered. There were thousands of women like her, all over the South, who were frightened and helpless. And thousands of men, who had laid down their arms at Appomattox, had taken them up again and stood ready to risk their necks on a minute's notice to protect those women.
There had been something in Tony's face which had been mirrored in Frank's, an expression she' had seen recently on the faces of other men in Atlanta, a look she' had noticed but had not troubled to analyze. It was an expression vastly different from the tired helplessness she' had seen in the faces of men coming home from the war after the surrender. Those men had not cared about anything except getting home. Now they were caring about something again, numbed nerves were coming back to life and the old spirit was beginning to burn. They were caring again with a cold ruthless bitterness. And, like Tony, they were thinking: "It isn't to be borne!"
She had seen Southern men, soft voiced and dangerous in the days before the war, reckless and hard in the last despairing days of the fighting. But in the faces of the two men who stared at each other across the candle flame so short a while ago there had been something that was different, something that heartened her but frightened her~ fury which could find no words, determination which would stop at nothing.
For the first time, she' felt a kinship with the people about her, felt one with them in their fears, their bitterness, their determination. No, it wasn't to be borne! The South was too beautiful a place to be let go without a struggle, too loved to be trampled by Yankees who hated Southerners enough to enjoy grinding them into the dirt, too dear a homeland to be turned over to ignorant negroes drunk with whisky and freedom.
As she' thought of Tony's sudden entrance and swift exit, she' felt herself akin to him, for she' remembered the old story how her father had left Ireland, left hastily and by night, after a murder which was no murder to him or to his family. Gerald's blood was in her, violent blood. She remembered her hot joy in shooting the marauding Yankee. Violent blood was in them all, perilously close to the surface, lurking just beneath the kindly courteous exteriors. All of them, all the men she' knew, even the drowsy~ eyed Ashley and fidgety old Frank, were like that underneath~ murderous, violent if the need arose. Even Rhett, conscienceless scamp that he was, had killed a negro for being "uppity to a lady."
"Oh, Frank, how long will it be like this?" she' leaped to her feet.
"As long as the Yankees hate us so, Sugar."
"Is there nothing anybody can do?"
Frank passed a tired hand over his wet beard. "We are doing things."
"Why talk of them till we have accomplished something? It may take years. Perhaps~ perhaps the South will always be like this."
"Sugar, come to bed. You must be chilled. You are shaking."
"When will it all end?"
"When we can all vote again, Sugar. When every man who fought for the South can put a ballot in the box for a Southerner and a Democrat."
"A ballot?" she' cried despairingly. "What good's a ballot when the darkies have lost their minds~ when the Yankees have poisoned them against us?"
Frank went on to explain in his patient manner, but the idea that ballots could cure the trouble was too complicated for her to follow. She was thinking gratefully that Jonas Wilkerson would never again be a menace of Tara and she' was thinking about Tony.
"Oh, the poor Fontaines!" she' exclaimed. "Only Alex left and so much to do at Mimosa. Why didn't Tony have sense enough to~ to do it at night when no one would know who it was? A sight more good he'd do helping with the spring plowing than in Texas."
Frank put an arm about her. Usually he was gingerly when he did this, as if he anticipated being impatiently shaken off, but tonight there was a far~ off look in his eyes and his arm was firm about her waist.
"There are things more important now than plowing, Sugar. And scaring the darkies and teaching the Scallawags a lesson is one of them. As long as there are fine boys like Tony left, I guess we won't need to worry about the South too much. Come to bed."
"But, Frank~ "
"If we just stand together and don't give an inch to the Yankees, we'll win, some day. Don't you bother your pretty head about it, Sugar. You let your men folks worry about it. Maybe it won't come in our time, but surely it will come some day. The Yankees will get tired of pestering us when they see they can't even dent us, and then we'll have a decent world to live in and raise our children in."
She thought of Wade and the secret she' had carried silently for some days. No, she' didn't want her children raised in this welter of hate and uncertainty, of bitterness and violence lurking just below the surface, of poverty and grinding hardships and insecurity. She never wanted children of hers to know what all this was like. She wanted a secure and well~ ordered world in which she' could look forward and know there was a safe future ahead for them, a world where her children would know only softness and warmth and good clothes and fine food.
Frank thought this could he accomplished by voting. Voting? What did votes matter? Nice people in the South would never have the vote again. There was only one thing in the world that was a certain bulwark against any calamity which fate could bring, and that was money. She thought feverishly that they must have money, lots of it to keep them safe against disaster.
Abruptly, she' told him she' was going to have a baby.
For weeks after Tony's escape, Aunt Pitty's house was subjected to repeated searches by parties of Yankee soldiers. They invaded the house at all hours and without warning. They swarmed through the rooms, asking questions, opening closets, prodding clothes hampers, peering under beds. The military authorities had heard that Tony had been advised to go to Miss Pitty's house, and they were certain he was still hiding there or somewhere m the neighborhood.
As a result, Aunt Pitty was chronically in what Uncle Peter called a "state," never knowing when her bedroom would be entered by an officer and a squad of men. Neither Frank nor Scarlett had mentioned Tony's brief visit, so the old lady could have revealed nothing, even had she' been so inclined. She was entirely honest in her fluttery protestations that she' had seen Tony Fontaine only once in her life and that was at Christmas time in 1862.
"And," she' would add breathlessly to the Yankee soldiers, in an effort to be helpful, "he was quite intoxicated at the time."
Scarlett, sick and miserable in the early stage of pregnancy, alternated between a passionate hatred of the bluecoats who invaded her privacy, frequently carrying away any little knick~ knack that appealed to them, and an equally passionate fear that Tony might prove the undoing of them all. The prisons were full of people who had been arrested for much less reason. She knew that if one iota of the truth were proved against them, not only she' and Frank but the innocent Pitty as well would go to jail.
For some time there had been an agitation in Washington to confiscate all "Rebel property" to pay the United States' war debt and this agitation had kept Scarlett in a state of anguished apprehension. Now, in addition to this, Atlanta was full of wild rumors about the confiscation of property of offenders against military law, and Scarlett quaked lest she' and Frank lose not only their freedom but the house, the store and the mill. And even if their property were not appropriated by the military, it would be as good as lost if she' and Frank went to jail, for who would look after their business in their absence?
She hated Tony for bringing such trouble upon them. How could he have done such a thing to friends? And how could Ashley have sent Tony to them? Never again would she' give aid to anyone if it meant having the Yankees come down on her like a swarm of hornets. No, she' would bar the door against anyone needing help. Except, of course, Ashley. For weeks after Tony's brief visit she' woke from uneasy dreams at any sound in the road outside, fearing it might be Ashley trying to make his escape, fleeing to Texas because of the aid he had given Tony. She did not know how matters stood with him, for they did not dare write to Tara about Tony's midnight visit. Their letters might be intercepted by the Yankees and bring trouble upon the plantation as well. But, when weeks went by and they heard no bad news, they knew that Ashley had somehow come clear. And finally, the Yankees ceased annoying them.
But even this relief did not free Scarlett from the state of dread which began when Tony came knocking at their door, a dread which was worse than the quaking fear of the siege shells, worse even than the terror of Sherman's men during the last days of the war. It was as if Tony's appearance that wild rainy night had stripped merciful blinders from her eyes and forced her to see the true uncertainty of her life.
Looking about her in that cold spring of 1866, Scarlett realized what was facing her and the whole South. She might plan and scheme, she' might work harder than her slaves had ever worked, she' might succeed in overcoming all of her hardships, she' might through dint of determination solve problems for which her earlier life had provided no training at all. But for all her labor and sacrifice and resourcefulness, her small beginnings purchased at so great a cost might be snatched away from her at any minute. And should this happen, she' had no legal rights, no legal redress, except those same drumhead courts of which Tony had spoken so bitterly, those military courts with their arbitrary powers. Only the negroes had rights or redress these days. The Yankees had the South prostrate and they intended to keep it so. The South had been tilted as by a giant malicious hand, and those who had once ruled were now more helpless than their former slaves had ever been.
Georgia was heavily garrisoned with troops and Atlanta had more than its share. The commandants of the Yankee troops in the various cities had complete power, even the power of life and death, over the civilian population, and they used that power. They could and did imprison citizens for any cause, or no cause, seize their property, hang them. They could and did harass and hamstring them with conflicting regulations about the operation of their business, the wages they must pay their servants, what they should say in public and private utterances and what they should write in newspapers. They regulated how, when and where they must dump their garbage and they decided what songs the daughters and wives of ex~ Confederates could sing, so that the singing of "Dixie" or "Bonnie Blue Flag" became an offense only a little less serious than treason. They ruled that no one could get a letter our of the post office without taking the Iron Clad oath and, in some instances, they even prohibited the issuance of marriage licenses unless the couples had taken the hated oath.
The newspapers were so muzzled that no public protest could be raised against the injustices or depredations of the military, and individual protests were silenced with jail sentences. The jails were full of prominent citizens and there they stayed without hope of early trial. Trial by jury and the law of habeas corpus were practically suspended. The civil courts still functioned after a fashion but they functioned at the pleasure of the military, who could and did interfere with their verdicts, so that citizens so unfortunate as to get arrested were virtually at the mercy of the military authorities. And so many did get arrested. The very suspicion of seditious utterances against the government, suspected complicity in the Ku Klux Klan, or complaint by a negro that a white man had been uppity to him were enough to land a citizen in jail. Proof and evidence were not needed. The accusation was sufficient. And thanks to the incitement of the Freedmen's Bureau, negroes could always be found who were willing to bring accusations.
The negroes had not yet been given the right to vote but the North was determined that they should vote and equally determined that their vote should be friendly to the North. With this in mind, nothing was too good for the negroes. The Yankee soldiers backed them up in anything they chose to do, and the surest way for a white person to get himself into trouble was to bring a complaint of any kind against a negro.
The former slaves were now the lords of creation and, with the aid of the Yankees, the lowest and most ignorant ones were on top. The better class of them, scorning freedom, were suffering as severely as their white masters. Thousands of house servants, the highest caste in the slave population, remained with their white folks, doing manual labor which had been beneath them in the old days. Many loyal field hands also refused to avail themselves of the new freedom, but the hordes of "trashy free issue niggers," who were causing most of the trouble, were drawn largely from the field~ hand class.
In slave days, these lowly blacks had been despised by the house negroes and yard negroes as creatures of small worth. Just as Ellen had done, other plantation mistresses throughout the South had put the pickaninnies through courses of training and elimination to select the best of them for the positions of greater responsibility. Those consigned to the fields were the ones least willing or able to learn, the least energetic, the least honest and trustworthy, the most vicious and brutish. And now this class, the lowest in the black social order, was making life a misery for the South.
Aided by the unscrupulous adventurers who operated the Freedmen's Bureau and urged on by a fervor of Northern hatred almost religious in its fanaticism, the former field hands found themselves suddenly elevated to the seats of the mighty. There they conducted themselves as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild~ either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance.
To the credit of the negroes, including the least intelligent of them, few were actuated by malice and those few had usually been "mean niggers" even in slave days. But they were, as a class, childlike in mentality, easily led and from long habit accustomed to taking orders. Formerly their white masters had given the orders. Now they had a new set of masters, the Bureau and the Carpetbaggers, and their orders were: "You're just as good as any white man, so act that way. Just as soon as you can vote the Republican ticket, you are going to have the white man's property. It's as good as yours now. Take it, if you can get it!"
Dazzled by these tales, freedom became a never~ ending picnic, a barbecue every day of the week, a carnival of idleness and theft and insolence. Country negroes flocked into the cities, leaving the rural districts without labor to make the crops. Atlanta was crowded with them and still they came by the hundreds, lazy and dangerous as a result of the new doctrines being taught them. Packed into squalid cabins, smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis broke out among them. Accustomed to the care of their mistresses when they were ill in slave days, they did not know how to nurse themselves or their sick. Relying upon their masters in the old days to care for their aged and their babies, they now had no sense of responsibility for their helpless. And the Bureau was far too interested in political matters to provide the care the plantation owners had once given.
Abandoned negro children ran like frightened animals about the town until kind~ hearted white people took them into their kitchens to raise. Aged country darkies, deserted by their children, bewildered and panic stricken in the bustling town, sat on the curbs and cried to the ladies who passed: "Mistis, please Ma'm, write mah old Marster down in Fayette County dat Ah's up hyah. He'll come tek dis ole nigger home agin. 'Fo' Gawd, Ah done got nuff of dis freedom!"
The Freedmen's Bureau, overwhelmed by the numbers who poured in upon them, realized too late a part of the mistake and tried to send them back to their former owners. They told the negroes that if they would go back, they would go as free workers, protected by written contracts specifying wages by the day. The old darkies went back to the plantations gladly, making a heavier burden than ever on the poverty~ stricken planters who had not the heart to turn them out, but the young ones remained in Atlanta. They did not want to be workers of any kind, anywhere. Why work when the belly is full?
For the first time in their lives the negroes were able to get all the whisky they might want. In slave days, it was something they never tasted except at Christmas, when each one received a "drap" along with his gift. Now they had not only the Bureau agitators and the Carpetbaggers urging them on, but the incitement of whisky as well, and outrages were inevitable. Neither life nor property was safe from them and the white people, unprotected by law, were terrorized. Men were insulted on the streets by drunken blacks, houses and barns were burned at night, horses and cattle and chickens stolen in broad daylight, crimes of all varieties were committed and few of the perpetrators were brought to justice.
But these ignominies and dangers were as nothing compared with the peril of white women, many bereft by the war of male protection, who lived alone in the outlying districts and on lonely roads. It was the large number of outrages on women and the ever~ present fear for the safety of their wives and daughters that drove Southern men to cold and trembling fury and caused the Ku Klux Klan to spring up overnight. And it was against this nocturnal organization that the newspapers of the North cried out most loudly, never realizing the tragic necessity that brought it into being. The North wanted every member of the Ku Klux hunted down and hanged, because they had dared take the punishment of crime into their own hands at a time when the ordinary processes of law and order had been overthrown by the invaders.
Here was the astonishing spectacle of half a nation attempting, at the point of bayonet, to force upon the other half the rule of negroes, many of them scarcely one generation out of the African jungles. The vote must be given to them but it must be denied to most of their former owners. The South must be kept down and disfranchisement of the whites was one way to keep the South down. Most of those who had fought for the Confederacy, held office under it or given aid and comfort to it were not allowed to vote, had no choice in the selection of their public officials and were wholly under the power of an alien rule. Many men, thinking soberly of General Lee's words and example, wished to take the oath, become citizens again and forget the past. But they were not permitted to take it. Others who were permitted to take the oath, hotly refused to do so, scorning to swear allegiance to a government which was deliberately subjecting them to cruelty and humiliation.
Scarlett heard over and over until she' could have screamed at the repetition: "I'd have taken their damned oath right after the surrender if they'd acted decent. I can be restored to the Union, but by God, I can't be reconstructed into it!"
Through these anxious days and nights, Scarlett was torn with fear. The ever~ present menace of lawless negroes and Yankee soldiers preyed on her mind, the danger of confiscation was constantly with her, even in her dreams, and she' dreaded worse terrors to come. Depressed by the helplessness of herself and her friends, of the whole South, it was not strange that she' often remembered during these days the words which Tony Fontaine had spoken so passionately:
"Good God, Scarlett, it isn't to be borne! And it won't be borne!"
In spite of war, fire and Reconstruction, Atlanta had again become a boom town. In many ways, the place resembled the busy young city of the Confederacy's early days. The only trouble was that the soldiers crowding the streets wore the wrong kind of uniforms, the money was in the hands of the wrong people, and the negroes were living in leisure while their former masters struggled and starved.
Underneath the surface were misery and fear, but all the outward appearances were those of a thriving town that was rapidly rebuilding from its ruins, a bustling, hurrying town. Atlanta, it seemed, must always be hurrying, no matter what its circumstances might be. Savannah, Charleston, Augusta, Richmond, New Orleans would never hurry. It was ill bred and Yankeefied to hurry. But in this period, Atlanta was more ill bred and Yankeefied than it had ever been before or would ever be again. With "new people" thronging in from all directions, the streets were choked and noisy from morning till night. The shiny carriages of Yankee officers' wives and newly rich Carpetbaggers splashed mud on the dilapidated buggies of the townspeople, and gaudy new homes of wealthy strangers crowded in among the sedate dwellings of older citizens.
The war had definitely established the importance of Atlanta in the affairs of the South and the hitherto obscure town was now known far and wide. The railroads for which Sherman had fought an entire summer and killed thousands of men were again stimulating the life of the city they had brought into being. Atlanta was again the center of activities for a wide region, as it had been before its destruction, and the town was receiving a great influx of new citizens, both welcome and unwelcome.
Invading Carpetbaggers made Atlanta their headquarters and on the streets they jostled against representatives of the oldest families in the South who were likewise newcomers in the town. Families from the country districts who had been burned out during Sherman's march and who could no longer make a living without the slaves to till the cotton had come to Atlanta to live. New settlers were coming in every day from Tennessee and the Carolinas where the hand of Reconstruction lay even heavier than in Georgia. Many Irish and Germans who had been bounty men in the Union Army had settled in Atlanta after their discharge. The wives and families of the Yankee garrison, filled with curiosity about the South after four years of war, came to swell the population. Adventurers of every kind swarmed in, hoping to make their fortunes, and the negroes from the country continued to come by the hundreds.
