Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell Page 6
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When the last good by had been said and the last sound of wheels and hooves died away, Scarlett went into Ellen's office and removed a gleaming object from where she' had hidden it the night before between the yellowed papers in the pigeon holes of the secretary. Hearing Pork sniffling in the dining room as he went about laying the table for dinner she' called to him. He came to her, his black face as forlorn as a lost and masterless hound.
"Pork," she' said sternly, "you cry just once more and I'll I'll cry, too. You've got to stop."
"Yas'm. Ah try but eve'y time Ah try Ah thinks of Mist' Gerald an' "
"Well, don't think. I can stand everybody else's tears but not yours. There," she' broke off gently, "don't you see? I can't stand yours because I know how you loved him. Blow your nose, Pork. I've got a present for you."
A little interest flickered in Pork's eyes as he blew his nose loudly but it was more politeness than interest.
"You remember that night you got shot robbing somebody's hen house?"
"Lawd Gawd, Miss Scarlett! Ah ain' never "
"Well, you did, so don't lie to me about it at this late date. You remember I said I was going to give you a watch for being so faithful?"
"Yas'm, Ah 'members. Ah figgered you'd done fergot."
"No, I didn't forget and here it is."
She held out for him a massive gold watch, heavily embossed, from which dangled a chain with many fobs and seals.
"Fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett!" cried Pork. "Dat's Mist' Gerald's watch! Ah done seen him look at dat watch a milyun times!"
"Yes, it's Pa's watch, Pork, and I'm giving it to you. Take it."
"Oh, no'm!" Pork retreated in horror. "Dat's a w'ite gempmum's watch an' Mist' Gerald's ter boot. Huccome you talk 'bout givin' it ter me, Miss Scnrlett? Dat watch belong by rights ter lil Wade Hampton."
"It belongs to you. What did Wade Hampton ever do for Pa? Did he look after him when he was sick and feeble? Did he bathe him and dress him and shave him? Did he stick by him when the Yankees came? Did he steal for him? Don't be a fool, Pork. If ever anyone deserved a watch, you do, and I know Pa would approve. Here."
She picked up the black hand and laid the watch in the palm. Pork gazed at it reverently and slowly delight spread over his face.
"Fer me, truly, Miss Scarlett?"
"Well'm thankee, Ma'm."
"Would you like for me to take it to Atlanta and have it engraved?"
"Whut's dis engrabed mean?" Pork's voice was suspicious.
"It means to put writing on the back of it, like like 'To Pork from the O'Haras Well done good and faithful servant.'"
"No'm thankee. Ma'm. Never mind de engrabin'." Pork retreated a step, clutching the watch firmly.
A little smile twitched her lips.
"What's the matter, Pork? Don't you trust me to bring it back?"
"Yas'm, Ah trus'es you only, well'm, you mout change yo' mind."
"I wouldn't do that."
"Well'm, you mout sell it. Ah spec it's wuth a heap."
"Do you think I'd sell Pa's watch?"
"Yas'm ef you needed de money."
"You ought to be beat for that, Pork. I've a mind to take the watch back."
"No'm, you ain'!" The first faint smile of the day showed on Pork's grief worn face. "Ah knows you An' Miss Scarlett "
"Ef you wuz jes' half as nice ter w'ite folks as you is ter niggers, Ah spec de worl' would treat you better."
"It treats me well enough," she' said. "Now, go find Mr. Ashley and tell him I want to see him here, right away."
Ashley sat on Ellen's little writing chair, his long body dwarfing the frail bit of furniture while Scarlett offered him a half interest in the mill. Not once did his eyes meet hers and he spoke no word of interruption. He sat looking down at his hands, turning them over slowly, inspecting first palms and then backs, as though he had never seen them before. Despite hard work, they were still slender and sensitive looking and remarkably well tended for a farmer's hands.
His bowed head and silence disturbed her a little and she' redoubled her efforts to make the mill sound attractive. She brought to bear, too, all the charm of smile and glance she' possessed but they were wasted, for he did not raise his eyes. If he would only look at her! She made no mention of the information Will had given her of Ashley's determination to go North and spoke with the outward assumption that no obstacle stood in the way of his agreement with her plan. Still he did not speak and finally, her words trailed into silence. There was a determined squareness about his slender shoulders that alarmed her. Surely he wouldn't refuse! What earthly reason could he have for refusing?
"Ashley," she' began again and paused. She had not intended using her pregnancy as an argument, had shrunk from the thought of Ashley even seeing her so bloated and ugly, but as her other persuasions seemed to have made no impression, she' decided to use it and her helplessness as a last card.
"You must come to Atlanta. I do need your help so badly now, because I can't look after the mills. It may be months before I can because you see well, because . . ."
"Please!" he said roughly. "Good God, Scarlett!"
He rose and went abruptly to the window and stood with his back to her, watching the solemn single file of ducks parade across the barnyard.
"Is that is that why you won't look at me?" she' questioned forlornly. "I know I look "
He swung around in a flash and his gray eyes met hers with an intensity that made her hands go to her throat.
"Damn your looks!" he said with a swift violence. "You know you always look beautiful to me."
Happiness flooded her until her eyes were liquid with tears.