The town was roaring~ wide open like a frontier village, making no effort to cover its vices and sins. Saloons blossomed overnight, two and sometimes three in a block, and after nightfall the streets were full of drunken men, black and white, reeling from wall to curb and back again. Thugs, pickpockets and prostitutes lurked in the unlit alleys and shadowy streets. Gambling houses ran full blast and hardly a night passed without its shooting or cutting affray. Respectable citizens were scandalized to find that Atlanta had a large and thriving red~ light district, larger and more thriving than during the war. All night long pianos jangled from behind drawn shades and rowdy songs and laughter floated out, punctuated by occasional screams and pistol shots. The inmates of these houses were bolder than the prostitutes of the war days and brazenly hung out of their windows and called to passers~ by. And on Sunday afternoons, the handsome closed carriages of the madams of the district rolled down the main streets, filled with girls in their best finery, taking the air from behind lowered silk shades.
Belle Watling was the most notorious of the madams. She had opened a new house of her own, a large two~ story building that made neighboring houses in the district look like shabby rabbit warrens. There was a long barroom downstairs, elegantly hung with oil paintings, and a negro orchestra played every night. The upstairs, so rumor said, was fitted out with the finest of plush upholstered furniture, heavy lace curtains and imported mirrors in gilt frames. The dozen young ladies with whom the house was furnished were comely, if brightly painted, and comported themselves more quietly than those of other houses. At least, the police were seldom summoned to Belle's.
This house was something that the matrons of Atlanta whispered about furtively and ministers preached against in guarded terms as a cesspool of iniquity, a hissing and a reproach. Everyone knew that a woman of Belle's type couldn't have made enough money by herself to set up such a luxurious establishment. She had to have a backer and a rich one at that. And Rhett Butler had never had the decency to conceal his relations with her, so it was obvious that he and no other must be that backer. Belle herself presented a prosperous appearance when glimpsed occasionally in her closed carriage driven by an impudent yellow negro. When she' drove by, behind a fine pair of bays, all the little boys along the street who could evade their mothers ran to peer at her and whisper excitedly: "That's her! That's ole Belle! I seen her red hair!"
Shouldering the shell~ pitted houses patched with bits of old lumber and smoke~ blackened bricks, the fine homes of the Carpetbaggers and war profiteers were rising, with mansard roofs, gables and turrets, stained~ glass windows and wide lawns. Night after night, in these newly built homes, the windows were ablaze with gas light and the sound of music and dancing feet drifted out upon the air. Women in stiff bright~ colored silks strolled about long verandas, squired by men in evening clothes. Champagne corks popped, and on lace tablecloths seven~ course dinners were laid. Hams in wine, pressed duck, pate de foie gras, rare fruits in and out of season, were spread in profusion.
Behind the shabby doors of the old houses, poverty and hunger lived~ all the more bitter for the brave gentility with which they were borne, all the more pinching for the outward show of proud indifference to material wants. Dr. Meade could tell unlovely stories of those families who had been driven from mansions to boarding houses and from boarding houses to dingy rooms on back streets. He had too many lady patients who were suffering from "weak hearts" and "declines." He knew, and they knew he knew, that slow starvation was the trouble. He could tell of consumption making inroads on entire families and of pellagra, once found only among poor whites, which was now appearing in Atlanta's best families. And there were babies with thin rickety legs and mothers who could not nurse them. Once the old doctor had been wont to thank God reverently for each child he brought into the world. Now he did not think life was such a boon. It was a hard world for little babies and so many died in their first few months of life.
Bright lights and wine, fiddles and dancing, brocade and broadcloth in the showy big houses and, just around the corners, slow starvation and cold. Arrogance and callousness for the conquerors, bitter endurance and hatred for the conquered.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett saw it all, lived with it by day, took it to bed with her at night, dreading always what might happen next. She knew that she' and Frank were already in the Yankees' black books, because of Tony, and disaster might descend on them at any hour. But, now of all times, she' could not afford to be pushed back to her beginnings~ not now with a baby coming, the mill just commencing to pay and Tara depending on her for money until the cotton came in in the fall. Oh, suppose she' should lose everything! Suppose she' should have to start all over again with only her puny weapons against this mad world! To have to pit her red lips and green eyes and her shrewd shallow brain against the Yankees and everything the Yankees stood for. Weary with dread, she' felt that she' would rather kill herself than try to make a new beginning.
In the ruin and chaos of that spring of 1866, she' single mindedly turned her energies to making the mill pay. There was money in Atlanta. The wave of rebuilding was giving her the opportunity she' wanted and she' knew she' could make money if only she' could stay out of jail. But, she' told herself time and again, she' would have to walk easily, gingerly, be meek under insults, yielding to injustices, never giving offense to anyone, black or white, who might do her harm. She hated the impudent free negroes as much as anyone and her flesh crawled with fury every time she' heard their insulting remarks and high~ pitched laughter as she' went by. But she' never even gave them a glance of contempt. She hated the Carpetbaggers and Scallawags who were getting rich with ease while she' struggled, but she' said nothing in condemnation of them. No one in Atlanta could have loathed the Yankees more than she' , for the very sight of a blue uniform made her sick with rage, but even in the privacy of her family she' kept silent about them.
I won't be a big~ mouthed fool, she' thought grimly. Let others break their hearts over the old days and the men who'll never come back. Let others burn with fury over the Yankee rule and losing the ballot. Let others go to jail for speaking their minds and get themselves hanged for being in the Ku Klux Klan. [Oh, what a dreaded name that was, almost as terrifying to Scarlett as to the negroes.] Let other women be proud that their husbands belonged. Thank God, Frank had never been mixed up in it! Let others stew and fume and plot and plan about things they could not help. What did the past matter compared with the tense present and the dubious future? What did the ballot matter when bread, a roof and staying out of jail were the real problems? And, please God, just let me stay out of trouble until June!
Only till June! By that month Scarlett knew she' would be forced to retire into Aunt Pitty's house and remain secluded there until after her child was born. Already people were criticizing her for appearing in public when she' was in such a condition. No lady ever showed herself when she' was pregnant. Already Frank and Pitty were begging her not to expose herself~ and them~ to embarrassment and she' had promised them to stop work in June.
Only till June! By June she' must have the mill well enough established for her to leave it. By June she' must have money enough to give her at least some little protection against misfortune. So much to do and so little time to do it! She wished for more hours of the day and counted the minutes, as she' strained forward feverishly in her pursuit of money and still more money.
Because she' nagged the timid Frank, the store was doing better now and he was even collecting some of the old bills. But it was the sawmill on which her hopes were pinned. Atlanta these days was like a giant plant which had been cut to the ground but now was springing up again with sturdier shoots, thicker foliage, more numerous branches. The demand for building materials was far greater than could be supplied. Prices of lumber, brick and stone soared and Scarlett kept the mill running from dawn until lantern light.
A part of every day she' spent at the mill, prying into everything, doing her best to check the thievery she' felt sure was going on. But most of the time she' was riding about the town, making the rounds of builders, contractors and carpenters, even calling on strangers she' had heard might build at future dates, cajoling them into promises of buying from her and her only.
Soon she' was a familiar sight on Atlanta's streets, sitting in her buggy beside the dignified, disapproving old darky driver, a lap robe pulled high about her, her little mittened hands clasped in her lap. Aunt Pitty had made her a pretty green mantelet which hid her figure and a green pancake hat which matched her eyes, and she' always wore these becoming garments on her business calls. A faint dab of rouge on her cheeks and a fainter fragrance of cologne made her a charming picture, as long as she' did not alight from the buggy and show her figure. And there was seldom any need for this, for she' smiled and beckoned and the men came quickly to the buggy and frequently stood bareheaded in the rain to talk business with her.
She was not the only one who had seen the opportunities for making money out of lumber, but she' did not fear her competitors. She knew with conscious pride in her own smartness that she' was the equal of any of them. She was Gerald's own daughter and the shrewd trading instinct she' had inherited was now sharpened by her needs.
At first the other dealers had laughed at her, laughed with good~ natured contempt at the very idea of a woman in business. But now they did not laugh. They swore silently as they saw her ride by. The fact that she' was a woman frequently worked in her favor, for she' could upon occasion look so helpless and appealing that she' melted hearts. With no difficulty whatever she' could mutely convey the impression of a brave but timid lady, forced by brutal circumstance into a distasteful position, a helpless little lady who would probably starve if customers didn't buy her lumber. But when ladylike airs failed to get results she' was coldly businesslike and willingly undersold her competitors at a loss to herself if it would bring her a new customer. She was not above selling a poor grade of lumber for the price of good lumber if she' thought she' would not be detected, and she' had no scruples about black~ guarding the other lumber dealers. With every appearance of reluctance at disclosing the unpleasant truth, she' would sigh and tell prospective customers that her competitors' lumber was far too high in price, rotten, full of knot holes and in general of deplorably poor quality.
The first time Scarlett lied in this fashion she' felt disconcerted and guilty~ disconcerted because the lie sprang so easily and naturally to her lips, guilty because the thought flashed into her mind: What would Mother say?
There was no doubt what Ellen would say to a daughter who told lies and engaged in sharp practices. She would be stunned and incredulous and would speak gentle words that stung despite their gentleness, would talk of honor and honesty and truth and duty to one's neighbor. Momentarily, Scarlett cringed as she' pictured the look on her mother's face. And then the picture faded, blotted out by an impulse, hard, unscrupulous and greedy, which had been born in the lean days at Tara and was now strengthened by the present uncertainty of life. So she' passed this milestone as she' had passed others before it~ with a sigh that she' was not as Ellen would like her to be, a shrug and the repetition of her unfailing charm: "I'll think of all this later."
But she' never again thought of Ellen in connection with her business practices, never again regretted any means she' used to take trade away from other lumber dealers. She knew she' was perfectly safe in lying about them. Southern chivalry protected her. A Southern lady could lie about a gentleman but a Southern gentleman could not lie about a lady or, worse still, call the lady a liar. Other lumbermen could only fume inwardly and state heatedly, in the bosoms of their families, that they wished to God Mrs. Kennedy was a man for just about five minutes.
One poor white who operated a mill on the Decatur road did try to fight Scarlett with her own weapons, saying openly that she' was a liar and a swindler. But it hurt him rather than helped, for everyone was appalled that even a poor white should say such shocking things about a lady of good family, even when the lady was conducting herself in such an unwomanly way. Scarlett bore his remarks with silent dignity and, as time went by, she' turned all her attention to him and his customers. She undersold him so relentlessly and delivered, with secret groans, such an excellent quality of lumber to prove her probity that he was soon bankrupt. Then, to Frank's horror, she' triumphantly bought his mill at her own price.
Once in her possession there arose the perplexing problem of finding a trustworthy man to put in charge of it. She did not want another man like Mr. Johnson. She knew that despite all her watchfulness he was still selling her lumber behind her back, but she' thought it would be easy to find the right sort of man. Wasn't everybody as poor as Job's turkey, and weren't the streets full of men, some of them formerly rich, who were without work? The day never went by that Frank did not give money to some hungry ex~ soldier or that Pitty and Cookie did not wrap up food for gaunt beggars.
But Scarlett, for some reason she' could not understand, did not want any of these. "I don't want men who haven't found something to do after a year," she' thought. "If they haven't adjusted to peace yet, they couldn't adjust to me. And they all look so hangdog and licked. I don't want a man who's licked. I want somebody who's smart and energetic like Renny or Tommy Wellburn or Kells Whiting or one of the Simmons boys or~ or any of that tribe. They haven't got that I~ don't~ care~ about~ anything look the soldiers had right after the surrender. They look like they cared a heap about a heap of things."
But to her surprise the Simmons boys, who had started a brick kiln, and Kells Whiting, who was selling a preparation made up in his mother's kitchen, that was guaranteed to straighten the kinkiest negro hair in six applications, smiled politely, thanked her and refused. It was the same with the dozen others she' approached. In desperation she' raised the wage she' was offering but she' was still refused. One of Mrs. Merriwether's nephews observed impertinently that while he didn't especially enjoy driving a dray, it was his own dray and he would rather get somewhere under his own steam than Scarlett's.
One afternoon, Scarlett pulled up her buggy beside Rene Picard's pie wagon and hailed Rene and the crippled Tommy Wellburn, who was catching a ride home with his friend.
"Look here, Renny, why don't you come and work for me? Managing a mill is a sight more respectable than driving a pie wagon. I'd think you'd be ashamed."
"Me, I am dead to shame," grinned Rene. "Who would be respectable? All of my days I was respectable until ze war set me free lak ze darkies. Nevaire again must I be deegneefied and full of ennui. Free lak ze bird! I lak my pie wagon. I lak my mule. I lak ze dear Yankees who so kindly buy ze pie of Madame Belle Mere. No, my Scarlett, I must be ze King of ze Pies. Eet ees my destiny! Lak Napoleon, I follow my star." He flourished his whip dramatically.
"But you weren't raised to sell pies any more than Tommy was raised to wrastle with a bunch of wild Irish masons. My kind of work is more~ "
"And I suppose you were raised to run a lumber mill," said Tommy, the corners of his mouth twitching. "Yes, I can just see little Scarlett at her mother's knee, lisping her lesson, 'Never sell good lumber if you can get a better price for bad.'"
Rene roared at this, his small monkey eyes dancing with glee as he whacked Tommy on his twisted back.
"Don't be impudent," said Scarlett coldly, for she' saw little humor in Tommy's remark. "Of course, I wasn't raised to run a sawmill."
"I didn't mean to be impudent. But you are running a sawmill, whether you were raised to it or not. And running it very well, too. Well, none of us, as far as I can see, are doing what we intended to do right now, but I think we'll make out just the same. It's a poor person and a poor nation that sits down and cries because life isn't precisely what they expected it to be. Why don't you pick up some enterprising Carpetbagger to work for you, Scarlett? The woods are full of them, God knows."
"I don't want a Carpetbagger. Carpetbaggers will steal anything that isn't red hot or nailed down. If they amounted to anything they'd have stayed where they were, instead of coming down here to pick our bones. I want a nice man, from nice folks, who is smart and honest and energetic and~ "
"You don't want much. And you won't get it for the wage you're offering. All the men of that description, barring the badly maimed ones, have already got something to do. They may be round pegs in square holes but they've all got something to do. Something of their own that they'd rather do than work for a woman."
"Men haven't got much sense, have they, when you get down to rock bottom?"
"Maybe not but they've got a heap of pride," said Tommy soberly.
"Pride! Pride tastes awfully good, especially when the crust is flaky and you put meringue on it," said Scarlett tartly.
The two men laughed, a bit unwillingly, and it seemed to Scarlett that they drew together in united masculine disapproval of her. What Tommy said was true, she' thought, running over in her mind the men she' had approached and the ones she' intended to approach. They were all busy, busy at something, working hard, working harder than they would have dreamed possible in the days before the war. They weren't doing what they wanted to do perhaps, or what was easiest to do, or what they had been reared to do, but they were doing something. Times were too hard for men to be choosy. And if they were sorrowing for lost hopes, longing for lost ways of living, no one knew it but they. They were fighting a new war, a harder war than the one before. And they were caring about life again, caring with the same urgency and the same violence that animated them before the war had cut their lives in two.
"Scarlett," said Tommy awkwardly, "I do hate to ask a favor of you, after being impudent to you, but I'm going to ask it just the same. Maybe it would help you anyway. My brother~ in~ law, Hugh Elsing, isn't doing any too well peddling kindling wood. Everybody except the Yankees goes out and collects his own kindling wood. And I know things are mighty hard with the whole Elsing family. I~ I do what I can, but you see I've got Fanny to support, and then, too, I've got my mother and two widowed sisters down in Sparta to look after. Hugh is nice, and you wanted a nice man, and he's from nice folks, as you know, and he's honest."
"But~ well, Hugh hasn't got much gumption or else he'd make a success of his kindling."
"You've got a hard way of looking at things, Scarlett," he said. "But you think Hugh over. You could go far and do worse. I think his honesty and his willingness will outweigh his lack of gumption."
Scarlett did not answer, for she' did not want to be too rude. But to her mind there were few, if any, qualities that out~ weighed gumption.
After she' had unsuccessfully canvassed the town and refused the importuning of many eager Carpetbaggers, she' finally decided to take Tommy's suggestion and ask Hugh Elsing. He had been a dashing and resourceful officer during the war, but two severe wounds and four years of fighting seemed to have drained him of all his resourcefulness, leaving him to face the rigors of peace as bewildered as a child. There was a lost~ dog look in his eyes these days as he went about peddling his firewood, and he was not at all the kind of man she' had hoped to get.
"He's stupid," she' thought. "He doesn't know a thing about business and I'll bet he can't add two and two. And I doubt if he'll ever learn. But, at least, he's honest and won't swindle me."
Scarlett had little use these days for honesty in herself, but the less she' valued it in herself the more she' was beginning to value it in others.
"It's a pity Johnnie Gallegher is tied up with Tommy Wellburn on that construction work," she' thought. "He's just the kind of man I want. He's hard as nails and slick as a snake, but he'd be honest if it paid him to be honest. I understand him and he understands me and we could do business together very well. Maybe I can get him when the hotel is finished and till then I'll have to make out on Hugh and Mr. Johnson. If I put Hugh in charge of the new mill and leave Mr. Johnson at the old one, I can stay in town and see to the selling while they handle the milling and hauling. Until I can get Johnnie I'll have to risk Mr. Johnson robbing me if I stay in town all the time. If only he wasn't a thief! I believe I'll build a lumber yard on half that lot Charles left me. If only Frank didn't holler so loud about me building a saloon on the other half! Well, I shall build the saloon just as soon as I get enough money ahead, no matter how he takes on. If only Frank wasn't so thin skinned. Oh, God, if only I wasn't going to have a baby at this of all times! In a little while I'll be so big I can't go out. Oh, God, if only I wasn't going to have a baby! And oh, God, if the damned Yankees will only let me alone! If~ "
If! If! If! There were so many ifs in life, never any certainty of anything, never any sense of security, always the dread of losing everything and being cold and hungry again. Of course, Frank was making a little more money now, but Frank was always ailing with colds and frequently forced to stay in bed for days. Suppose he should become an invalid. No, she' could not afford to count on Frank for much. She must not count on anything or anybody but herself. And what she' could earn seemed so pitiably small. Oh, what would she' do if the Yankees came and took it all away from her? If! If! If!