"How sweet of you to say that! For I was so ashamed to let you see me "
"You ashamed? Why should you be ashamed? I'm the one to feel shame and I do. If it hadn't been for my stupidity you wouldn't be in this fix. You'd never have married Frank. I should never have let you leave Tara last winter. Oh, fool that I was! I should have known you known you were desperate, so desperate that you'd I should have I should have " His face went haggard.
Scarlett's heart beat wildly. He was regretting that he had not run away with her!
"The least I could have done was go out and commit highway robbery or murder to get the tax money for you when you had taken us in as beggars. Oh, I messed it up all the way around!"
Her heart contracted with disappointment and some of the happiness went from her, for these were not the words she' hoped to hear.
"I would have gone anyway," she' said tiredly. "I couldn't have let you do anything like that. And anyway, it's done now."
"Yes, it's done now," he said with slow bitterness. "You wouldn't have let me do anything dishonorable but you would sell yourself to a man you didn't love and bear his child, so that my family and I wouldn't starve. It was kind of you to shelter my helplessness."
The edge in his voice spoke of a raw, unhealed wound that ached within him and his words brought shame to her eyes. He was swift to see it and his face changed to gentleness.
"You didn't think I was blaming you? Dear God, Scarlett! No. You are the bravest woman I've ever known. It's myself I'm blaming."
He turned and looked out of the window again and the shoulders presented to her gaze did not look quite so square. Scarlett waited a long moment in silence, hoping that Ashley would return to the mood in which he spoke of her beauty, hoping he would say more words that she' could treasure. It had been so long since she' had seen him and she' had lived on memories until they were worn thin. She knew he still loved her. That fact was evident, in every line of him, in every bitter, self condemnatory word, in his resentment at her bearing Frank's child. She so longed to hear him say it in words, longed to speak words herself that would provoke a confession, but she' dared not. She remembered her promise given last winter in the orchard, that she' would never again throw herself at his head. Sadly she' knew that promise must be kept if Ashley were to remain near her. One cry from her of love and longing, one look that pleaded for his arms, and the matter would be settled forever. Ashley would surely go to New York. And he must not go away.
"Oh, Ashley, don't blame yourself! How could it be your fault? You will come to Atlanta and help me, won't you?"
"But, Ashley," her voice was beginning to break with anguish and disappointment, "But I'd counted on you. I do need you so. Frank can't help me. He's so busy with the store and if you don't come I don't know where I can get a man! Everybody in Atlanta who is smart is busy with his own affairs and the others are so incompetent and "
"It's no use, Scarlett."
"You mean you'd rather go to New York and live among Yankees than come to Atlanta?"
"Who told you that?" He turned and faced her, faint annoyance wrinkling his forehead.
"Yes, I've decided to go North. An old friend who made the Grand Tour with me before the war has offered me a position in his father's bank. It's better so, Scarlett. I'd be no good to you. I know nothing of the lumber business."
"But you know less about banking and it's much harder! And I know I'd make far more allowances for your inexperience than Yankees would!"
He winced and she' knew she' had said the wrong thing. He turned and looked out of the window again.
"I don't want allowances made for me. I want to stand on my own feet for what I'm worth. What have I done with my life, up till now? It's time I made something of myself or went down through my own fault. I've been your pensioner too long already."
"But I'm offering you a half interest in the mill, Ashley! You would be standing on your own feet because you see, it would be your own business."
"It would amount to the same thing. I'd not be buying the half interest. I'd be taking it as a gift. And I've taken too many gifts from you already, Scarlett food and shelter and even clothes for myself and Melanie and the baby. And I've given you nothing in return."
"Oh, but you have! Will couldn't have "
"I can split kindling very nicely now."
"Oh, Ashley!" she' cried despairingly, tears in her eyes at the jeering note in his voice. "What has happened to you since I've been gone? You sound so hard and bitter! You didn't used to be this way."
"What's happened? A very remarkable thing, Scarlett. I've been thinking. I don't believe I really thought from the time of the surrender until you went away from here. I was in a state of suspended animation and it was enough that I had something to eat and a bed to lie on. But when you went to Atlanta, shouldering a man's burden, I saw myself as much less than a man much less, indeed, than a woman. Such thoughts aren't pleasant to live with and I do not intend to live with them any longer. Other men came out of the war with less than I had, and look at them now. So I'm going to New York."
"But I don't understand! If it's work you want, why won't Atlanta do as well as New York? And my mill "
"No, Scarlett. This is my last chance. I'll go North. If I go to Atlanta and work for you, I'm lost forever."
The word "lost lost lost" dinged frighteningly in her heart like a death bell sounding. Her eyes went quickly to his but they were wide and crystal gray and they were looking through her and beyond her at some fate she' could not see, could not understand.
"Lost? Do you mean have you done something the Atlanta Yankees can get you for? I mean, about helping Tony get away or or Oh, Ashley, you aren't in the Ku Klux, are you?"
His remote eyes came back to her swiftly and he smiled a brief smile that never reached his eyes.
"I had forgotten you were so literal. No, it's not the Yankees I'm afraid of. I mean if I go to Atlanta and take help from you again, I bury forever any hope of ever standing alone."
"Oh," she' sighed in quick relief, "if it's only that!"