Half of what she' made every month went to Will at Tara, part to Rhett to repay his loan and the rest she' hoarded. No miser ever counted his gold oftener than she' and no miser ever had greater fear of losing it. She would not put the money in the bank, for it might fail or the Yankees might confiscate it. So she' carried what she' could with her, tucked into her corset, and hid small wads of bills about the house, under loose bricks on the hearth, in her scrap bag, between the pages of the Bible. And her temper grew shorter and shorter as the weeks went by, for every dollar she' saved would be just one more dollar to lose if disaster descended.
Frank, Pitty and the servants bore her outbursts with maddening kindness, attributing her bad disposition to her pregnancy, never realizing the true cause. Frank knew that pregnant women must be humored, so he put his pride in his pocket and said nothing more about her running the mills and her going about town at such a time, as no lady should do. Her conduct was a constant embarrassment to him but he reckoned he could endure it for a while longer. After the baby came, he knew she' would be the same sweet, feminine girl he had courted. But in spite of everything he did to appease her, she' continued to have her tantrums and often he thought she' acted like one possessed.
No one seemed to realize what really possessed her, what drove her like a mad woman. It was a passion to get her affairs in order before she' had to retire behind doors, to have as much money as possible in case the deluge broke upon her again, to have a stout levee of cash against the rising tide of Yankee hate. Money was the obsession dominating her mind these days. When she' thought of the baby at all, it was with baffled rage at the untimeliness of it.
"Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them!"
Atlanta had been scandalized enough when Scarlett, a woman, began operating the sawmill but, as time went by, the town decided there was no limit to what she' would do. Her sharp trading was shocking, especially when her poor mother had been a Robillard, and it was positively indecent the way she' kept on going about the streets when everyone knew she' was pregnant. No respectable white woman and few negroes ever went outside their homes from the moment they first suspected they were with child, and Mrs. Merriwether declared indignantly that from the way Scarlett was acting she' was likely to have the baby on the public streets.
But all the previous criticism of her conduct was as nothing compared with the buzz of gossip that now went through the town. Scarlett was not only trafficking with the Yankees but was giving every appearance of really liking it!
Mrs. Merriwether and many other Southerners were also doing business with the newcomers from the North, but the difference was that they did not like it and plainly showed they did not like it. And Scarlett did, or seemed to, which was just as bad. She had actually taken tea with the Yankee officers' wives in their homes! In fact, she' had done practically everything short of inviting them into her own home, and the town guessed she' would do even that, except for Aunt Pitty and Frank.
Scarlett knew the town was talking but she' did not care, could not afford to care. She still hated the Yankees with as fierce a hate as on the day when they tried to burn Tara, but she' could dissemble that hate. She knew that if she' was going to make money, she' would have to make it out of the Yankees, and she' had learned that buttering them up with smiles and kind words was the surest way to get their business for her mill.
Some day when she' was very rich and her money was hidden away where the Yankees could not find it, then, then she' would tell them exactly what she' thought of them, tell them how she' hated and loathed and despised them. And what a joy that would be! But until that time came, it was just plain common sense to get along with them. And if that was hypocrisy, let Atlanta make the most of it.
She discovered that making friends with the Yankee officers was as easy as shooting birds on the ground. They were lonely exiles in a hostile land and many of them were starved for polite feminine associations in a town where respectable women drew their skirts aside in passing and looked as if they would like to spit on them. Only the prostitutes and the negro women had kind words for them. But Scarlett was obviously a lady and a lady of family, for all that she' worked, and they thrilled to her flashing smile and the pleasant light in her green eyes.
Frequently when Scarlett sat in her buggy talking to them and making her dimples play, her dislike for them rose so strong that it was hard not to curse them to their faces. But she' restrained herself and she' found that twisting Yankee men around her finger was no more difficult than that same diversion had been with Southern men. Only this was no diversion but a grim business. The role she' enacted was that of a refined sweet Southern lady in distress. With an air of dignified reserve she' was able to keep her victims at their proper distance, but there was nevertheless a graciousness in her manner which left a certain warmth in the Yankee officers' memories of Mrs. Kennedy.
This warmth was very profitable~ as Scarlett had intended it to be. Many of the officers of the garrison, not knowing how long they would be stationed in Atlanta, had sent for their wives and families. As the hotels and boarding houses were overflowing, they were building small houses; and they were glad to buy their lumber from the gracious Mrs. Kennedy, who treated them more politely than anyone else in town. The Carpetbaggers and Scallawags also, who were building fine homes and stores and hotels with their new wealth, found it more pleasant to do business with her than with the former Confederate soldiers who were courteous but with a courtesy more formal and cold than outspoken hate.
So, because she' was pretty and charming and could appear quite helpless and forlorn at times, they gladly patronized her lumber yard and also Frank's store, feeling that they should help a plucky little woman who apparently had only a shiftless husband to support her. And Scarlett, watching the business grow, felt that she' was safeguarding not only the present with Yankee money but the future with Yankee friends.
Keeping her relations with the Yankee officers on the plane she' desired was easier than she' expected, for they all seemed to be in awe of Southern ladies, but Scarlett soon found that their wives presented a problem she' had not anticipated. Contacts with the Yankee women were not of her seeking. She would have been glad to avoid them but she' could not, for the officers' wives were determined to meet her. They had an avid curiosity about the South and Southern women, and Scarlett gave them their first opportunity to satisfy it. Other Atlanta women would have nothing to do with them and even refused to bow to them in church, so when business brought Scarlett to their homes, she' was like an answer to prayer. Often when Scarlett sat in her buggy in front of a Yankee home talking of uprights and shingles with the man of the house, the wife came out to join in the conversation or insist that she' come inside for a cup of tea. Scarlett seldom refused, no matter how distasteful the idea might be, for she' always hoped to have an opportunity to suggest tactfully that they do their trading at Frank's store. But her self~ control was severely tested many times, because of the personal questions they asked and because of the smug and condescending attitude they displayed toward all things Southern.
Accepting Uncle Tom's Cabin as revelation second only to the Bible, the Yankee women all wanted to know about the bloodhounds which every Southerner kept to track down runaway slaves. And they never believed her when she' told them she' had only seen one bloodhound in all her life and it was a small mild dog and not a huge ferocious mastiff. They wanted to know about the dreadful branding irons which planters used to mark the faces of their slaves and the cat~ o'~ nine~ tails with which they beat them to death, and they evidenced what Scarlett felt was a very nasty and ill~ bred interest in slave concubinage. Especially did she' resent this in view of the enormous increase in mulatto babies in Atlanta since the Yankee soldiers had settled in the town.
Any other Atlanta woman would have expired in rage at having to listen to such bigoted ignorance but Scarlett managed to control herself. Assisting her in this was the fact that they aroused her contempt more than her anger. After all, they were Yankees and no one expected anything better from Yankees. So their unthinking insults to her state, her people and their morals, glanced off and never struck deep enough to cause her more than a well~ concealed sneer until an incident occurred which made her sick with rage and showed her, if she' needed any showing, how wide was the gap between North and South and how utterly impossible it was to bridge it.
While driving home with Uncle Peter one afternoon, she' passed the house into which were crowded the families of three officers who were building their own homes with Scarlett's lumber. The three wives were standing in the walk as she' drove by and they waved to her to stop. Coming out to the carriage block they greeted her in accents that always made her feel that one could forgive Yankees almost anything except their voices.
"You are just the person I want to see, Mrs. Kennedy," said a tall thin woman from Maine. "I want to get some information about this benighted town."
Scarlett swallowed the insult to Atlanta with the contempt it deserved and smiled her best.
"And what can I tell you?"
"My nurse, my Bridget, has gone back North. She said she' wouldn't stay another day down here among the 'naygurs' as she' calls them. And the children are just driving me distracted! Do tell me how to go about getting another nurse. I do not know where to apply."
"That shouldn't be difficult," said Scarlett and laughed. "If you can find a darky just in from the country who hasn't been spoiled by the Freedmen's Bureau, you'll have the best kind of servant possible. Just stand at your gate here and ask every darky woman who passes and I'm sure~ "
The three women broke into indignant outcries.
"Do you think I'd trust my babies to a black nigger?" cried the Maine woman. "I want a good Irish girl."
"I'm afraid you'll find no Irish servants in Atlanta," answered Scarlett, coolness in her voice. "Personally, I've never seen a white servant and I shouldn't care to have one in my house. And," she' could not keep a slight note of sarcasm from her words, "I assure you that darkies aren't cannibals and are quite trustworthy."
"Goodness, no! I wouldn't have one in my house. The idea!"
"I wouldn't trust them any farther than I could see them and as for letting them handle my babies . . ."
Scarlett thought of the kind, gnarled hands of Mammy worn rough in Ellen's service and hers and Wade's. What did these strangers know of black hands, how dear and comforting they could be, how unerringly they knew how to soothe, to pat, to fondle? She laughed shortly.
"It's strange you should feel that way when it was you all who freed them."
"Lor'! Not I, dearie," laughed the Maine woman. "I never saw a nigger till I came South last month and I don't care if I never see another. They give me the creeps. I wouldn't trust one of them. . . ."
For some moments Scarlett had been conscious that Uncle Peter was breathing hard and sitting up very straight as he stared steadily at the horse's ears. Her attention was called to him more forcibly when the Maine woman broke off suddenly with a laugh and pointed him out to her companions.
"Look at that old nigger swell up like a toad," she' giggled. "I'll bet he's an old pet of yours, isn't he? You Southerners don't know how to treat niggers. You spoil them to death."
Peter sucked in his breath and his wrinkled brow showed deep furrows but he kept his eyes straight ahead. He had never had the term "nigger" applied to him by a white person in all his life. By other negroes, yes. But never by a white person. And to be called untrustworthy and an "old pet," he, Peter, who had been the dignified mainstay of the Hamilton family for years!
Scarlett felt, rather than saw, the black chin begin to shake with hurt pride, and a killing rage swept over her. She had listened with calm contempt while these women had underrated the Confederate Army, blackguarded Jeff Davis and accused Southerners of murder and torture of their slaves. If it were to her advantage she' would have endured insults about her own virtue and honesty. But the knowledge that they had hurt the faithful old darky with their stupid remarks fired her like a match in gunpowder. For a moment she' looked at the big horse pistol in Peter's belt and her hands itched for the feel of it. They deserved killing, these insolent, ignorant, arrogant conquerors. But she' bit down on her teeth until her jaw muscles stood out, reminding herself that the time had not yet come when she' could tell the Yankees just what she' thought of them. Some day, yes. My God, yes! But not yet.
"Uncle Peter is one of our family," she' said, her voice shaking. "Good afternoon. Drive on, Peter."
Peter laid the whip on the horse so suddenly that the startled animal jumped forward and as the buggy jounced off, Scarlett heard the Maine woman say with puzzled accents: "Her family? You don't suppose she' meant a relative? He's exceedingly black."
God damn them! They ought to be wiped off the face of the earth. If ever I get money enough, I'll spit in all their faces! I'll~
She glanced at Peter and saw that a tear was trickling down his nose. Instantly a passion of tenderness, of grief for his humiliation swamped her, made her eyes sting. It was as though someone had been senselessly brutal to a child. Those women had hurt Uncle Peter~ Peter who had been through the Mexican War with old Colonel Hamilton, Peter who had held his master in his arms when he died, who had raised Melly and Charles and looked after the feckless, foolish Pittypat, "pertecked" her when she' refugeed, and "'quired" a horse to bring her back from Macon through a war~ torn country after the surrender. And they said they wouldn't trust niggers!
"Peter," she' said, her voice breaking as she' put her hand on his thin arm. "I'm ashamed of you for crying. What do you care? They aren't anything but damned Yankees!"
"Dey talked in front of me lak Ah wuz a mule an' couldn' unnerstan' dem~ lak Ah wuz a Affikun an' din' know whut dey wuz talkin' 'bout," said Peter, giving a tremendous sniff. "An' dey call me a nigger an' Ah' ain' never been call a nigger by no w'ite folks, an' dey call me a ole pet an' say dat niggers ain' ter be trus'ed! Me not ter be trus'ed! Why, w'en de ole Cunnel wuz dyin' he say ter me, 'You, Peter! You look affer mah chillun. Tek keer of yo' young Miss Pittypat,' he say, ''cause she' ain' got no mo' sense dan a hoppergrass.' An' Ah done tek keer of her good all dese y'ars~ "
"Nobody but the Angel Gabriel could have done better," said Scarlett soothingly. "We just couldn't have lived without you."
"Yas'm, thankee kinely, Ma'm. Ah knows it an' you knows it, but dem Yankee folks doan know it an' dey doan want ter know it. Huccome dey come mixin' in our bizness, Miss Scarlett? Dey doan unnerstan' us Confedruts."
Scarlett said nothing for she' was still burning with the wrath she' had not exploded in the Yankee women's faces. The two drove home in silence. Peter's sniffles stopped and his underlip began to protrude gradually until it stuck out alarmingly. His indignation was mounting, now that the initial hurt was subsiding.
Scarlett thought: What damnably queer people Yankees are! Those women seemed to think that because Uncle Peter was black, he had no ears to hear with and no feelings, as tender as their own, to be hurt. They did not know that negroes had to be handled gently, as though they were children, directed, praised, petted, scolded. They didn't understand negroes or the relations between the negroes and their former masters. Yet they had fought a war to free them. And having freed them, they didn't want to have anything to do with them, except to use them to terrorize Southerners. They didn't like them, didn't trust them, didn't understand them, and yet their constant cry was that Southerners didn't know how to get along with them.
Not trust a darky! Scarlett trusted them far more than most white people, certainly more than she' trusted any Yankee. There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy. She thought of the faithful few who remained at Tara in the face of the Yankee invasion when they could have fled or joined the troops for lives of leisure. But they had stayed. She thought of Dilcey toiling in the cotton fields beside her, of Pork risking his life in neighboring hen houses that the family might eat, of Mammy coming to Atlanta with her to keep her from doing wrong. She thought of the servants of her neighbors who had stood loyally beside their white owners, protecting their mistresses while the men were at the front, refugeeing with them through the terrors of the war, nursing the wounded, burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, working, begging, stealing to keep food on the tables. And even now, with the Freedmen's Bureau promising all manner of wonders, they still stuck with their white folks and worked much harder than they ever worked in slave times. But the Yankees didn't understand these things and would never understand them.
"Yet they set you free," she' said aloud.
"No, Ma'm! Dey din' sot me free. Ah wouldn' let no sech trash sot me free," said Peter indignantly. "Ah still b'longs ter Miss Pitty an' w'en Ah dies she' gwine lay me in de Hamilton buhyin' groun' whar Ah b'longs. . . . Mah Miss gwine ter be in a state w'en Ah tells her 'bout how you let dem Yankee women 'sult me."
"I did no such thing!" cried Scarlett, startled.
"You did so, Miss Scarlett," said Peter, pushing out his lip even farther. "De pint is, needer you nor me had no bizness bein' wid Yankees, so dey could 'sult me. Ef you hadn't talked wid dem, dey wouldn' had no chance ter treat me lak a mule or a Affikun. An' you din' tek up fer me, needer."
"I did, too!" said Scarlett, stung by the criticism. "Didn't I tell them you were one of the family?"
"Dat ain' tekkin' up. Dat's jes' a fac'," said Peter. "Miss Scarlett, you ain' got no bizness havin' no truck wid Yankees. Ain' no other ladies doin' it. You wouldn' ketch Miss Pitty wipin' her lil shoes on sech trash. An' she' ain' gwine lake it w'en she' hear 'bout whut dey said 'bout me."
Peter's criticism hurt worse than anything Frank or Aunt Pitty or the neighbors had said and it so annoyed her she' longed to shake the old darky until his toothless gums clapped together. What Peter said was true but she' hated to hear it from a negro and a family negro, too. Not to stand high in the opinion of one's servants was as humiliating a thing as could happen to a Southerner.
"A ole pet!" Peter grumbled. "Ah specs Miss Pitty ain't gwine want me ter drive you roun' no mo' after dat. No, Ma'm!"
"Aunt Pitty will want you to drive me as usual," she' said sternly, "so let's hear no more about it."
"Ah'll git a mizry in mak back," warned Peter darkly. "Mah back huttin' me so bad dis minute Ah kain sceercely set up. Mah Miss ain' gwine want me ter do no drivin' w'en Ah got a mizry. . . . Miss Scarlett, it ain' gwine do you no good ter stan' high wid de Yankees an' de w'ite trash, ef yo' own folks doan 'prove of you."
That was as accurate a summing up of the situation as could be made and Scarlett relapsed into infuriated silence. Yes, the conquerors did approve of her and her family and her neighbors did not. She knew all the things the town was saying about her. And now even Peter disapproved of her to the point of not caring to be seen in public with her. That was the last straw.
Heretofore she' had been careless of public opinion, careless and a little contemptuous. But Peter's words caused fierce resentment to burn in her breast, drove her to a defensive position, made her suddenly dislike her neighbors as much as she' disliked the Yankees.
"Why should they care what I do?" she' thought. "They must think I enjoy associating with Yankees and working like a field hand. They're just making a hard job harder for me. But I don't care what they think. I won't let myself care. I can't afford to care now. But some day~ some day~ "
Oh some day! When there was security in her world again, then she' would sit back and fold her hands and be a great lady as Ellen had been. She would be helpless and sheltered, as a lady should be, and then everyone would approve of her. Oh, how grand she' would be when she' had money again! Then she' could permit herself to be kind and gentle, as Ellen had been, and thoughtful of other people and of the proprieties, to. She would not be driven by fears, day and night, and life would be a placid, unhurried affair. She would have time to play with her children and listen to their lessons. There would be long warm afternoons when ladies would call and, amid the rustlings of taffeta petticoats and the rhythmic harsh cracklings of palmetto fans, she' would serve tea and delicious sandwiches and cakes and leisurely gossip the hours away. And she' would be so kind to those who were suffering misfortune, take baskets to the poor and soup and jelly to the sick and "air" those less fortunate in her fine carriage. She would be a lady in the true Southern manner, as her mother had been. And then, everyone would love her as they had loved Ellen and they would say how unselfish she' was and call her "Lady Bountiful."
Her pleasure in these thoughts of the future was undimmed by any realization that she' had no real desire to be unselfish or charitable or kind. All she' wanted was the reputation for possessing these qualities. But the meshes of her brain were too wide, too coarse, to filter such small differences. It was enough that some day, when she' had money, everyone would approve of her.
Some day! But not now. Not now, in spite of what anyone might say of her. Now, there was no time to be a great lady.
Peter was as good as his word. Aunt Pitty did get into a state, and Peter's misery developed overnight to such proportions that he never drove the buggy again. Thereafter Scarlett drove alone and the calluses which had begun to leave her palms came back again.
So the spring months went by, the cool rains of April passing into the warm balm of green May weather. The weeks were packed with work and worry and the handicaps of increasing pregnancy, with old friends growing cooler and her family increasingly more kind, more maddeningly solicitous and more completely blind to what was driving her. During those days of anxiety and struggle there was only one dependable, understanding person in her world, and that person was Rhett Butler. It was odd that he of all people should appear in this light, for he was as unstable as quicksilver and as perverse as a demon fresh from the pit. But he gave her sympathy, something she' had never had from anyone and never expected from him.
Frequently he was out of town on those mysterious trips to New Orleans which he never explained but which she' felt sure, in a faintly jealous way, were connected with a woman~ or women. But after Uncle Peter's refusal to drive her, he remained in Atlanta for longer and longer intervals.
While in town, he spent most of his time gambling in the rooms above the Girl of the Period Saloon, or in Belle Watling's bar hobnobbing with the wealthier of the Yankees and Carpetbaggers in money~ making schemes which made the townspeople detest him even more than his cronies. He did not call at the house now, probably in deference to the feelings of Frank and Pitty who would have been outraged at a male caller while Scarlett was in a delicate condition. But she' met him by accident almost every day. Time and again, he came riding up to her buggy when she' was passing through lonely stretches of Peachtree road and Decatur road where the mills lay. He always drew rein and talked and sometimes he tied his horse to the back of the buggy and drove her on her rounds. She tired more easily these days than she' liked to admit and she' was always silently grateful when he took the reins. He always left her before they reached the town again but all Atlanta knew about their meetings, and it gave the gossips something new to add to the long list of Scarlett's affronts to the proprieties.
She wondered occasionally if these meetings were not more than accidental. They became more and more numerous as the weeks went by and as the tension in town heightened over negro outrages. But why did he seek her out, now of all times when she' looked her worst? Certainly he had no designs upon her if he had ever had any, and she' was beginning to doubt even this. It had been months since he made any joking references to their distressing scene at the Yankee jail. He never mentioned Ashley and her love for him, or made any coarse and ill~ bred remarks about "coveting her." She thought it best to let sleeping dogs lie, so she' did not ask for an explanation of their frequent meetings. And finally she' decided that, because he had little to do besides gamble and had few enough nice friends in Atlanta, he sought her out solely for companionship's sake.
Whatever his reason might be, she' found his company most welcome. He listened to her moans about lost customers and bad debts, the swindling ways of Mr. Johnson and the incompetency of Hugh. He applauded her triumphs, where Frank merely smiled indulgently and Pitty said "Dear me!" in a dazed manner. She was sure that he frequently threw business her way, for he knew all the rich Yankees and Carpetbaggers intimately, but he always denied being helpful. She knew him for what he was and she' never trusted him, but her spirits always rose with pleasure at the sight of him riding around the curve of a shady road on his big black horse. When he climbed into the buggy and took the reins from her and threw her some impertinent remark, she' felt young and gay and attractive again, for all her worries and her increasing bulk. She could talk to him about almost everything, with no care for concealing her motives or her real opinions and she' never ran out of things to say as she' did with Frank~ or even with Ashley, if she' must be honest with herself. But of course, in all her conversations with Ashley there were so many things which could not be said, for honor's sake, that the sheer force of them inhibited other remarks. It was comforting to have a friend like Rhett, now that for some unaccountable reason he had decided to be on good behavior with her. Very comforting, for she' had so few friends these days.
"Rhett," she' asked stormily, shortly after Uncle Peter's ultimatum, "why do folks in this town treat me so scurvily and talk about me so? It's a toss~ up who they talk worst about, me or the Carpetbaggers! I've minded my own business and haven't done anything wrong and~ "
"If you haven't done anything wrong, it's because you haven't had the opportunity, and perhaps they dimly realize it."
"Oh, do be serious! They make me so mad. All I've done is try to make a little money and~ "
"All you've done is to be different from other women and you've made a little success at it. As I've told you before, that is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned! Scarlett, the mere fact that you've made a success of your mill is an insult to every man who hasn't succeeded. Remember, a well~ bred female's place is in the home and she' should know nothing about this busy, brutal world."
"But if I had stayed in my home, I wouldn't have had any home left to stay in."
"The inference is that you should have starved genteelly and with pride."
"Oh, fiddle~ dee~ dee! But look at Mrs. Merriwether. She's selling pies to Yankees and that's worse than running a sawmill, and Mrs. Elsing takes in sewing and keeps boarders, and Fanny paints awful~ looking china things that nobody wants and everybody buys to help her and~ "
"But you miss the point, my pet. They aren't successful and so they aren't affronting the hot Southern pride of their men folks. The men can still say, 'Poor sweet sillies, how hard they try! Well, I'll let them think they're helping.' And besides, the ladies you mentioned don't enjoy having to work. They let it be known that they are only doing it until some man comes along to relieve them of their unwomanly burdens. And so everybody feels sorry for them. But obviously you do like to work and obviously you aren't going to let any man tend to your business for you, and so no one can feel sorry for you. And Atlanta is never going to forgive you for that. It's so pleasant to feel sorry for people."
"I wish you'd be serious, sometimes."
"Did you ever hear the Oriental proverb: 'The dogs bark but the caravan passes on?' Let them bark, Scarlett. I fear nothing will stop your caravan."
"But why should they mind my making a little money?"
"You can't have everything, Scarlett. You can either make money in your present unladylike manner and meet cold shoulders everywhere you go, or you can be poor and genteel and have lots of friends. You've made your choice."
"I won't be poor," she' said swiftly. "But~ it is the right choice, isn't it?"
"If it's money you want most."
"Yes, I want money more than anything else in the world."
"Then you've made the only choice. But there's a penalty attached, as there is to most things you want. It's loneliness."
That silenced her for a moment. It was true. When she' stopped to think about it, she' was a little lonely~ lonely for feminine companionship. During the war years she' had had Ellen to visit when she' felt blue. And since Ellen's death, there had always been Melanie, though she' and Melanie had nothing in common except the hard work at Tara. Now there was no one, for Aunt Pitty had no conception of life beyond her small round of gossip.
"I think~ I think," she' began hesitantly, "that I've always been lonely where women were concerned. It isn't just my working that makes Atlanta ladies dislike me. They just don't like me anyway. No woman ever really liked me, except Mother. Even my sisters. I don't know why, but even before the war, even before I married Charlie, ladies didn't seem to approve of anything I did~ "
"You forget Mrs. Wilkes," said Rhett and his eyes gleamed maliciously. "She has always approved of you up to the hilt. I daresay she' 'd approve of anything you did, short of murder."
Scarlett thought grimly: "She's even approved of murder," and she' laughed contemptuously.
"Oh, Melly!" she' said, and then, ruefully: "It's certainly not to my credit that Melly is the only woman who approves of me, for she' hasn't the sense of a guinea hen. If she' had any sense~ " She stopped in some confusion.
"If she' had any sense, she' 'd realize a few things and she' couldn't approve," Rhett finished. "Well, you know more about that than I do, of course."
"Oh, damn your memory and your bad manners!"
"I'll pass over your unjustified rudeness with the silence it deserves and return to our former subject. Make up your mind to this. If you are different, you are isolated, not only from people of your own age but from those of your parents' generation and from your children's generation too. They'll never understand you and they'll be shocked no matter what you do. But your grandparents would probably be proud of you and say: 'There's a chip off the old block,' and your grandchildren will sigh enviously and say: 'What an old rip Grandma must have been!' and they'll try to be like you."
Scarlett laughed with amusement.
"Sometimes you do hit on the truth! Now there was my Grandma Robillard. Mammy used to hold her over my head whenever I was naughty. Grandma was as cold as an icicle and strict about her manners and everybody else's manners, but she' married three times and had any number of duels fought over her and she' wore rouge and the most shockingly low~ cut dresses and no~ well, er~ not much under her dresses."
"And you admired her tremendously, for all that you tried to be like your mother! I had a grandfather on the Butler side who was a pirate."
"Not really! A walk~ the~ plank kind?"
"I daresay he made people walk the plank if there was any money to be made that way. At any rate, he made enough money to leave my father quite wealthy. But the family always referred to him carefully as a 'sea captain.' He was killed in a saloon brawl long before I was born. His death was, needless to say, a great relief to his children, for the old gentleman was drunk most of the time and when in his cups was apt to forget that he was a retired sea captain and give reminiscences that curled his children's hair. However, I admired him and tried to copy him far more than I ever did my father, for Father is an amiable gentleman full of honorable habits and pious saws~ so you see how it goes. I'm sure your children won't approve of you, Scarlett, any more than Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing and their broods approve of you now. Your children will probably be soft, prissy creatures, as the children of hard~ bitten characters usually are. And to make them worse, you, like every other mother, are probably determined that they shall never know the hardships you've known. And that's all wrong. Hardships make or break people. So you'll have to wait for approval from your grandchildren."
"I wonder what our grandchildren will be like!"
"Are you suggesting by that 'our' that you and I will have mutual grandchildren? Fie, Mrs. Kennedy!"
Scarlett, suddenly conscious of her error of speech, went red. It was more than his joking words that shamed her, for she' was suddenly aware again of her thickening body. In no way had either of them ever hinted at her condition and she' had always kept the lap robe high under her armpits when with him, even on warm days, comforting herself in the usual feminine manner with the belief that she' did not show at all when thus covered, and she' was suddenly sick with quick rage at her own condition and shame that he should know.
"You get out of this buggy, you dirty~ minded varmit," she' said, her voice shaking.
"I'll do nothing of the kind," he returned calmly. "It'll be dark before you get home and there's a new colony of darkies living in tents and shanties near the next spring, mean niggers I've been told, and I see no reason why you should give the impulsive Ku Klux a cause for putting on their nightshirts and riding abroad this evening."
"Get out!" she' cried, tugging at the reins and suddenly nausea overwhelmed her. He stopped the horse quickly, passed her two clean handkerchiefs and held her head over the side of the buggy with some skill. The afternoon sun, slanting low through the newly leaved trees, spun sickeningly for a few moments in a swirl of gold and green. When the spell had passed, she' put her head in her hands and cried from sheer mortification. Not only had she' vomited before a man~ in itself as horrible a contretemps as could overtake a woman~ but by doing so, the humiliating fact of her pregnancy must now be evident. She felt that she' could never look him in the face again. To have this happen with him, of all people, with Rhett who had no respect for women! She cried, expecting some coarse and jocular remark from him which she' would never be able to forget.
"Don't be a fool," he said quietly. "And you are a fool, if you are crying for shame. Come, Scarlett, don't be a child. Surely you must know that, not being blind, I knew you were pregnant."
She said "Oh" in a stunned voice and tightened her fingers over her crimson face. The word itself horrified her. Frank always referred to her pregnancy embarrassedly as "your condition," Gerald had been wont to say delicately "in the family way," when he had to mention such matters, and ladies genteelly referred to pregnancy as being "in a fix."
"You are a child if you thought I didn't know, for all your smothering yourself under that hot lap robe. Of course, I knew. Why else do you think I've been~ "
He stopped suddenly and a silence fell between them. He picked up the reins and clucked to the horse. He went on talking quietly and as his drawl fell pleasantly on her ears, some of the color faded from her down~ tucked face.
"I didn't think you could be so shocked, Scarlett. I thought you were a sensible person and I'm disappointed. Can it be possible that modesty still lingers in your breast? I'm afraid I'm not a gentleman to have mentioned the matter. And I know I'm not a gentleman, in view of the fact that pregnant women do not embarrass me as they should. I find it possible to treat them as normal creatures and not look at the ground or the sky or anywhere else in the universe except their waist lines~ and then cast at them those furtive glances I've always thought the height of indecency. Why should I? It's a perfectly normal state. The Europeans are far more sensible than we are. They compliment expectant mothers upon their expectations. While I wouldn't advise going that far, still it's more sensible than our way of trying to ignore it. It's a normal state and women should be proud of it, instead of hiding behind closed doors as if they'd committed a crime."
"Proud!" she' cried in a strangled voice. "Proud~ ugh!"
"Aren't you proud to be having a child?"
"Oh dear God, no! I~ I hate babies!"
"You mean~ Frank's baby."
"No~ anybody's baby."
For a moment she' went sick again at this new error of speech, but his voice went on as easily as though he had not marked it.
"Then we're different. I like babies."
"You like them?" she' cried, looking up, so startled at the statement that she' forgot her embarrassment. "What a liar you are!"
"I like babies and I like little children, till they begin to grow up and acquire adult habits of thought and adult abilities to lie and cheat and be dirty. That can't be news to you. You know I like Wade Hampton a lot, for all that he isn't the boy he ought to be."
That was true, thought Scarlett, suddenly marveling. He did seem to enjoy playing with Wade and often brought him presents.
"Now that we've brought this dreadful subject into the light and you admit that you expect a baby some time in the not too distant future, I'll say something I've been wanting to say for weeks~ two things. The first is that it's dangerous for you to drive alone. You know it. You've been told it often enough. If you don't care personally whether or not you are raped, you might consider the consequences. Because of your obstinacy, you may get yourself into a situation where your gallant fellow townsmen will be forced to avenge you by stringing up a few darkies. And that will bring the Yankees down on them and someone will probably get hanged. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps one of the reasons the ladies do not like you is that your conduct may cause the neck~ stretching of their sons and husbands? And furthermore, if the Ku Klux handles many more negroes, the Yankees are going to tighten up on Atlanta in a way that will make Sherman's conduct look angelic. I know what I'm talking about, for I'm hand in glove with the Yankees. Shameful to state, they treat me as one of them and I hear them talk openly. They mean to stamp out the Ku Klux if it means burning the whole town again and hanging every male over ten. That would hurt you, Scarlett. You might lose money. And there's no telling where a prairie fire will stop, once it gets started. Confiscation of property, higher taxes, fines for suspected women~ I've heard them all suggested. The Ku Klux~ "
"Do you know any Ku Klux? Is Tommy Wellburn or Hugh or~ "
He shrugged impatiently.
"How should I know? I'm a renegade, a turncoat, a Scallawag. Would I be likely to know? But I do know men who are suspected by the Yankees and one false move from them and they are as good as hanged. While I know you would have no regrets at getting your neighbors on the gallows, I do believe you'd regret losing your mills. I see by the stubborn look on your face that you do not believe me and my words are falling on stony ground. So all I can say is, keep that pistol of yours handy~ and when I'm in town, I'll try to be on hand to drive you."
"Rhett, do you really~ is it to protect me that you~ "
"Yes, my dear, it is my much advertised chivalry that makes me protect you." The mocking light began to dance in his black eyes and all signs of earnestness fled from his face. "And why? Because of my deep love for you, Mrs. Kennedy. Yes, I have silently hungered and thirsted for you and worshipped you from afar; but being an honorable man, like Mr. Ashley Wilkes, I have concealed it from you. You are, alas, Frank's wife and honor has forbidden my telling this to you. But even as Mr. Wilkes' honor cracks occasionally, so mine is cracking now and I reveal my secret passion and my~ "
"Oh, for God's sake, hush!" interrupted Scarlett, annoyed as usual when he made her look like a conceited fool, and not caring to have Ashley and his honor become the subject of further conversation. "What was the other thing you wanted to tell me?"
"What! You change the subject when I am baring a loving but lacerated heart? Well, the other thing is this." The mocking light died out of his eyes again and his face was dark and quiet.
"I want you to do something about this horse. He's stubborn and he's got a mouth as tough as iron. Tires you to drive him, doesn't it? Well, if he chose to bolt, you couldn't possibly stop him. And if you turned over in a ditch, it might kill your baby and you too. You ought to get the heaviest curb bit you can, or else let me swap him for a gentle horse with a more sensitive mouth."