"Yes," and he smiled again, the smile more wintry than before. "Only that. Only my masculine pride, my self respect and, if you choose to so call it, my immortal soul."
"But," she' swung around on another tack, "you could gradually buy the mill from me and it would be your own and then "
"Scarlett," he interrupted fiercely, "I tell you, no! There are other reasons."
"You know my reasons better than anyone in the world."
"Oh that? But that'll be all right," she' assured swiftly. "I promised, you know, out in the orchard, last winter and I'll keep my promise and "
"Then you are surer of yourself than I am. I could not count on myself to keep such a promise. I should not have said that but I had to make you understand. Scarlett, I will not talk of this any more. It's finished. When Will and Suellen marry, I am going to New York."
His eyes, wide and stormy, met hers for an instant and then he went swiftly across the room. His hand was on the door knob. Scarlett stared at him in agony. The interview was ended and she' had lost. Suddenly weak from the strain and sorrow of the last day and the present disappointment, her nerves broke abruptly and she' screamed: "Oh, Ashley!" And, flinging herself down on the sagging sofa, she' burst into wild crying.
She heard his uncertain footsteps leaving the door and his helpless voice saying her name over and over above her head. There was a swift pattering of feet racing up the hall from the kitchen and Melanie burst into the room, her eyes wide with alarm.
"Scarlett . . . the baby isn't . . . ?"
Scarlett burrowed her head in the dusty upholstery and screamed again.
"Ashley he's so mean! So doggoned mean so hateful!"
"Oh, Ashley, what have you done to her?" Melanie threw herself on the floor beside the sofa and gathered Scarlett into her arms. "What have you said? How could you! You might bring on the baby! There, my darling, put your head on Melanie's shoulder! What is wrong?"
"Ashley he's so so bullheaded and hateful!"
"Ashley, I'm surprised at you! Upsetting her so much and in her condition and Mr. O'Hara hardly in his grave!"
"Don't you fuss at him!" cried Scarlett illogically, raising her head abruptly from Melanie's shoulder, her coarse black hair tumbling out from its net and her face streaked with tears. "He's got a right to do as he pleases!"
"Melanie," said Ashley, his face white, "let me explain. Scarlett was kind enough to offer me a position in Atlanta as manager of one of her mills "
"Manager!" cried Scarlett indignantly. "I offered him a half interest and he "
"And I told her I had already made arrangements for us to go North and she' "
"Oh," cried Scarlett, beginning to sob again, "I told him and told him how much I needed him how I couldn't get anybody to manage the mill how I was going to have this baby and he refused to come! And now now, I'll have to sell the mill and I know I can't get anything like a good price for it and I'll lose money and I guess maybe we'll starve, but he won't care. He's so mean!"
She burrowed her head back into Melanie's thin shoulder and some of the real anguish went from her as a flicker of hope woke in her. She could sense that in Melanie's devoted heart she' had an ally, feel Melanie's indignation that anyone, even her beloved husband, should make Scarlett cry. Melanie flew at Ashley like a small determined dove and pecked him for the first time in her life.
"Ashley, how could you refuse her? And after all she''s done for us! How ungrateful you make us appear! And she' so helpless now with the bab How unchivalrous of you! She helped us when we needed help and now you deny her when she' needs you!"
Scarlett peeped slyly at Ashley and saw surprise and uncertainty plain in his face as he looked into Melanie's dark indignant eyes. Scarlett was surprised, too, at the vigor of Melanie's attack, for she' knew Melanie considered her husband beyond wifely reproaches and thought his decisions second only to God's.
"Melanie . . ." he began and then threw out his hands helplessly.
"Ashley, how can you hesitate? Think what she''s done for us for me! I'd have died in Atlanta when Beau came if it hadn't been for her! And she' yes, she' killed a Yankee, defending us. Did you know that? She killed a man for us. And she' worked and slaved before you and Will came home, just to keep food in our mouths. And when I think of her plowing and picking cotton, I could just Oh, my darling!" And she' swooped her head and kissed Scarlett's tumbled hair in fierce loyalty. "And now the first time she' asks us to do something for her "
"You don't need to tell me what she' has done for us."
"And Ashley, just think! Besides helping her, just think what it'll mean for us to live in Atlanta among our own people and not have to live with Yankees! There'll be Auntie and Uncle Henry and all our friends, and Beau can have lots of playmates and go to school. If we went North, we couldn't let him go to school and associate with Yankee children and have pickaninnies in his class! We'd have to have a governess and I don't see how we'd afford "
"Melanie," said Ashley and his voice was deadly quiet, "do you really want to go to Atlanta so badly? You never said so when we talked about going to New York. You never intimated "
"Oh, but when we talked about going to New York, I thought there was nothing for you in Atlanta and, besides, it wasn't my place to say anything. It's a wife's duty to go where her husband goes. But now that Scarlett needs us so and has a position that only you can fill we can go home! Home!" Her voice was rapturous as she' squeezed Scarlett. "And I'll see Five Points again and Peachtree road and and Oh, how I've missed them all! And maybe we could have a little home of our own! I wouldn't care how little and tacky it was but a home of our own!"
Her eyes blazed with enthusiasm and happiness and the two stared at her, Ashley with a queer stunned look, Scarlett with surprise mingled with shame. It had never occurred to her that Melanie missed Atlanta so much and longed to be back, longed for a home of her own. She had seemed so contented at Tara it came to Scarlett as a shock that she' was homesick.
"Oh Scarlett, how good of you to plan all this for us! You knew how I longed for home!"
As usual when confronted by Melanie's habit of attributing worthy motives where no worth existed, Scarlett was ashamed and irritated, and suddenly she' could not meet either Ashley's or Melanie's eyes.
"We could get a little house of our own. Do you realize that we've been married five years and never had a home?"
"You can stay with us at Aunt Pitty's. That's your home," mumbled Scarlett, toying with a pillow and keeping her eyes down to hide dawning triumph in them as she' felt the tide turning her way.
"No, but thank you just the same, darling. That would crowd us so. We'll get a house Oh, Ashley, do say Yes!"
"Scarlett," said Ashley and his voice was toneless, "look at me."
Startled, she' looked up and met gray eyes that were bitter and full of tired futility.
"Scarlett, I will come to Atlanta. . . . I cannot fight you both."
He turned and walked out of the room. Some of the triumph in her heart was dulled by a nagging fear. The look in his eyes when he spoke had been the same as when he said he would be lost forever if he came to Atlanta.
After Suellen and Will married and Carreen went off to Charleston to the convent, Ashley, Melanie and Beau came to Atlanta, bringing Dilcey with them to cook and nurse. Prissy and Pork were left at Tara until such a time as Will could get other darkies to help him in the fields and then they, too, would come to town.
The little brick house that Ashley took for his family was on Ivy Street directly behind Aunt Pitty's house and the two back yards ran together, divided only by a ragged overgrown privet hedge. Melanie had chosen it especially for this reason. She said, on the first morning of her return to Atlanta as she' laughed and cried and embraced Scarlett and Aunt Pitty, she' had been separated from her loved ones for so long that she' could never be close enough to them again.
The house had originally been two stories high but the upper floor had been destroyed by shells during the siege and the owner, returning after the surrender, had lacked the money to replace it. He had contented himself with putting a flat roof on the remaining first floor which gave the building the squat, disproportionate look of a child's playhouse built of shoe boxes. The house was high from the ground, built over a large cellar, and the long sweeping flight of stairs which reached it made it look slightly ridiculous. But the flat, squashed look of the place was partly redeemed by the two fine old oaks which shaded it and a dusty leaved magnolia, splotched with white blossoms, standing beside the front steps. The lawn was wide and green with thick clover and bordering it was a straggling, unkempt privet hedge, interlaced with sweet smelling honeysuckle vines. Here and there in the grass, roses threw out sprangles from crushed old stems and pink and white crepe myrtle bloomed as valiantly as if war had not passed over their heads and Yankee horses gnawed their boughs.
Scarlett thought it quite the ugliest dwelling she' had ever seen but, to Melanie, Twelve Oaks in all its grandeur had not been more beautiful. It was home and she' and Ashley and Beau were at last together under their own roof.
India Wilkes came back from Macon, where she' and Honey had lived since 1864, and took up her residence with her brother, crowding the occupants of the little house. But Ashley and Melanie welcomed her. Times had changed, money was scarce, but nothing had altered the rule of Southern life that families always made room gladly for indigent or unmarried female relatives.
Honey had married and, so India said, married beneath her, a coarse Westerner from Mississippi who had settled in Macon. He had a red face and a loud voice and jolly ways. India had not approved of the match and, not approving, had not been happy in her brother in law's home. She welcomed the news that Ashley now had a home of his own, so she' could remove herself from uncongenial surroundings and also from the distressing sight of her sister so fatuously happy with a man unworthy of her.
The rest of the family privately thought that the giggling and simple minded Honey had done far better than could be expected and they marveled that she' had caught any man. Her husband was a gentleman and a man of some means; but to India, born in Georgia and reared in Virginia traditions, anyone not from the eastern seaboard was a boor and a barbarian. Probably Honey's husband was as happy to be relieved of her company as she' was to leave him, for India was not easy to live with these days.
The mantle of spinsterhood was definitely on her shoulders now. She was twenty five and looked it, and so there was no longer any need for her to try to be attractive. Her pale lashless eyes looked directly and uncompromisingly upon the world and her thin lips were ever set in haughty tightness. There was an air of dignity and pride about her now that, oddly enough, became her better than the determined girlish sweetness of her days at Twelve Oaks. The position she' held was almost that of a widow. Everyone knew that Stuart Tarleton would have married her had he not been killed at Gettysburg, and so she' was accorded the respect due a woman who had been wanted if not wed.
The six rooms of the little house on Ivy Street were soon scantily furnished with the cheapest pine and oak furniture in Frank's store for, as Ashley was penniless and forced to buy on credit, he refused anything except the least expensive and bought only the barest necessities. This embarrassed Frank who was fond of Ashley and it distressed Scarlett. Both she' and Frank would willingly have given, without any charge, the finest mahogany and carved rosewood in the store, but the Wilkeses obstinately refused. Their house was painfully ugly and bare and Scarlett hated to see Ashley living in the uncarpeted, uncurtained rooms. But he did not seem to notice his surroundings and Melanie, having her own home for the first time since her marriage, was so happy she' was actually proud of the place. Scarlett would have suffered agonies of humiliation at having friends find her without draperies and carpets and cushions and the proper number of chairs and teacups and spoons. But Melanie did the honors of her house as though plush curtains and brocade sofas were hers.