She looked up into his blank, smooth face and suddenly her irritation fell away, even as her embarrassment had disappeared after the conversation about her pregnancy. He had been kind, a few moments before, to put her at her ease when she' was wishing that she' were dead. And he was being kinder now and very thoughtful about the horse. She felt a rush of gratitude to him and she' wondered why he could not always be this way.
"The horse is hard to drive," she' agreed meekly. "Sometimes my arms ache all night from tugging at him. You do what you think best about him, Rhett."
His eyes sparkled wickedly.
"That sounds very sweet and feminine, Mrs. Kennedy. Not in your usual masterful vein at all. Well, it only takes proper handling to make a clinging vine out of you."
She scowled and her temper came back.
"You will get out of this buggy this time, or I will hit you with the whip. I don't know why I put up with you~ why I try to be nice to you. You have no manners. You have no morals. You are nothing but a~ Well, get out. I mean it."
But when he had climbed down and untied his horse from the back of the buggy and stood in the twilight road, grinning tantalizingly at her, she' could not smother her own grin as she' drove off.
Yes, he was coarse, he was tricky, he was unsafe to have dealings with, and you never could tell when the dull weapon you put into his hands in an unguarded moment might turn into the keenest of blades. But, after all, he was as stimulating as~ well, as a surreptitious glass of brandy!
During these months Scarlett had learned the use of brandy. When she' came home in the late afternoons, damp from the rain, cramped and aching from long hours in the buggy, nothing sustained her except the thought of the bottle hidden in her top bureau drawer, locked against Mammy's prying eyes. Dr. Meade had not thought to warn her that a woman in her condition should not drink, for it never occurred to him that a decent woman would drink anything stronger than scuppernong wine. Except, of course, a glass of champagne at a wedding or a hot toddy when confined to bed with a hard cold. Of course, there were unfortunate women who drank, to the eternal disgrace of their families, just as there were women who were insane or divorced or who believed, with Miss Susan B. Anthony, that women should have the vote. But as much as the doctor disapproved of Scarlett, he never suspected her of drinking.
Scarlett had found that a drink of neat brandy before supper helped immeasurably and she' would always chew coffee or gargle cologne to disguise the smell. Why were people so silly about women drinking, when men could and did get reeling drunk whenever they wanted to? Sometimes when Frank lay snoring beside her and sleep would not come, when she' lay tossing, torn with fears of poverty, dreading the Yankees, homesick for Tara and yearning for Ashley, she' thought she' would go crazy were it not for the brandy bottle. And when the pleasant familiar warmth stole through her veins, her troubles began to fade. After three drinks, she' could always say to herself: "I'll think of these things tomorrow when I can stand them better."
But there were some nights when even brandy would not still the ache in her heart, the ache that was even stronger than fear of losing the mills, the ache to see Tara again. Atlanta, with its noises, its new buildings, its strange faces, its narrow streets crowded with horses and wagons and bustling crowds sometimes seemed to stifle her. She loved Atlanta but~ oh, for the sweet peace and country quiet of Tara, the red fields and the dark pines about it! Oh, to be back at Tara, no matter how hard the life might be! And to be near Ashley, just to see him, to hear him speak, to be sustained by the knowledge of his love! Each letter from Melanie, saying that they were well, each brief note from Will reporting about the plowing, the planting, the growing of the cotton made her long anew to be home again.
I'll go home in June. I can't do anything here after that. I'll go home for a couple of months, she' thought, and her heart would rise. She did go home in June but not as she' longed to go, for early in that month came a brief message from Will that Gerald was dead.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The train was very late and the long, deeply blue twilight of June was settling over the countryside when Scarlett alighted in Jonesboro. Yellow gleams of lamplight showed in the stores and houses which remained in the village, but they were few. Here and there were wide gaps between the buildings on the main street where dwellings had been shelled or burned. Ruined houses with shell holes in their roofs and half the walls torn away stared at her, silent and dark. A few saddle horses and mule teams were hitched outside the wooden awning of Bullard's store. The dusty red road was empty and lifeless, and the only sounds in the village were a few whoops and drunken laughs that floated on the still twilight air from a saloon far down the street.
The depot had not been rebuilt since it was burned in the battle and in its place was only a wooden shelter, with no sides to keep out the weather. Scarlett walked under it and sat down on one of the empty kegs that were evidently put there for seats. She peered up and down the street for Will Benteen. Will should have been here to meet her. He should have known she' would take the first train possible after receiving his laconic message that Gerald was dead.
She had come so hurriedly that she' had in her small carpetbag only a nightgown and a tooth brush, not even a change of underwear. She was uncomfortable in the tight black dress she' had borrowed from Mrs. Meade, for she' had had no time to get mourning clothes for herself. Mrs. Meade was thin now, and Scarlett's pregnancy being advanced, the dress was doubly uncomfortable. Even in her sorrow at Gerald's death, she' did not forget the appearance she' was making and she' looked down at her body with distaste. Her figure was completely gone and her face and ankles were puffy. Heretofore she' had not cared very much how she' looked but now that she' would see Ashley within the hour she' cared greatly. Even in her heartbreak, she' shrank from the thought of facing him when she' was carrying another man's child. She loved him and he loved her, and this unwanted child now seemed to her a proof of infidelity to that love. But much as she' disliked having him see her with the slenderness gone from her waist and the lightness from her step, it was something she' could not escape now.
She patted her foot impatiently. Will should have met her. Of course, she' could go over to Bullard's and inquire after him or ask someone there to drive her over to Tara, should she' find he had been unable to come. But she' did not want to go to Bullard's. It was Saturday night and probably half the men of the County would be there. She did not want to display her condition in this poorly fitting black dress which accentuated rather than hid her figure. And she' did not want to hear the kindly sympathy that would be poured out about Gerald. She did not want sympathy. She was afraid she' would cry if anyone even mentioned his name to her. And she' wouldn't cry. She knew if she' once began it would be like the time she' cried into the horse's mane, that dreadful night when Atlanta fell and Rhett had left her on the dark road outside the town, terrible tears that tore her heart and could not be stopped.
No, she' wouldn't cry! She felt the lump in her throat rising again, as it had done so often since the news came, but crying wouldn't do any good. It would only confuse and weaken her. Why, oh, why hadn't Will or Melanie or the girls written her that Gerald was ailing? She would have taken the first train to Tara to care for him, brought a doctor from Atlanta if necessary. The fools~ all of them! Couldn't they manage anything without her? She couldn't be in two places at once and the good Lord knew she' was doing her best for them all in Atlanta.
She twisted about on the keg, becoming nervous and fidgety as Will still did not come. Where was he? Then she' heard the scrunching of cinders on the railroad tracks behind her and, twisting her body, she' saw Alex Fontaine crossing the tracks toward a wagon, a sack of oats on his shoulder.
"Good Lord! Isn't that you, Scarlett?" he cried, dropping the sack and running to take her hand, pleasure written all over his bitter, swarthy little face. "I'm so glad to see you. I saw Will over at the blacksmith's shop, getting the horse shod. The train was late and he thought he'd have time. Shall I run fetch him?"
"Yes, please, Alex," she' said, smiling in spite of her sorrow. It was good to see a County face again.
"Oh~ er~ Scarlett," he began awkwardly, still holding her hand, "I'm mighty sorry about your father."
"Thank you," she' replied, wishing he had not said it. His words brought up Gerald's florid face and bellowing voice so clearly.
"If it's any comfort to you, Scarlett, we're mighty proud of him around here," Alex continued, dropping her hand. "He~ well, we figure he died like a soldier and in a soldier's cause."
Now what did he mean by that, she' thought confusedly. A soldier? Had someone shot him? Had he gotten into a fight with the Scallawags as Tony had? But she' mustn't hear more. She would cry if she' talked about him and she' mustn't cry, not until she' was safely in the wagon with Will and out in the country where no stranger could see her. Will wouldn't matter. He was just like a brother.
"Alex, I don't want to talk about it," she' said shortly.
"I don't blame you one bit, Scarlett," said Alex while the dark blood of anger flooded his face. "If it was my sister, I'd~ well, Scarlett, I've never yet said a harsh word about any woman, but personally I think somebody ought to take a rawhide whip to Suellen."
What foolishness was he talking about now, she' wondered. What had Suellen to do with it all?
"Everybody around here feels the same way about her, I'm sorry to say. Will's the only one who takes up for her~ and, of course, Miss Melanie, but she' 's a saint and won't see bad in anyone and~ "
"I said I didn't want to talk about it," she' said coldly but Alex did not seem rebuffed. He looked as though he understood her rudeness and that was annoying. She didn't want to hear bad tidings about her own family from an outsider, didn't want him to know of her ignorance of what had happened. Why hadn't Will sent her the full details?
She wished Alex wouldn't look at her so hard. She felt that he realized her condition and it embarrassed her. But what Alex was thinking as he peered at her in the twilight was that her face had changed so completely he wondered how he had ever recognized her. Perhaps it was because she' was going to have a baby. Women did look like the devil at such times. And, of course, she' must be feeling badly about old man O'Hara. She had been his pet. But, no, the change was deeper than that. She really looked as if she' had three square meals a day. And the hunted~ animal look had partly gone from her eyes. Now, the eyes which had been fearful and desperate were hard. There was an air of command, assurance and determination about her, even when she' smiled. Bet she' led old Frank a merry life! Yes, she' had changed. She was a handsome woman, to be sure, but all that pretty, sweet softness had gone from her face and that flattering way of looking up at a man, like he knew more than God Almighty, had utterly vanished.
Well, hadn't they all changed? Alex looked down at his rough clothes and his face fell into its usual bitter lines. Sometimes at night when he lay awake, wondering how his mother was going to get that operation and how poor dead Joe's little boy was going to get an education and how he was going to get money for another mule, he wished the war was still going on, wished it had gone on forever. They didn't know their luck then. There was always something to eat in the army, even if it was just corn bread, always somebody to give orders and none of this torturing sense of facing problems that couldn't be solved~ nothing to bother about in the army except getting killed. And then there was Dimity Munroe. Alex wanted to marry her and he knew he couldn't when so many were already looking to him for support. He had loved her for so long and now the roses were fading from her cheeks and the joy from her eyes. If only Tony hadn't had to run away to Texas. Another man on the place would make all the difference in the world. His lovable bad~ tempered little brother, penniless somewhere in the West. Yes, they had all changed. And why not? He sighed heavily.
"I haven't thanked you for what you and Frank did for Tony," he said. "It was you who helped him get away, wasn't it? It was fine of you. I heard in a roundabout way that he was safe in Texas. I was afraid to write and ask you~ but did you or Frank lend him any money? I want to repay~ "
"Oh, Alex, please hush! Not now!" cried Scarlett. For once, money meant nothing to her.
Alex was silent for a moment.
"I'll get Will for you," he said, "and we'll all be over tomorrow for the funeral."
As he picked up the sack of oats and turned away, a wobbly~ wheeled wagon swayed out of a side street and creaked up to them. Will called from the seat: "I'm sorry I'm late, Scarlett."
Climbing awkwardly down from the wagon, he stumped toward her and, bending, kissed her cheek. Will had never kissed her before, had never failed to precede her name with "Miss" and, while it surprised her, it warmed her heart and pleased her very much. He lifted her carefully over the wheel and into the wagon and, looking down, she' saw that it was the same old rickety wagon in which she' had fled from Atlanta. How had it ever held together so long? Will must have kept it patched up very well. It made her slightly sick to look at it and to remember that night. If it took the shoes off her feet or food from Aunt Pitty's table, she' 'd see that there was a new wagon at Tara and this one burned.
Will did not speak at first and Scarlett was grateful. He threw his battered straw hat into the back of the wagon, clucked to the horse and they moved off. Will was just the same, lank and gangling, pink of hair, mild of eye, patient as a draft animal.
They left the village behind and turned into the red road to Tara. A faint pink still lingered about the edges of the sky and fat feathery clouds were tinged with gold and palest green. The stillness of the country twilight came down about them as calming as a prayer. How had she' ever borne it, she' thought, away for all these months, away from the fresh smell of country air, the plowed earth and the sweetness of summer nights? The moist red earth smelled so good, so familiar, so friendly, she' wanted to get out and scoop up a handful. The honeysuckle which draped the gullied red sides of the road in tangled greenery was piercingly fragrant as always after rain, the sweetest perfume in the world. Above their heads a flock of chimney swallows whirled suddenly on swift wings and now and then a rabbit scurried startled across the road, his white tail bobbing like an eiderdown powder puff. She saw with pleasure that the cotton stood well, as they passed between plowed fields where the green bushes reared themselves sturdily out of the red earth. How beautiful all this was! The soft gray mist in the swampy bottoms, the red earth and growing cotton, the sloping fields with curving green rows and the black pines rising behind everything like sable walls. How had she' ever stayed in Atlanta so long?
"Scarlett, before I tell you about Mr. O'Hara~ and I want to tell you everything before you get home~ I want to ask your opinion on a matter. I figger you're the head of the house now."
"What is it, Will?"
He turned his mild sober gaze on her for a moment.
"I just wanted your approval to my marryin' Suellen."
Scarlett clutched the seat, so surprised that she' almost fell backwards. Marry Suellen! She'd never thought of anybody marrying Suellen since she' had taken Frank Kennedy from her. Who would have Suellen?
"Then I take it you don't mind?"
"Mind? No, but~ Why, Will, you've taken my breath away! You marry Suellen? Will, I always thought you were sweet on Carreen."
Will kept his eyes on the horse and flapped the reins. His profile did not change but she' thought he sighed slightly.
"Maybe I was," he said.
"Well, won't she' have you?"
"I never asked her."
"Oh, Will, you're a fool. Ask her. She's worth two of Suellen!"
"Scarlett, you don't know a lot of things that's been going on at Tara. You ain't favored us with much of your attention these last months."
"I haven't, haven't I?" she' flared. "What do you suppose I've been doing in Atlanta? Riding around in a coach and four and going to balls? Haven't I sent you money every month? Haven't I paid the taxes and fixed the roof and bought the new plow and the mules? Haven't~ "
"Now, don't fly off the handle and get your Irish up," he interrupted imperturbably. "If anybody knows what you've done, I do, and it's been two men's work."
Slightly mollified, she' questioned, "Well then, what do you mean?"
"Well, you've kept the roof over us and food in the pantry and I ain't denyin' that, but you ain't given much thought to what's been goin' on in anybody's head here at Tara. I ain't blamin' you, Scarlett. That's just your way. You warn't never very much interested in what was in folks' heads. But what I'm tryin' to tell you is that I didn't never ask Miss Carreen because I knew it wouldn't be no use. She's been like a little sister to me and I guess she' talks to me plainer than to anybody in the world. But she' never got over that dead boy and she' never will. And I might as well tell you now she' 's aimin' to go in a convent over to Charleston."
"Are you joking?"
"Well, I knew it would take you back and I just want to ask you, Scarlett, don't you argue with her about it or scold her or laugh at her. Let her go. It's all she' wants now. Her heart's broken."
"But God's nightgown! Lots of people's hearts have been broken and they didn't run off to convents. Look at me. I lost a husband."
"But your heart warn't broken," Will said calmly and, picking up a straw from the bottom of the wagon, he put it in his mouth and chewed slowly. That remark took the wind out of her. As always when she' heard the truth spoken, no matter how unpalatable it was, basic honesty forced her to acknowledge it as truth. She was silent a moment, trying to accustom herself to the idea of Carreen as a nun.
"Promise you won't fuss at her."
"Oh, well, I promise," and then she' looked at him with a new understanding and some amazement. Will had loved Carreen, loved her now enough to take her part and make her retreat easy. And yet he wanted to marry Suellen.
"Well, what's all this about Suellen? You don't care for her, do you?"
"Oh, yes, I do in a way," he said removing the straw and surveying it as if it were highly interesting. "Suellen ain't as bad as you think, Scarlett. I think we'll get along right well. The only trouble with Suellen is that she' needs a husband and some children and that's just what every woman needs."
The wagon jolted over the rutty road and for a few minutes while the two sat silent Scarlett's mind was busy. There must be something more to it than appeared on the surface, something deeper, more important, to make the mild and soft~ spoken Will want to marry a complaining nagger like Suellen.
"You haven't told me the real reason, Will. If I'm head of the family, I've got a right to know."
"That's right," said Will, "and I guess you'll understand. I can't leave Tara. It's home to me, Scarlett, the only real home I ever knew and I love every stone of it. I've worked on it like it was mine. And when you put out work on somethin', you come to love it. You know what I mean?"
She knew what he meant and her heart went out in a surge of warm affection for him, hearing him say he, too, loved the thing she' loved best.
"And I figger it this way. With your pa gone and Carreen a nun, there'll be just me and Suellen left here and, of course, I couldn't live on at Tara without marryin' Suellen. You know how folks talk."
"But~ but Will, there's Melanie and Ashley~ "
At Ashley's name he turned and looked at her, his pale eyes unfathomable. She had the old feeling that Will knew all about her and Ashley, understood all and did not either censure or approve.
"They'll be goin' soon."
"Going? Where? Tara is their home as well as yours."
"No, it ain't their home. That's just what's eatin' on Ashley. It ain't his home and he don't feel like he's earnin' his keep. He's a mighty pore farmer and he knows it. God knows he tries his best but he warn't cut out for farmin' and you know it as well as I do. If he splits kindlin', like as not he'll slice off his foot. He can't no more keep a plow straight in a furrow than little Beau can, and what he don't know about makin' things grow would fill a book. It ain't his fault. He just warn't bred for it. And it worries him that he's a man livin' at Tara on a woman's charity and not givin' much in return."