For all her obvious happiness, Melanie was not well. Little Beau had cost her her health, and the hard work she' had done at Tara since his birth had taken further toll of her strength. She was so thin that her small bones seemed ready to come through her white skin. Seen from a distance, romping about the back yard with her child, she' looked like a little girl, for her waist was unbelievably tiny and she' had practically no figure. She had no bust and her hips were as flat as little Beau's and as she' had neither the pride nor the good sense (so Scarlett thought) to sew ruffles in the bosom of her basque or pads on the back of her corsets, her thinness was very obvious. Like her body, her face was too thin and too pale and her silky brows, arched and delicate as a butterfly's feelers, stood out too blackly against her colorless skin. In her small face, her eyes were too large for beauty, the dark smudges under them making them appear enormous, but the expression in them had not altered since the days of her unworried girlhood. War and constant pain and hard work had been powerless against their sweet tranquillity. They were the eyes of a happy woman, a woman around whom storms might blow without ever ruffling the serene core of her being.
How did she' keep her eyes that way, thought Scarlett, looking at her enviously. She knew her own eyes sometimes had the look of a hungry cat. What was it Rhett had said once about Melanie's eyes some foolishness about them being like candles? Oh, yes, like two good deeds in a naughty world. Yes, they were like candles, candles shielded from every wind, two soft lights glowing with happiness at being home again among her friends.
The little house was always full of company. Melanie had been a favorite even as a child and the town flocked to welcome her home again. Everyone brought presents for the house, bric a brac, pictures, a silver spoon or two, linen pillow cases, napkins, rag rugs, small articles which they had saved from Sherman and treasured but which they now swore were of no earthly use to them.
Old men who had campaigned in Mexico with her father came to see her, bringing visitors to meet "old Colonel Hamilton's sweet daughter." Her mother's old friends clustered about her, for Melanie had a respectful deference to her elders that was very soothing to dowagers in these wild days when young people seemed to have forgotten all their manners. Her contemporaries, the young wives, mothers and widows, loved her because she' had suffered what they had suffered, had not become embittered and always lent them a sympathetic ear. The young people came, as young people always come, simply because they had a good time at her home and met there the friends they wanted to meet.
Around Melanie's tactful and self effacing person, there rapidly grew up a clique of young and old who represented what was left of the best of Atlanta's ante bellum society, all poor in purse, all proud in family, die hards of the stoutest variety. It was as if Atlanta society, scattered and wrecked by war, depleted by death, bewildered by change, had found in her an unyielding nucleus about which it could re form.
Melanie was young but she' had in her all the qualities this embattled remnant prized, poverty and pride in poverty, uncomplaining courage, gaiety, hospitality, kindness and, above all, loyalty to all the old traditions. Melanie refused to change, refused even to admit that there was any reason to change in a changing world. Under her roof the old days seemed to come back again and people took heart and felt even more contemptuous of the tide of wild life and high living that was sweeping the Carpetbaggers and newly rich Republicans along.
When they looked into her young face and saw there the inflexible loyalty to the old days, they could forget, for a moment, the traitors within their own class who were causing fury, fear and heartbreak. And there were many such. There were men of good family, driven to desperation by poverty, who had gone over to the enemy, become Republicans and accepted positions from the conquerors, so their families would not be on charity. There were young ex soldiers who lacked the courage to face the long years necessary to build up fortunes. These youngsters, following the lead of Rhett Butler, went hand in hand with the Carpetbaggers in money making schemes of unsavory kinds.
Worst of all the traitors were the daughters of some of Atlanta's most prominent families. These girls who had come to maturity since the surrender had only childish memories of the war and lacked the bitterness that animated their elders. They had lost no husbands, no lovers. They had few recollections of past wealth and splendor and the Yankee officers were so handsome and finely dressed and so carefree. And they gave such splendid balls and drove such fine horses and simply worshiped Southern girls! They treated them like queens and were so careful not to injure their touchy pride and, after all why not associate with them?
They were so much more attractive than the town swains who dressed so shabbily and were so serious and worked so hard that they had little time to play. So there had been a number of elopements with Yankee officers which broke the hearts of Atlanta families. There were brothers who passed sisters on the streets and did not speak and mothers and fathers who never mentioned daughters' names. Remembering these tragedies, a cold dread ran in the veins of those whose motto was "No surrender" a dread which the very sight of Melanie's soft but unyielding face dispelled. She was, as the dowagers said, such an excellent and wholesome example to the young girls of the town. And, because she' made no parade of her virtues the young girls did not resent her.
It never occurred to Melanie that she' was becoming the leader of a new society. She only thought the people were nice to come to see her and to want her in their little sewing circles, cotillion clubs and musical societies. Atlanta had always been musical and loved good music, despite the sneering comments of sister cities of the South concerning the town's lack of culture, and there was now an enthusiastic resurrection of interest that grew stronger as the times grew harder and more tense. It was easier to forget the impudent black faces in the streets and the blue uniforms of the garrison while they were listening to music.