"Charity? Has he ever said~ "
"No, he's never said a word. You know Ashley. But I can tell. Last night when we were sittin' up with your pa, I tole him I had asked Suellen and she' 'd said Yes. And then Ashley said that relieved him because he'd been feelin' like a dog, stayin' on at Tara, and he knew he and Miss Melly would have to keep stayin' on, now that Mr. O'Hara was dead, just to keep folks from talkin' about me and Suellen. So then he told me he was aimin' to leave Tara and get work."
"Work? What kind? Where?"
"I don't know exactly what he'll do but he said he was goin' up North. He's got a Yankee friend in New York who wrote him about workin' in a bank up there."
"Oh, no!" cried Scarlett from the bottom of her heart and, at the cry, Will gave her the same look as before.
"Maybe 'twould be better all 'round if he did go North."
"No! No! I don't think so."
Her mind was working feverishly. Ashley couldn't go North! She might never see him again. Even though she' had not seen him in months, had not spoken to him alone since that fateful scene in the orchard, there had not been a day when she' had not thought of him, been glad he was sheltered under her roof. She had never sent a dollar to Will that she' had not been pleased that it would make Ashley's life easier. Of course, he wasn't any good as a farmer. Ashley was bred for better things, she' thought proudly. He was born to rule, to live in a large house, ride fine horses, read books of poetry and tell negroes what to do. That there were no more mansions and horses and negroes and few books did not alter matters. Ashley wasn't bred to plow and split rails. No wonder he wanted to leave Tara.
But she' could not let him go away from Georgia. If necessary, she' would bully Frank into giving him a job in the store, make Frank turn off the boy he now had behind the counter. But, no~ Ashley's place was no more behind a counter than it was behind a plow. A Wilkes a shopkeeper! Oh, never that! There must be something~ why, her mill of course! Her relief at the thought was so great that she' smiled. But would he accept an offer from her? Would he still think it was charity? She must manage it so he would think he was doing her a favor. She would discharge Mr. Johnson and put Ashley in charge of the old mill while Hugh operated the new one. She would explain to Ashley how Frank's ill health and the pressure of work at the store kept him from helping her, and she' would plead her condition as another reason why she' needed his help.
She would make him realize somehow that she' couldn't do without his aid at this time. And she' would give him a half~ interest in the mill, if he would only take it over~ anything just to have him near her, anything to see that bright smile light up his face, anything for the chance of catching an unguarded look in his eyes that showed he still cared. But, she' promised herself, never, never would she' again try to prod him into words of love, never again would she' try to make him throw away that foolish honor he valued more than love. Somehow, she' must delicately convey to him this new resolution of hers. Otherwise he might refuse, fearing another scene such as that last terrible one had been.
"I can get him something to do in Atlanta," she' said.
"Well, that's yours and Ashley's business," said Will and put the straw back in his mouth. "Giddap, Sherman. Now, Scarlett. there's somethin' else I've got to ask you before I tell you about your pa. I won't have you lightin' into Suellen. What she' 's done, she' 's done, and you snatchin' her baldheaded won't bring Mr. O'Hara back. Besides she' honestly thought she' was actin' for the best!"
"I wanted to ask you about that. What is all this about Suellen? Alex talked riddles and said she' ought to be whipped. What has she' done?"
"Yes, folks are pretty riled up about her. Everybody I run into this afternoon in Jonesboro was promisin' to cut her dead the next time they seen her, but maybe they'll get over it. Now, promise me you won't light into her. I won't be havin' no quarrelin' tonight with Mr. O'Hara layin' dead in the parlor."
HE won't be having any quarreling! thought Scarlett, indignantly. He talks like Tara was his already!
And then she' thought of Gerald, dead in the parlor, and suddenly she' began to cry, cry in bitter, gulping sobs. Will put his arm around her, drew her comfortably close and said nothing.
As they jolted slowly down the darkening road, her head on his shoulder, her bonnet askew, she' had forgotten the Gerald of the last two years, the vague old gentleman who stared at doors waiting for a woman who would never enter. She was remembering the vital, virile old man with his mane of crisp white hair, his bellowing cheerfulness, his stamping boots, his clumsy jokes, his generosity. She remembered how, as a child, he had seemed the most wonderful man in the world, this blustering father who carried her before him on his saddle when he jumped fences, turned her up and paddled her when she' was naughty, and then cried when she' cried and gave her quarters to get her to hush. She remembered him coming home from Charleston and Atlanta laden with gifts that were never appropriate, remembered too, with a faint smile through tears, how he came home in the wee hours from Court Day at Jonesboro, drunk as seven earls, jumping fences, his rollicking voice raised in "The Wearin' o' the Green." And how abashed he was, facing Ellen on the morning after. Well, he was with Ellen now.
"Why didn't you write me that he was ill? I'd have come so fast~ "
"He warn't ill, not a minute. Here, honey, take my handkerchief and I'll tell you all about it."
She blew her nose on his bandanna, for she' had come from Atlanta without even a handkerchief, and settled back into the crook of Will's arm. How nice Will was. Nothing ever upset him.
"Well, it was this way, Scarlett. You been sendin' us money right along and Ashley and me, well, we've paid taxes and bought the mule and seeds and what~ all and a few hogs and chickens. Miss Melly's done mighty well with the hens, yes sir, she' has. She's a fine woman, Miss Melly is. Well, anyway, after we bought things for Tara, there warn't so much left over for folderols, but none of us warn't complainin'. Except Suellen.
"Miss Melanie and Miss Carreen stay at home and wear their old clothes like they're proud of them but you know Suellen, Scarlett. She hasn't never got used to doin' without. It used to stick in her craw that she' had to wear old dresses every time I took her into Jonesboro or over to Fayetteville. 'Specially as some of those Carpetbaggers' ladi~ women was always flouncin' around in fancy trimmin's. The wives of those damn Yankees that run the Freedmen's Bureau, do they dress up! Well, it's kind of been a point of honor with the ladies of the County to wear their worst~ lookin' dresses to town, just to show how they didn't care and was proud to wear them. But not Suellen. And she' wanted a horse and carriage too. She pointed out that you had one."
"It's not a carriage, it's an old buggy," said Scarlett indignantly.
"Well, no matter what. I might as well tell you Suellen never has got over your marryin' Frank Kennedy and I don't know as I blame her. You know that was a kind of scurvy trick to play on a sister."
Scarlett rose from his shoulder, furious as a rattler ready to strike.
"Scurvy trick, hey? I'll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, Will Benteen! Could I help it if he preferred me to her?"
"You're a smart girl, Scarlett, and I figger, yes, you could have helped him preferrin' you. Girls always can. But I guess you kind of coaxed him. You're a mighty takin' person when you want to be, but all the same, he was Suellen's beau. Why, she' 'd had a letter from him a week before you went to Atlanta and he was sweet as sugar about her and talked about how they'd get married when he got a little more money ahead. I know because she' showed me the letter."
Scarlett was silent because she' knew he was telling the truth and she' could think of nothing to say. She had never expected Will, of all people, to sit in judgment on her. Moreover the lie she' had told Frank had never weighed heavily upon her conscience. If a girl couldn't keep a beau, she' deserved to lose him.
"Now, Will, don't be mean," she' said. "If Suellen had married him, do you think she' 'd ever have spent a penny on Tara or any of us?"
"I said you could be right takin' when you wanted to," said Will, turning to her with a quiet grin. "No, I don't think we'd ever seen a penny of old Frank's money. But still there's no gettin' 'round it, it was a scurvy trick and if you want to justify the end by the means, it's none of my business and who am I to complain? But just the same Suellen has been like a hornet ever since. I don't think she' cared much about old Frank but it kind of teched her vanity and she' 's been sayin' as how you had good clothes and a carriage and lived in Atlanta while she' was buried here at Tara. She does love to go callin' and to parties, you know, and wear pretty clothes. I ain't blamin' her. Women are like that.
"Well, about a month ago I took her into Jonesboro and left her to go callin' while I tended to business and when I took her home, she' was still as a mouse but I could see she' was so excited she' was ready to bust. I thought she' 'd found out somebody was goin' to have a~ that she' 'd heard some gossip that was interestin', and I didn't pay her much mind. She went around home for about a week all swelled up and excited and didn't have much to say. She went over to see Miss Cathleen Calvert~ Scarlett, you'd cry your eyes out at Miss Cathleen. Pore girl, she' 'd better be dead than married to that pusillanimous Yankee Hilton. You knew he'd mortgaged the place and lost it and they're goin' to have to leave?"
"No, I didn't know and I don't want to know. I want to know about Pa."
"Well, I'm gettin' to that," said Will patiently. "When she' come back from over there she' said we'd all misjudged Hilton. She called him Mr. Hilton and she' said he was a smart man, but we just laughed at her. Then she' took to takin' your pa out to walk in the afternoons and lots of times when I was comin' home from the field I'd see her sittin' with him on the wall 'round the buryin' ground, talkin' at him hard and wavin' her hands. And the old gentleman would just look at her sort of puzzled~ like and shake his head. You know how he's been, Scarlett. He just got kind of vaguer and vaguer, like he didn't hardly know where he was or who we were. One time, I seen her point to your ma's grave and the old gentleman begun to cry. And when she' come in the house all happy and excited lookin', I gave her a talkin' to, right sharp, too, and I said: 'Miss Suellen, why in hell are you devilin' your poor pa and bringin' up your ma to him? Most of the time he don't realize she' 's dead and here you are rubbin' it in.' And she' just kind of tossed her head and laughed and said: 'Mind your business. Some day you'll be glad of what I'm doin'.' Miss Melanie told me last night that Suellen had told her about her schemes but Miss Melly said she' didn't have no notion Suellen was serious. She said she' didn't tell none of us because she' was so upset at the very idea."
"What idea? Are you ever going to get to the point? We're halfway home now. I want to know about Pa."
"I'm trying to tell you," said Will, "and we're so near home, I guess I'd better stop right here till I've finished."
He drew rein and the horse stopped and snorted. They had halted by the wild overgrown mock~ orange hedge that marked the Macintosh property. Glancing under the dark trees Scarlett could just discern the tall ghostly chimneys still rearing above the silent ruin. She wished that Will had chosen any other place to stop.
"Well, the long and the short of her idea was to make the Yankees pay for the cotton they burned and the stock they drove off and the fences and the barns they tore down."
"Haven't you heard about it? The Yankee government's been payin' claims on all destroyed property of Union sympathizers in the South."
"Of course I've heard about that," said Scarlett. "But what's that got to do with us?"
"A heap, in Suellen's opinion. That day I took her to Jonesboro, she' run into Mrs. MacIntosh and when they were gossipin' along, Suellen couldn't help noticin' what fine~ lookin' clothes Mrs. Macintosh had on and she' couldn't help askin' about them. Then Mrs. MacIntosh gave herself a lot of airs and said as how her husband had put in a claim with the Federal government for destroyin' the property of a loyal Union sympathizer who had never given aid and comfort to the Confederacy in any shape or form."
"They never gave aid and comfort to anybody," snapped Scarlett. "Scotch~ Irish!"
"Well, maybe that's true. I don't know them. Anyway, the government gave them, well~ I forget how many thousand dollars. A right smart sum it was, though. That started Suellen. She thought about it all week and didn't say nothin' to us because she' knew we'd just laugh. But she' just had to talk to somebody so she' went over to Miss Cathleen's and that damned white trash, Hilton, gave her a passel of new ideas. He pointed out that your pa warn't even born in this country, that he hadn't fought in the war and hadn't had no sons to fight, and hadn't never held no office under the Confederacy. He said they could strain a point about Mr. O'Hara bein' a loyal Union sympathizer. He filled her up with such truck and she' come home and begun workin' on Mr. O'Hara. Scarlett, I bet my life your pa didn't even know half the time what she' was talkin' about. That was what she' was countin' on, that he would take the Iron Clad oath and not even know it."
"Pa take the Iron Clad oath!" cried Scarlett.
"Well, he'd gotten right feeble in his mind these last months and I guess she' was countin' on that. Mind you, none of us suspicioned nothin' about it. We knew she' was cookin' up somethin', but we didn't know she' was usin' your dead ma to reproach him for his daughters bein' in rags when he could get a hundred and fifty thousand dollars out of the Yankees."
"One hundred and fifty thousand dollars," murmured Scarlett, her horror at the oath fading.
What a lot of money that was! And to be had for the mere signing of an oath of allegiance to the United States government, an oath stating that the signer had always supported the government and never given aid and comfort to its enemies. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars! That much money for that small a lie! Well, she' couldn't blame Suellen. Good heavens! Was that what Alex meant by wanting to rawhide her? What the County meant by intending to cut her? Fools, every one of them. What couldn't she' do with that much money! What couldn't any of the folks in the County do with it! And what did so small a lie matter? After all, anything you could get out of the Yankees was fair money, no matter how you got it.
"Yesterday, about noon when Ashley and me were splittin' rails, Suellen got this wagon and got your pa in it and off they went to town without a word to anybody. Miss Melly had a notion what it was all about but she' was prayin' somethin' would change Suellen, so she' didn't say nothin' to the rest of us. She just didn't see how Suellen could do such a thing.
"Today I heard all about what happened. That pusillanimous fellow, Hilton, had some influence with the other Scallawags and Republicans in town and Suellen had agreed to give them some of the money~ I don't know how much~ if they'd kind of wink their eye about Mr. O'Hara bein' a loyal Union man and play on how he was an Irishman and didn't fight in the army and so on, and sign recommendations. All your pa had to do was take the oath and sign the paper and off it would go to Washington.
"They rattled off the oath real fast and he didn't say nothin' and it went right well till she' got him up to the signin' of it. And then the old gentleman kind of come to himself for a minute and shook his head. I don't think he knew what it was all about but he didn't like it and Suellen always did rub him the wrong way. Well, that just about gave her the nervous fits after all the trouble she' 'd gone to. She took him out of the office and rode him up and down the road and talked to him about your ma cryin' out of her grave at him for lettin' her children suffer when he could provide for them. They tell me your pa sat there in the wagon and cried like a baby, like he always does when he hears her name. Everybody in town saw them and Alex Fontaine went over to see what was the matter, but Suellen gave him the rough side of her tongue and told him to mind his own business, so he went off mad.
"I don't know where she' got the notion but some time in the afternoon she' got a bottle of brandy and took Mr. O'Hara back to the office and begun pourin' it for him. Scarlett, we haven't had no spirits 'round Tara for a year, just a little blackberry wine and scuppernong wine Dilcey makes, and Mr. O'Hara warn't used to it. He got real drunk, and after Suellen had argued and nagged a couple of hours he gave in and said Yes, he'd sign anything she' wanted. They got the oath out again and just as he was about to put pen to paper, Suellen made her mistake. She said: 'Well, now. I guess the Slatterys and the MacIntoshes won't be givin' themselves airs over us!' You see, Scarlett, the Slatterys had put in a claim for a big amount for that little shack of theirs that the Yankees burned and Emmie's husband had got it through Washington for them.
"They tell me that when Suellen said those names, your pa kind of straightened up and squared his shoulders and looked at her, sharp~ like. He warn't vague no more and he said: 'Have the Slatterys and the MacIntoshes signed somethin' like this?' and Suellen got nervous and said Yes and No and stuttered and he shouted right loud: 'Tell me, did that God~ damned Orangeman and that God~ damned poor white sign somethin' like this?' And that feller Hilton spoke up smooth~ like and said: 'Yes sir, they did and they got a pile of money like you'll get.'
"And then the old gentleman let out a roar like a bull. Alex Fontaine said he heard him from down the street at the saloon. And he said with a brogue you could cut with a butterknife: 'And were ye afther thinkin' an O'Hara of Tara would be follyin' the dirthy thracks of a Goddamned Orangeman and a God~ damned poor white?' And he tore the paper in two and threw it in Suellen's face and he bellowed: 'Ye're no daughter of mine!' and he was out of the office before you could say Jack Robinson.
"Alex said he saw him come out on the street, chargin' like a bull. He said the old gentleman looked like his old self for the first time since your ma died. Said he was reelin' drunk and cussin' at the top of his lungs. Alex said he never heard such fine cussin'. Alex's horse was standin' there and your pa climbed on it without a by~ your~ leave and off he went in a cloud of dust so thick it choked you, cussin' every breath he drew.
"Well, about sundown Ashley and me were sittin' on the front step, lookin' down the road and mighty worried. Miss Melly was upstairs cryin' on her bed and wouldn't tell us nothin'. Terrectly, we heard a poundin' down the road and somebody yellin' like they was fox huntin' and Ashley said: 'That's queer! That sounds like Mr. O'Hara when he used to ride over to see us before the war."
"And then we seen him way down at the end of the pasture. He must have jumped the fence right over there. And he come ridin' hell~ for~ leather up the hill, singin' at the top of his voice like he didn't have a care in the world. I didn't know your pa had such a voice. He was singin' 'Peg in a Low~ backed Car' and beatin' the horse with his hat and the horse was goin' like mad. He didn't draw rein when he come near the top and we seen he was goin' to jump the pasture fence and we hopped up, scared to death, and then he yelled: 'Look, Ellen! Watch me take this one!' But the horse stopped right on his haunches at the fence and wouldn't take the jump and your pa went right over his head. He didn't suffer none. He was dead time we got to him. I guess it broke his neck."