Melanie was a little embarrassed to find herself at the head of the newly formed Saturday Night Musical Circle. She could not account for her elevation to this position except by the fact that she' could accompany anyone on the piano, even the Misses McLure who were tone deaf but who would sing duets.
The truth of the matter was that Melanie had diplomatically managed to amalgamate the Lady Harpists, the Gentlemen's Glee Club and the Young Ladies Mandolin and Guitar Society with the Saturday Night Musical Circle, so that now Atlanta had music worth listening to. In fact, the Circle's rendition of The Bohemian Girl was said by many to be far superior to professional performances heard in New York and New Orleans. It was after she' had maneuvered the Lady Harpists into the fold that Mrs. Merriwether said to Mrs. Meade and Mrs. Whiting that they must have Melanie at the head of the Circle. If she' could get on with the Harpists, she' could get on with anyone, Mrs. Merriwether declared. That lady herself played the organ for the choir at the Methodist Church and, as an organist, had scant respect for harps or harpists.
Melanie had also been made secretary for both the Association for the Beautification of the Graves of Our Glorious Dead and the Sewing Circle for the Widows and Orphans of the Confederacy. This new honor came to her after an exciting joint meeting of those societies which threatened to end in violence and the severance of lifelong ties of friendship. The question had arisen at the meeting as to whether or not weeds should be removed from the graves of the Union soldiers near those of Confederate soldiers. The appearance of the scraggly Yankee mounds defeated all the efforts of the ladies to beautify those of their own dead. Immediately the fires which smoldered beneath tight basques flamed wildly and the two organizations split up and glared hostilely. The Sewing Circle was in favor of the removal of the weeds, the Ladies of the Beautification were violently opposed.
Mrs. Meade expressed the views of the latter group when she' said: "Dig up the weeds off Yankee graves? For two cents, I'd dig up all the Yankees and throw them in the city dump!"
At these ringing words the two associations arose and every lady spoke her mind and no one listened. The meeting was being held in Mrs. Merriwether's parlor and Grandpa Merriwether, who had been banished to the kitchen, reported afterwards that the noise sounded just like the opening guns of the battle of Franklin. And, he added, be guessed it was a dinged sight safer to be present at the battle of Franklin than at the ladies' meeting.
Somehow Melanie made her way to the center of the excited throng and somehow made her usually soft voice heard above the tumult. Her heart was in her throat with fright at daring to address the indignant gathering and her voice shook but she' kept crying: "Ladies! Please!" till the din died down.
"I want to say I mean, I've thought for a long time that that not only should we pull up the weeds but we should plant flowers on I I don't care what you think but every time I go to take flowers to dear Charlie's grave, I always put some on the grave of an unknown Yankee which is near by. It it looks so forlorn!"
The excitement broke out again in louder words and this time the two organizations merged and spoke as one.
"On Yankee graves! Oh, Melly, how could you!" "And they killed Charlie!" "They almost killed you!" "Why, the Yankees might have killed Beau when he was born!" "They tried to burn you out of Tara!"
Melanie held onto the back of her chair for support, almost crumpling beneath the weight of a disapproval she' had never known before.
"Oh, ladies!" she' cried, pleading. "Please, let me finish! I know I haven't the right to speak on this matter, for none of my loved ones were killed except Charlie, and I know where he lies, thank God! But there are so many among us today who do not know where their sons and husbands and brothers are buried and "
She choked and there was a dead silence in the room.
Mrs. Meade's flaming eyes went somber. She had made the long trip to Gettysburg after the battle to bring back Darcy's body but no one had been able to tell her where he was buried. Somewhere in some hastily dug trench in the enemy's country. And Mrs. Allan's mouth quivered. Her husband and brother had been on that ill starred raid Morgan made into Ohio and the last information she' had of them was that they fell on the banks of the river, just as the Yankee cavalry stormed up. She did not know where they lay. Mrs. Allison's son had died in a Northern prison camp and she', the poorest of the poor, was unable to bring his body home. There were others who had read on casualty lists: "Missing believed dead," and in those words had learned the last news they were ever to learn of men they had seen march away.
They turned to Melanie with eyes that said: "Why do you open these wounds again? These are the wounds that never heal the wounds of not knowing where they lie."
Melanie's voice gathered strength in the stillness of the room.
"Their graves are somewhere up in the Yankees' country, just like the Yankee graves are here, and oh, how awful it would be to know that some Yankee woman said to dig them up and "
Mrs. Meade made a small, dreadful sound.
"But how nice it would be to know that some good Yankee woman And there must be SOME good Yankee women. I don't care what people say, they can't all be bad! How nice it would be to know that they pulled weeds off our men's graves and brought flowers to them, even if they were enemies. If Charlie were dead in the North it would comfort me to know that someone And I don't care what you ladies think of me," her voice broke again, "I will withdraw from both clubs and I'll I'll pull up every weed off every Yankee's grave I can find and I'll plant flowers, too and I just dare anyone to stop me!"
With this final defiance Melanie burst into tears and tried to make her stumbling way to the door.
Grandpa Merriwether, safe in the masculine confines of the Girl of the Period Saloon an hour later, reported to Uncle Henry Hamilton that after these words, everybody cried and embraced Melanie and it all ended up in a love feast and Melanie was made secretary of both organizations.
"And they are going to pull up the weeds. The hell of it is Dolly said I'd be only too pleased to help do it, 'cause I didn't have anything much else to do. I got nothing against the Yankees and I think Miss Melly was right and the rest of those lady wild cats wrong. But the idea of me pulling weeds at my time of life and with my lumbago!"
Melanie was on the board of lady managers of the Orphans' Home and assisted in the collection of books for the newly formed Young Men's Library Association. Even the Thespians who gave amateur plays once a month clamored for her. She was too timid to appear behind the kerosene lamp footlights, but she' could make costumes out of croker sacks if they were the only material available. It was she' who cast the deciding vote at the Shakespeare Reading Circle that the bard's works should be varied with those of Mr. Dickens and Mr. Bulwer Lytton and not the poems of Lord Byron, as had been suggested by a young and, Melanie privately feared, very fast bachelor member of the Circle.
In the nights of the late summer her small, feebly lighted house was always full of guests. There were never enough chairs to go around and frequently ladies sat on the steps of the front porch with men grouped about them on the banisters, on packing boxes or on the lawn below. Sometimes when Scarlett saw guests sitting on the grass, sipping tea, the only refreshment the Wilkeses could afford, she' wondered how Melanie could bring herself to expose her poverty so shamelessly. Until Scarlett was able to furnish Aunt Pitty's house as it had been before the war and serve her guests good wine and juleps and baked ham and cold haunches of venison, she' had no intention of having guests in her house especially prominent guests, such as Melanie had.
General John B. Gordon, Georgia's great hero, was frequently there with his family. Father Ryan, the poet priest of the Confederacy, never failed to call when passing through Atlanta. He charmed gatherings there with his wit and seldom needed much urging to recite his "Sword of Lee" or his deathless "Conquered Banner," which never failed to make the ladies cry. Alex Stephens, late Vice President of the Confederacy, visited whenever in town and, when the word went about that he was at Melanie's, the house was filled and people sat for hours under the spell of the frail invalid with the ringing voice. Usually there were a dozen children present, nodding sleepily in their parents' arms, up hours after their normal bedtime. No family wanted its children to miss being able to say in after years that they had been kissed by the great Vice President or had shaken the hand that helped to guide the Cause. Every person of importance who came to town found his way to the Wilkes home and often they spent the night there. It crowded the little flat topped house, forced India to sleep on a pallet in the cubbyhole that was Beau's nursery and sent Dilcey speeding through the back hedge to borrow breakfast eggs from Aunt Pitty's Cookie, but Melanie entertained them as graciously as if hers was a mansion.
No, it did not occur to Melanie that people rallied round her as round a worn and loved standard. And so she' was both astounded and embarrassed when Dr. Meade, after a pleasant evening at her house where he acquitted himself nobly in reading the part of Macbeth, kissed her hand and made observations in the voice he once used in speaking of Our Glorious Cause.
"My dear Miss Melly, it is always a privilege and a pleasure to be in your home, for you and ladies like you are the hearts of all of us, all that we have left. They have taken the flower of our manhood and the laughter of our young women. They have broken our health, uprooted our lives and unsettled our habits. They have ruined our prosperity, set us back fifty years and placed too heavy a burden on the shoulders of our boys who should be in school and our old men who should be sleeping in the sun. But we will build back, because we have hearts like yours to build upon. And as long as we have them, the Yankees can have the rest!"
Until Scarlett's figure reached such proportions that even Aunt Pitty's big black shawl did not conceal her condition, she' and Frank frequently slipped through the back hedge to join the summer night gatherings on Melanie's porch. Scarlett always sat well out of the light, hidden in the protecting shadows where she' was not only inconspicuous but could, unobserved, watch Ashley's face to her heart's content.
It was only Ashley who drew her to the house, for the conversations bored and saddened her. They always followed a set pattern first, hard times; next, the political situation; and then, inevitably, the war. The ladies bewailed the high prices of everything and asked the gentlemen if they thought good times would ever come back. And the omniscient gentlemen always said, indeed they would. Merely a matter of time. Hard times were just temporary. The ladies knew the gentlemen were lying and the gentlemen knew the ladies knew they were lying. But they lied cheerfully just the same and the ladies pretended to believe them. Everyone knew hard times were here to stay.
Once the hard times were disposed of, the ladies spoke of the increasing impudence of the negroes and the outrages of the Carpetbaggers and the humiliation of having the Yankee soldiers loafing on every corner. Did the gentlemen think the Yankees would ever get through with reconstructing Georgia? The reassuring gentlemen thought Reconstruction would be over in no time that is, just as soon as the Democrats could vote again. The ladies were considerate enough not to ask when this would be. And having finished with politics, the talk about the war began.
Whenever two former Confederates met anywhere, there was never but one topic of conversation, and where a dozen or more gathered together, it was a foregone conclusion that the war would be spiritedly refought. And always the word "if" had the most prominent part in the talk.