Will waited a minute for her to speak and when she' did not he picked up the reins. "Giddap, Sherman," he said, and the horse started on toward home.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett slept little that night. When the dawn had come and the sun was creeping over the black pines on the hills to the east, she' rose from her tumbled bed and, seating herself on a stool by the window, laid her tired head on her arm and looked out over the barn yard and orchard of Tara toward the cotton fields. Everything was fresh and dewy and silent and green and the sight of the cotton fields brought a measure of balm and comfort to her sore heart. Tara, at sunrise, looked loved, well tended and at peace, for all that its master lay dead. The squatty log chicken house was clay daubed against rats, weasels and clean with whitewash, and so was the log stable. The garden with its rows of corn, bright~ yellow squash, butter beans and turnips was well weeded and neatly fenced with split~ oak rails. The orchard was cleared of underbrush and only daisies grew beneath the long rows of trees. The sun picked out with faint glistening the apples and the furred pink peaches half hidden in the green leaves. Beyond lay the curving rows of cotton, still and green under the gold of the new sky. The ducks and chickens were waddling and strutting off toward the fields, for under the bushes in the soft plowed earth were found the choicest worms and slugs.
Scarlett's heart swelled with affection and gratitude to Will who had done all of this. Even her loyalty to Ashley could not make her believe he had been responsible for much of this well~ being, for Tara's bloom was not the work of a planter~ aristocrat, but of the plodding, tireless "small farmer" who loved his land. It was a "two~ horse" farm, not the lordly plantation of other days with pastures full of mules and fine horses and cotton and corn stretching as far as eye could see. But what there was of it was good and the acres that were lying fallow could be reclaimed when times grew better, and they would be the more fertile for their rest.
Will had done more than merely farm a few acres. He had kept sternly at bay those two enemies of Georgia planters, the seedling pine and the blackberry brambles. They had not stealthily taken garden and pasture and cotton field and lawn and reared themselves insolently by the porches of Tara, as they were doing on numberless plantations throughout the state.
Scarlett's heart failed a beat when she' thought how close Tara had come to going back to wilderness. Between herself and Will, they had done a good job. They had held off the Yankees, the Carpetbaggers and the encroachments of Nature. And, best of all, Will had told her that after the cotton came in in the fall, she' need send no more money~ unless some other Carpetbagger coveted Tara and skyrocketed the taxes. Scarlett knew Will would have a hard pull without her help but she' admired and respected his independence. As long as he was in the position of hired help he would take her money, but now that he was to become her brother~ in~ law and the man of the house, he intended to stand on his own efforts. Yes, Will was something the Lord had provided.
Pork had dug the grave the night before, close by Ellen's grave, and he stood, spade in hand, behind the moist red clay he was soon to shovel back in place. Scarlett stood behind him in the patchy shade of a gnarled low~ limbed cedar, the hot sun of the June morning dappling her, and tried to keep her eyes away from the red trench in front of her. Jim Tarleton, little Hugh Munroe, Alex Fontaine and old man McRae's youngest grandson came slowly and awkwardly down the path from the house bearing Gerald's coffin on two lengths of split oak. Behind them, at a respectful distance, followed a large straggling crowd of neighbors and friends, shabbily dressed, silent. As they came down the sunny path through the garden, Pork bowed his head upon the top of the spade handle and cried; and Scarlett saw with incurious surprise that the kinks on his head, so jettily black when she' went to Atlanta a few months before, were now grizzled.
She thanked God tiredly that she' had cried all her tears the night before, so now she' could stand erect and dry eyed. The sound of Suellen's tears, just back of her shoulder, irritated her unbearably and she' had to clench her fists to keep from turning and slapping the swollen face. Sue had been the cause of her father's death, whether she' intended it or not, and she' should have the decency to control herself in front of the hostile neighbors. Not a single person had spoken to her that morning or given her one look of sympathy. They had kissed Scarlett quietly, shaken her hand, murmured kind words to Carreen and even to Pork but had looked through Suellen as if she' were not there.
To them she' had done worse than murder her father. She had tried to betray him into disloyalty to the South. And to that grim and close~ knit community it was as if she' had tried to betray the honor of them all. She had broken the solid front the County presented to the world. By her attempt to get money from the Yankee government she' had aligned herself with Carpetbaggers and Scallawags, more hated enemies than the Yankee soldiers had ever been. She, a member of an old and staunchly Confederate family, a planter's family, had gone over to the enemy and by so doing had brought shame on every family in the County.
The mourners were seething with indignation and downcast with sorrow, especially three of them~ old man McRae, who had been Gerald's crony since he came to the up~ country from Savannah so many years before, Grandma Fontaine who loved him because he was Ellen's husband, and Mrs. Tarleton who had been closer to him than to any of her neighbors because, as she' often said, he was the only man in the County who knew a stallion from a gelding.
The sight of the stormy faces of these three in the dim parlor where Gerald lay before the funeral had caused Ashley and Will some uneasiness and they had retired to Ellen's office for a consultation.
"Some of them are goin' to say somethin' about Suellen," said Will abruptly, biting his straw in half. "They think they got just cause to say somethin'. Maybe they have. It ain't for me to say. But, Ashley, whether they're right or not, we'll have to resent it, bein' the men of the family, and then there'll be trouble. Can't nobody do nothin' with old man McRae because he's deaf as a post and can't hear folks tryin' to shut him up. And you know there ain't nobody in God's world ever stopped Grandma Fontaine from speakin' her mind. And as for Mrs. Tarleton~ did you see her roll them russet eyes of hers every time she' looked at Sue? She's got her ears laid back and can't hardly wait. If they say somethin', we got to take it up and we got enough trouble at Tara now without bein' at outs with our neighbors."
Ashley sighed worriedly. He knew the tempers of his neighbors better than Will did and he remembered that fully half of the quarrels and some of the shootings of the days before the war had risen from the County custom of saying a few words over the coffins of departed neighbors. Generally the words were eulogistic in the extreme but occasionally they were not. Sometimes, words meant in the utmost respect were misconstrued by overstrung relatives of the dead and scarcely were the last shovels of earth mounded above the coffin before trouble began.
In the absence of a priest Ashley was to conduct the services with the aid of Carreen's Book of Devotions, the assistance of the Methodist and Baptist preachers of Jonesboro and Fayetteville having been tactfully refused. Carreen, more devoutly Catholic than her sisters, had been very upset that Scarlett had neglected to bring a priest from Atlanta with her and had only been a little eased by the reminder that when the priest came down to marry Will and Suellen, he could read the services over Gerald. It was she' who objected to the neighboring Protestant preachers and gave the matter into Ashley's hands, marking passages in her book for him to read. Ashley, leaning against the old secretary, knew that the responsibility for preventing trouble lay with him and, knowing the hair~ trigger tempers of the County, was at a loss as to how to proceed.
"There's no help for it, Will," he said, rumpling his bright hair. "I can't knock Grandma Fontaine down or old man McRae either, and I can't hold my hand over Mrs. Tarleton's mouth. And the mildest thing they'll say is that Suellen is a murderess and a traitor and but for her Mr. O'Hara would still be alive. Damn this custom of speaking over the dead. It's barbarous."
"Look, Ash," said Will slowly. "I ain't aimin' to have nobody say nothin' against Suellen, no matter what they think. You leave it to me. When you've finished with the readin' and the prayin' and you say: 'If anyone would like to say a few words,' you look right at me, so I can speak first."
But Scarlett, watching the pallbearers' difficulty in getting the coffin through the narrow entrance into the burying ground, had no thought of trouble to come after the funeral. She was thinking with a leaden heart that in burying Gerald she' was burying one of the last links that joined her to the old days of happiness and irresponsibility.
Finally the pallbearers set the coffin down near the grave and stood clenching and unclenching their aching fingers. Ashley, Melanie and Will filed into the inclosure and stood behind the O'Hara girls. All the closer neighbors who could crowd in were behind them and the others stood outside the brick wall. Scarlett, really seeing them for the first time, was surprised and touched by the size of the crowd. With transportation so limited it was kind of so many to come. There were fifty or sixty people there, some of them from so far away she' wondered how they had heard in time to come. There were whole families from Jonesboro and Fayetteville and Lovejoy and with them a few negro servants. Many small farmers from far across the river were present and Crackers from the backwoods and a scattering of swamp folk. The swamp men were lean bearded giants in homespun, coon~ skin caps on their heads, their rifles easy in the crooks of their arms, their wads of tobacco stilled in their cheeks. Their women were with them, their bare feet sunk in the soft red earth, their lower lips full of snuff. Their faces beneath their sun~ bonnets were sallow and malarial~ looking but shining clean and their freshly ironed calicoes glistened with starch.
The near neighbors were there in full force. Grandma Fontaine, withered, wrinkled and yellow as an old molted bird, was leaning on her cane, and behind her were Sally Munroe Fontaine and Young Miss Fontaine. They were trying vainly by whispered pleas and jerks at her skirt to make the old lady sit down on the brick wall. Grandma's husband, the Old Doctor, was not there. He had died two months before and much of the bright malicious joy of life had gone from her old eyes. Cathleen Calvert Hilton stood alone as befitted one whose husband had helped bring about the present tragedy, her faded sunbonnet hiding her bowed face. Scarlett saw with amazement that her percale dress had grease spots on it and her hands were freckled and unclean. There were even black crescents under her fingernails. There was nothing of quality folks about Cathleen now. She looked Cracker, even worse. She looked poor white, shiftless, slovenly, trifling.
"She'll be dipping snuff soon, if she' isn't doing it already," thought Scarlett in horror. "Good Lord! What a comedown!"
She shuddered, turning her eyes from Cathleen as she' realized how narrow was the chasm between quality folk and poor whites.
"There but for a lot of gumption am I," she' thought, and pride surged through her as she' realized that she' and Cathleen had started with the same equipment after the surrender~ empty hands and what they had in their heads.
"I haven't done so bad," she' thought, lifting her chin and smiling.
But she' stopped in mid~ smile as she' saw the scandalized eyes of Mrs. Tarleton upon her. Her eyes were red~ rimmed from tears and, after giving Scarlett a reproving look, she' turned her gaze back to Suellen, a fierce angry gaze that boded ill for her. Behind her and her husband were the four Tarleton girls, their red locks indecorous notes in the solemn occasion, their russet eyes still looking like the eyes of vital young animals, spirited and dangerous.
Feet were stilled, hats were removed, hands folded and skirts rustled into quietness as Ashley stepped forward with Carreen's worn Book of Devotions in his hand. He stood for a moment looking down, the sun glittering on his golden head. A deep silence fell on the crowd, so deep that the harsh whisper of the wind in the magnolia leaves came clear to their ears and the far~ off repetitious note of a mockingbird sounded unendurably loud and sad. Ashley began to read the prayers and all heads bowed as his resonant, beautifully modulated voice rolled out the brief and dignified words.
"Oh!" thought Scarlett, her throat constricting. "How beautiful his voice is! If anyone has to do this for Pa, I'm glad it's Ashley. I'd rather have him than a priest. I'd rather have Pa buried by one of his own folks than a stranger."
When Ashley came to the part of the prayers concerning the souls in Purgatory, which Carreen had marked for him to read, he abruptly closed the book. Only Carreen noticed the omission and looked up puzzled, as he began the Lord's Prayer. Ashley knew that half the people present had never heard of Purgatory and those who had would take it as a personal affront, if he insinuated, even in prayer, that so fine a man as Mr. O'Hara had not gone straight to Heaven. So, in deference to public opinion, he skipped all mention of Purgatory. The gathering joined heartily in the Lord's Prayer but their voices trailed off into embarrassed silence when he began the Hail Mary. They had never heard that prayer and they looked furtively at each other as the O'Hara girls, Melanie and the Tara servants gave the response: "Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
Then Ashley raised his head and stood for a moment, uncertain. The eyes of the neighbors were expectantly upon him as they settled themselves in easier positions for a long harangue. They were waiting for him to go on with the service, for it did not occur to any of them that he was at the end of the Catholic prayers. County funerals were always long. The Baptist and Methodist ministers who performed them had no set prayers but extemporized as the circumstances demanded and seldom stopped before all mourners were in tears and the bereaved feminine relatives screaming with grief. The neighbors would have been shocked, aggrieved and indignant, had these brief prayers been all the service over the body of their loved friend, and no one knew this better than Ashley. The matter would be discussed at dinner tables for weeks and the opinion of the County would be that the O'Hara girls had not shown proper respect for their father.
So he threw a quick apologetic glance at Carreen and, bowing his head again, began reciting from memory the Episcopal burial service which he had often read over slaves buried at Twelve Oaks.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life . . . and whosoever . . . believeth in Me shall never die."
It did not come back to him readily and he spoke slowly, occasionally falling silent for a space as he waited for phrases to rise from his memory. But this measured delivery made his words more impressive, and mourners who had been dry~ eyed before began now to reach for handkerchiefs. Sturdy Baptists and Methodists all, they thought it the Catholic ceremony and immediately rearranged their first opinion that the Catholic services were cold and Popish. Scarlett and Suellen were equally ignorant and thought the words comforting and beautiful. Only Melanie and Carreen realized that a devoutly Catholic Irishman was being laid to rest by the Church of England's service. And Carreen was too stunned by grief and her hurt at Ashley's treachery to interfere.
When he had finished, Ashley opened wide his sad gray eyes and looked about the crowd. After a pause, his eyes caught those of Will and he said: "Is there anyone present who would like to say a word?"
Mrs. Tarleton twitched nervously but before she' could act, Will stumped forward and standing at the head of the coffin began to speak.
"Friends," he began in his flat voice, "maybe you think I'm gettin' above myself, speakin' first~ me who never knew Mr. O'Hara till 'bout a year ago when you all have known him twenty years or more. But this here is my excuse. If he'd lived a month or so longer, I'd have had the right to call him Pa."
A startled ripple went over the crowd. They were too well bred to whisper but they shifted on their feet and stared at Carreen's bowed head. Everyone knew his dumb devotion to her. Seeing the direction in which all eyes were cast, Will went on as if he had taken no note.
"So bein' as how I'm to marry Miss Suellen as soon as the priest comes down from Atlanta, I thought maybe that gives me the right to speak first."
The last part of his speech was lost in a faint sibilant buzz that went through the gathering, an angry beelike buzz. There were indignation and disappointment in the sound. Everyone liked Will, everyone respected him for what he had done for Tara. Everyone knew his affections lay with Carreen, so the news that he was to marry the neighborhood pariah instead sat ill upon them. Good old Will marrying that nasty, sneaking little Suellen O'Hara!
For a moment the air was tense. Mrs. Tarleton's eyes began to snap and her lips to shape soundless words. In the silence, old man McRae's high voice could be heard imploring his grandson to tell him what had been said. Will faced them all, still mild of face, but there was something in his pale blue eyes which dared them to say one word about his future wife. For a moment the balance hung between the honest affection everyone had for Will and their contempt for Suellen. And Will won. He continued as if his pause had been a natural one.
"I never knew Mr. O'Hara in his prime like you all done. All I knew personally was a fine old gentleman who was a mite addled. But I've heard tell from you all 'bout what he used to be like. And I want to say this. He was a fightin' Irishman and a Southern gentleman and as loyal a Confederate as ever lived. You can't get no better combination than that. And we ain't likely to see many more like him, because the times that bred men like him are as dead as he is. He was born in a furrin country but the man we're buryin' here today was more of a Georgian than any of us mournin' him. He lived our life, he loved our land and, when you come right down to it, he died for our Cause, same as the soldiers did. He was one of us and he had our good points and our bad points and he had our strength and he had our failin's. He had our good points in that couldn't nothin' stop him when his mind was made up and he warn't scared of nothin' that walked in shoe leather. There warn't nothin' that come to him FROM THE OUTSIDE that could lick him.
"He warn't scared of the English government when they wanted to hang him. He just lit out and left home. And when he come to this country and was pore, that didn't scare him a mite neither. He went to work and he made his money. And he warn't scared to tackle this section when it was part wild and the Injuns had just been run out of it. He made a big plantation out of a wilderness. And when the war come on and his money begun to go, he warn't scared to be pore again. And when the Yankees come through Tara and might of burnt him out or killed him, he warn't fazed a bit and he warn't licked neither. He just planted his front feet and stood his ground. That's why I say he had our good points. There ain't nothin' FROM THE OUTSIDE can lick any of us.
"But he had our failin's too, 'cause he could be licked from the inside. I mean to say that what the whole world couldn't do, his own heart could. When Mrs. O'Hara died, his heart died too and he was licked. And what we seen walking 'round here warn't him."
Will paused and his eyes went quietly around the circle of faces. The crowd stood in the hot sun as if enchanted to the ground and whatever wrath they had felt for Suellen was forgotten. Will's eyes rested for a moment on Scarlett and they crinkled slightly at the corners as if he were inwardly smiling comfort to her. Scarlett, who had been fighting back rising tears, did feel comforted. Will was talking common sense instead of a lot of tootle about reunions in another and better world and submitting her will to God's. And Scarlett had always found strength and comfort in common sense.
"And I don't want none of you to think the less of him for breakin' like he done. All you all and me, too, are like him. We got the same weakness and failin'. There ain't nothin' that walks can lick us, any more than it could lick him, not Yankees nor Carpetbaggers nor hard times nor high taxes nor even downright starvation. But that weakness that's in our hearts can lick us in the time it takes to bat your eye. It ain't always losin' someone you love that does it, like it done Mr. O'Hara. Everybody's mainspring is different. And I want to say this~ folks whose main~ springs are busted are better dead. There ain't no place for them in the world these days, and they're happier bein' dead. . . . That's why I'm sayin' you all ain't got no cause to grieve for Mr. O'Hara now. The time to grieve was back when Sherman come through and he lost Mrs. O'Hara. Now that his body's gone to join his heart, I don't see that we got reason to mourn, unless we're pretty damned selfish, and I'm sayin' it who loved him like he was my own pa. . . . There won't be no more words said, if you folks don't mind. The family is too cut up to listen and it wouldn't be no kindness to them."
Will stopped and, turning to Mrs. Tarleton, he said in a lower voice: "I wonder couldn't you take Scarlett in the house, Ma'm? It ain't right for her to be standin' in the sun so long. And Grandma Fontaine don't look any too peart neither, meanin' no disrespect."
Startled at the abrupt switching from the eulogy to herself, Scarlett went red with embarrassment as all eyes turned toward her. Why should Will advertise her already obvious pregnancy? She gave him a shamed indignant look, but Will's placid gaze bore her down.
"Please," his look said. "I know what I'm doin'."
Already he was the man of the house and, not wishing to make a scene, Scarlett turned helplessly to Mrs. Tarleton. That lady, suddenly diverted, as Will had intended, from thoughts of Suellen to the always fascinating matter of breeding, be it animal or human, took Scarlett's arm.
"Come in the house, honey."
Her face took on a look of kind, absorbed interest and Scarlett suffered herself to be led through the crowd that gave way and made a narrow path for her. There was a sympathetic murmuring as she' passed and several hands went out to pat her comfortingly. When she' came abreast Grandma Fontaine, the old lady put out a skinny claw and said: "Give me your arm, child," and added with a fierce glance at Sally and Young Miss: "No, don't you come. I don't want you."
They passed slowly through the crowd which closed behind them and went up the shady path toward the house, Mrs. Tarleton's eager helping hand so strong under Scarlett's elbow that she' was almost lifted from the ground at each step.
"Now, why did Will do that?" cried Scarlett heatedly, when they were out of earshot. "He practically said: 'Look at her! She's going to have a baby!'"
"Well, sake's alive, you are, aren't you?" said Mrs. Tarleton. "Will did right. It was foolish of you to stand in the hot sun when you might have fainted and had a miscarriage."
"Will wasn't bothered about her miscarrying," said Grandma, a little breathless as she' labored across the front yard toward the steps. There was a grim, knowing smile on her face. "Will's smart. He didn't want either you or me, Beetrice, at the graveside. He was scared of what we'd say and he knew this was the only way to get rid of us. . . . And it was more than that. He didn't want Scarlett to hear the clods dropping on the coffin. And he's right. Just remember, Scarlett, as long as you don't hear that sound, folks aren't actually dead to you. But once you hear it . . . Well, it's the most dreadfully final sound in the world. . . . Help me up the steps, child, and give me a hand, Beetrice. Scarlett don't any more need your arm than she' needs crutches and I'm not so peart, as Will observed. . . . Will knew you were your father's pet and he didn't want to make it worse for you than it already was. He figured it wouldn't be so bad for your sisters. Suellen has her shame to sustain her and Carreen her God. But you've got nothing to sustain you, have you, child?"
"No," answered Scarlett, helping the old lady up the steps, faintly surprised at the truth that sounded in the reedy old voice. "I've never had anything to sustain me~ except Mother."
"But when you lost her, you found you could stand alone, didn't you? Well, some folks can't. Your pa was one. Will's right. Don't you grieve. He couldn't get along without Ellen and he's happier where he is. Just like I'll be happier when I join the Old Doctor."
She spoke without any desire for sympathy and the two gave her none. She spoke as briskly and naturally as if her husband were alive and in Jonesboro and a short buggy ride would bring them together. Grandma was too old and had seen too much to fear death.
"But~ you can stand alone too," said Scarlett.
"Yes, but it's powerful uncomfortable at times."
"Look here, Grandma," interrupted Mrs. Tarleton, "you ought not to talk to Scarlett like that. She's upset enough already. What with her trip down here and that tight dress and her grief and the heat, she' 's got enough to make her miscarry without your adding to it, talking grief and sorrow."
"God's nightgown!" cried Scarlett in irritation. "I'm not upset! And I'm not one of those sickly miscarrying fools!"
"You never can tell," said Mrs. Tarleton omnisciently. "I lost my first when I saw a bull gore one of our darkies and~ you remember my red mare, Nellie? Now, there was the healthiest~ looking mare you ever saw but she' was nervous and high strung and if I didn't watch her, she' 'd~ "
"Beetrice, hush," said Grandma. "Scarlett wouldn't miscarry on a bet. Let's us sit here in the hall where it's cool. There's a nice draft through here. Now, you go fetch us a glass of buttermilk, Beetrice, if there's any in the kitchen. Or look in the pantry and see if there's any wine. I could do with a glass. We'll sit here till the folks come up to say goodby."
"Scarlett ought to be in bed," insisted Mrs. Tarleton, running her eyes over her with the expert air of one who calculated a pregnancy to the last minute of its length.
"Get going," said Grandma, giving her a prod with her cane, and Mrs. Tarleton went toward the kitchen, throwing her hat carelessly on the sideboard and running her hands through her damp red hair.
Scarlett lay back in her chair and unbuttoned the two top buttons of her tight basque. It was cool and dim in the high~ ceilinged hall and the vagrant draft that went from back to front of the house was refreshing after the heat of the sun. She looked across the hall into the parlor where Gerald had lain and, wrenching her thoughts from him, looked up at the portrait of Grandma Robillard hanging above the fireplace. The bayonet~ scarred portrait with its high~ piled hair, hall~ exposed breasts and cool insolence had, as always, a tonic effect upon her.
"I don't know which hit Beetrice Tarleton worse, losing her boys or her horses," said Grandma Fontaine. "She never did pay much mind to Jim or her girls, you know. She's one of those folks Will was talking about. Her mainspring's busted. Sometimes I wonder if she' won't go the way your pa went. She wasn't ever happy unless horses or humans were breeding right in her face and none of her girls are married or got any prospects of catching husbands in this county, so she' 's got nothing to occupy her mind. If she' wasn't such lady at heart, she' 'd be downright common. . . . Was Will telling the truth about marrying Suellen?"
"Yes," said Scarlett, looking the old lady full in the eye. Goodness, she' could remember the time when she' was scared to death of Grandma Fontaine! Well, she' 'd grown up since then and she' 'd just as soon as not tell her to go to the devil if she' meddled in affairs at Tara.
"He could do better," said Grandma candidly.
"Indeed?" said Scarlett haughtily.
"Come off your high horse, Miss," said the old lady tartly. "I shan't attack your precious sister, though I might have if I'd stayed at the burying ground. What I mean is with the scarcity of men in the neighborhood, Will could marry most any of the girls. There's Beetrice's four wild cats and the Munroe girls and the McRae~ "
"He's going to marry Sue and that's that."
"She's lucky to get him."
"Tara is lucky to get him."
"You love this place, don't you?"
"So much that you don't mind your sister marrying out of her class as long as you have a man around to care for Tara?"
"Class?" said Scarlett, startled at the idea. "Class? What does class matter now, so long as a girl gets a husband who can take care of her?"
"That's a debatable question," said Old Miss. "Some folks would say you were talking common sense. Others would say you were letting down bars that ought never be lowered one inch. Will's certainly not quality folks and some of your people were."
Her sharp old eyes went to the portrait of Grandma Robillard.
Scarlett thought of Will, lank, unimpressive, mild, eternally chewing a straw, his whole appearance deceptively devoid of energy, like that of most Crackers. He did not have behind him a long line of ancestors of wealth, prominence and blood. The first of Will's family to set foot on Georgia soil might even have been one of Oglethorpe's debtors or a bond servant. Will had not been to college. In fact, four years in a backwoods school was all the education he had ever had. He was honest and he was loyal, he was patient and he was hard working, but certainly he was not quality. Undoubtedly by Robillard standards, Suellen was coming down in the world.
"So you approve of Will coming into your family?"
"Yes," answered Scarlett fiercely, ready to pounce upon the old lady at the first words of condemnation.
"You may kiss me," said Grandma surprisingly, and she' smiled in her most approving manner. "I never liked you much till now, Scarlett. You were always hard as a hickory nut, even as a child, and I don't like hard females, barring myself. But I do like the way you meet things. You don't make a fuss about things that can't be helped, even if they are disagreeable. You take your fences cleanly like a good hunter."
Scarlett smiled uncertainly and pecked obediently at the withered cheek presented to her. It was pleasant to hear approving words again, even if she' had little idea what they meant.
"There's plenty of folks hereabouts who'll have something to say about you letting Sue marry a Cracker~ for all that everybody likes Will. They'll say in one breath what a fine man he is and how terrible it is for an O'Hara girl to marry beneath her. But don't you let it bother you."
"I've never bothered about what people said."
"So I've heard." There was a hint of acid in the old voice. "Well, don't bother about what folks say. It'll probably be a very successful marriage. Of course, Will's always going to look like a Cracker and marriage won't improve his grammar any. And, even if he makes a mint of money, he'll never lend any shine and sparkle to Tara, like your father did. Crackers are short on sparkle. But Will's a gentleman at heart. He's got the right instincts. Nobody but a born gentleman could have put his finger on what is wrong with us as accurately as he just did, down there at the burying. The whole world can't lick us but we can lick ourselves by longing too hard for things we haven't got any more~ and by remembering too much. Yes, Will will do well by Suellen and by Tara."
"Then you approve of me letting him marry her?"
"God, no!" The old voice was tired and bitter but vigorous. "Approve of Crackers marrying into old families? Bah! Would I approve of breeding scrub stock to thoroughbreds? Oh, Crackers are good and solid and honest but~ "
"But you said you thought it would be a successful match!" cried Scarlett bewildered.
"Oh, I think it's good for Suellen to marry Will~ to marry anybody for that matter, because she' needs a husband bad. And where else could she' get one? And where else could you get as good a manager for Tara? But that doesn't mean I like the situation any better than you do."
But I do like it, thought Scarlett trying to grasp the old lady's meaning. I'm glad Will is going to marry her. Why should she' think I minded? She's taking it for granted that I do mind, just like her.
She felt puzzled and a little ashamed, as always when people attributed to her emotions and motives they possessed and thought she' shared.
Grandma fanned herself with her palmetto leaf and went on briskly: "I don't approve of the match any more than you do but I'm practical and so are you. And when it comes to something that's unpleasant but can't be helped, I don't see any sense in screaming and kicking about it. That's no way to meet the ups and downs of life. I know because my family and the Old Doctor's family have had more than our share of ups and downs. And if we folks have a motto, it's this: 'Don't holler~ smile and bide your time.' We've survived a passel of things that way, smiling and biding our time, and we've gotten to be experts at surviving. We had to be. We've always bet on the wrong horses. Run out of France with the Huguenots, run out of England with the Cavaliers, run out of Scotland with Bonnie Prince Charlie, run out of Haiti by the niggers and now licked by the Yankees. But we always turn up on top in a few years. You know why?"
She cocked her head and Scarlett thought she' looked like nothing so much as an old, knowing parrot.
"No, I don't know, I'm sure," she' answered politely. But she' was heartily bored, even as she' had been the day when Grandma launched on her memories of the Creek uprising.
"Well, this is the reason. We bow to the inevitable. We're not wheat, we're buckwheat! When a storm comes along it flattens ripe wheat because it's dry and can't bend with the wind. But ripe buckwheat's got sap in it and it bends. And when the wind has passed, it springs up almost as straight and strong as before. We aren't a stiff~ necked tribe. We're mighty limber when a hard wind's blowing, because we know it pays to be limber. When trouble comes we bow to the inevitable without any mouthing, and we work and we smile and we bide our time. And we play along with lesser folks and we take what we can get from them. And when we're strong enough, we kick the folks whose necks we've climbed over. That, my child, is the secret of the survival." And after a pause, she' added: "I pass it on to you."
The old lady cackled, as if she' were amused by her words, despite the venom in them. She looked as if she' expected some comment from Scarlett but the words had made little sense to her and she' could think of nothing to say.
"No, sir," Old Miss went on, "our folks get flattened out but they rise up again, and that's more than I can say for plenty of people not so far away from here. Look at Cathleen Calvert. You can see what she' 's come to. Poor white! And a heap lower than the man she' married. Look at the McRae family. Flat to the ground, helpless, don't know what to do, don't know how to do anything. Won't even try. They spend their time whining about the good old days. And look at~ well, look at nearly anybody in this County except my Alex and my Sally and you and Jim Tarleton and his girls and some others. The rest have gone under because they didn't have any sap in them, because they didn't have the gumption to rise up again. There never was anything to those folks but money and darkies, and now that the money and darkies are gone, those folks will be Cracker in another generation."
"You forgot the Wilkes."
"No, I didn't forget them. I just thought I'd be polite and not mention them, seeing that Ashley's a guest under this roof. But seeing as how you've brought up their names~ look at them! There's India who from all I hear is a dried~ up old maid already, giving herself all kinds of widowed airs because Stu Tarleton was killed and not making any effort to forget him and try to catch another man. Of course, she' 's old but she' could catch some widower with a big family if she' tried. And poor Honey was always a man~ crazy fool with no more sense than a guinea hen. And as for Ashley, look at him!"
"Ashley is a very fine man," began Scarlett hotly.
"I never said he wasn't but he's as helpless as a turtle on his back. If the Wilkes family pulls through these hard times, it'll be Melly who pulls them through. Not Ashley."
"Melly! Lord, Grandma! What are you talking about? I've lived with Melly long enough to know she' 's sickly and scared and hasn't the gumption to say Boo to a goose."
"Now why on earth should anyone want to say Boo to a goose? It always sounded like a waste of time to me. She might not say Boo to a goose but she' 'd say Boo to the world or the Yankee government or anything else that threatened her precious Ashley or her boy or her notions of gentility. Her way isn't your way, Scarlett, or my way. It's the way your mother would have acted if she' 'd lived. Melly puts me in mind of your mother when she' was young. . . . And maybe she' 'll pull the Wilkes family through."
"Oh, Melly's a well~ meaning little ninny. But you are very unjust to Ashley. He's~ "
"Oh, foot! Ashley was bred to read books and nothing else. That doesn't help a man pull himself out of a tough fix, like we're all in now. From what I hear, he's the worst plow hand in the County! Now you just compare him with my Alex! Before the war, Alex was the most worthless dandy in the world and he never had a thought beyond a new cravat and getting drunk and shooting somebody and chasing girls who were no better than they should be. But look at him now! He learned farming because he had to learn. He'd have starved and so would all of us. Now he raises the best cotton in the County~ yes, Miss! It's a heap better than Tara cotton!~ and he knows what to do with hogs and chickens. Ha! He's a fine boy for all his bad temper. He knows how to bide his time and change with changing ways and when all this Reconstruction misery is over, you're going to see my Alex as rich a man as his father and his grandfather were. But Ashley~ "
Scarlett was smarting at the slight to Ashley.
"It all sounds like tootle to me," she' said coldly.
"Well, it shouldn't," said Grandma, fastening a sharp eye upon her. "For it's just exactly the course you've been following since you went to Atlanta. Oh, yes! We hear of your didoes, even if we are buried down here in the country. You've changed with the changing times too. We hear how you suck up to the Yankees and the white trash and the new~ rich Carpetbaggers to get money out of them. Butter doesn't melt in your mouth from all I can hear. Well, go to it, I say. And get every cent out of them you can, but when you've got enough money, kick them in the face, because they can't serve you any longer. Be sure you do that and do it properly, for trash hanging onto your coat tails can ruin you."
Scarlett looked at her, her brow wrinkling with the effort to digest the words. They still didn't make much sense and she' was still angry at Ashley being called a turtle on his back.
"I think you're wrong about Ashley," she' said abruptly.
"Scarlett, you just aren't smart."
"That's your opinion," said Scarlett rudely, wishing it were permissible to smack old ladies' jaws.
"Oh, you're smart enough about dollars and cents. That's a man's way of being smart. But you aren't smart at all like a woman. You aren't a speck smart about folks."
Scarlett's eyes began to snap fire and her hands to clench and unclench.
"I've made you good and mad, haven't I?" asked the old lady, smiling. "Well, I aimed to do just that."
"Oh, you did, did you? And why, pray?"
"I had good and plenty reasons."
Grandma sank back in her chair and Scarlett suddenly realized that she' looked very tired and incredibly old. The tiny clawlike hands folded over the fan were yellow and waxy as a dead person's. The anger went out of Scarlett's heart as a thought came to her. She leaned over and took one of the hands in hers.
"You're a mighty sweet old liar," she' said. "You didn't mean a word of all this rigmarole. You've just been talking to keep my mind off Pa, haven't you?"
"Don't fiddle with me!" said Old Miss grumpily, jerking away her hand. "Partly for that reason, partly because what I've been telling you is the truth and you're just too stupid to realize it."
But she' smiled a little and took the sting from her words. Scarlett's heart emptied itself of wrath about Ashley. It was nice to know Grandma hadn't meant any of it.
"Thank you, just the same. It was nice of you to talk to me~ and I'm glad to know you're with me about Will and Suellen, even if~ even if a lot of other people do disapprove."
Mrs. Tarleton came down the hall, carrying two glasses of buttermilk. She did all domestic things badly and the gasses were slopping over.
"I had to go clear to the spring house to get it," she' said. "Drink it quick because the folks are coming up from the burying ground. Scarlett, are you really going to let Suellen marry Will? Not that he isn't a sight too good for her but you know he is a Cracker and~ "
Scarlett's eyes met those of Grandma. There was a wicked sparkle in the old eyes that found an answer in her own.
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