"If England had recognized us " "If Jeff Davis had commandeered all the cotton and gotten it to England before the blockade tightened " "If Longstreet had obeyed orders at Gettysburg " "If Jeb Stuart hadn't been away on that raid when Marse Bob needed him " "If we hadn't lost Stonewall Jackson " "If Vicksburg hadn't fallen " "If we could have held on another year " And always: "If they hadn't replaced Johnston with Hood " or "If they'd put Hood in command at Dalton instead of Johnston "
If! If! The soft drawling voices quickened with an old excitement as they talked in the quiet darkness infantryman, cavalryman, cannoneer, evoking memories of the days when life was ever at high tide, recalling the fierce heat of their midsummer in this forlorn sunset of their winter.
"They don't talk of anything else," thought Scarlett. "Nothing but the war. Always the war. And they'll never talk of anything but the war. No, not until they die."
She looked about, seeing little boys lying in the crooks of their fathers' arms, breath coming fast, eyes glowing, as they heard of midnight stories and wild cavalry dashes and flags planted on enemy breastworks. They were hearing drums and bugles and the Rebel yell, seeing footsore men going by in the rain with torn flags slanting.
"And these children will never talk of anything else either. They'll think it was wonderful and glorious to fight the Yankees and come home blind and crippled or not come home at all. They all like to remember the war, to talk about it. But I don't. I don't even like to think about it. I'd forget it all if I could oh, if I only could!"
She listened with flesh crawling as Melanie told tales of Tara, making Scarlett a heroine as she' faced the invaders and saved Charles' sword, bragging how Scarlett had put out the fire. Scarlett took no pleasure or pride in the memory of these things. She did not want to think of them at all.
"Oh, why can't they forget? Why can't they look forward and not back? We were fools to fight that war. And the sooner we forget it, the better we'll be."
But no one wanted to forget, no one, it seemed, except herself, so Scarlett was glad when she' could truthfully tell Melanie that she' was embarrassed at appearing, even in the darkness. This explanation was readily understood by Melanie who was hypersensitive about all matters relating to childbirth. Melanie wanted another baby badly, but both Dr. Meade and Dr. Fontaine had said another child would cost her her life. So, only half resigned to her fate, she' spent most of her time with Scarlett, vicariously enjoying a pregnancy not her own. To Scarlett, scarcely wanting her coming child and irritated at its untimeliness, this attitude seemed the height of sentimental stupidity. But she' had a guilty sense of pleasure that the doctors' edict had made impossible any real intimacy between Ashley and his wife.
Scarlett saw Ashley frequently now but she' never saw him alone. He came by the house every night on his way home from the mill to report on the day's work, but Frank and Pitty were usually present or, worse still, Melanie and India. She could only ask businesslike questions and make suggestions and then say: "It was nice of you to come by. Good night."
If only she' wasn't having a baby! Here was a God given opportunity to ride out to the mill with him every morning, through the lonely woods, far from prying eyes, where they could imagine themselves back in the County again in the unhurried days before the war.
No, she' wouldn't try to make him say one word of love! She wouldn't refer to love in any way. She'd sworn an oath to herself that she' would never do that again. But, perhaps if she' were alone with him once more, he might drop that mask of impersonal courtesy he had worn since coming to Atlanta. Perhaps he might be his old self again, be the Ashley she' had known before the barbecue, before any word of love had been spoken between them. If they could not be lovers, they could be friends again and she' could warm her cold and lonely heart in the glow of his friendship.
"If only I could get this baby over and done with," she' thought impatiently, "then I could ride with him every day and we could talk "
It was not only the desire to be with him that made her writhe with helpless impatience at her confinement. The mills needed her. The mills had been losing money ever since she' retired from active supervision, leaving Hugh and Ashley in charge.
Hugh was so incompetent, for all that he tried so hard. He was a poor trader and a poorer boss of labor. Anyone could Jew him down on prices. If any slick contractor chose to say that the lumber was of an inferior grade and not worth the price asked, Hugh felt that all a gentleman could do was to apologize and take a lower price. When she' heard of the price he received for a thousand feet of flooring, she' burst into angry tears. The best grade of flooring the mill had ever turned out and he had practically given it away! And he couldn't manage his labor crews. The negroes insisted on being paid every day and they frequently got drunk on their wages and did not turn up for work the next morning. On these occasions Hugh was forced to hunt up new workmen and the mill was late in starting. With these difficulties Hugh didn't get into town to sell the lumber for days on end.
Seeing the profits slip from Hugh's fingers, Scarlett became frenzied at her impotence and his stupidity. Just as soon as the baby was born and she' could go back to work, she' would get rid of Hugh and hire some one else. Anyone would do better. And she' would never fool with free niggers again. How could anyone get any work done with free niggers quitting all the time?
"Frank," she' said, after a stormy interview with Hugh over his missing workmen, "I've about made up my mind that I'll lease convicts to work the mills. A while back I was talking to Johnnie Gallegher, Tommy Wellburn's foreman, about the trouble we were having getting any work out of the darkies and he asked me why I didn't get convicts. It sounds like a good idea to me. He said I could sublease them for next to nothing and feed them dirt cheap. And he said I could get work out of them in any way I liked, without having the Freedman's Bureau swarming down on me like hornets, sticking their bills into things that aren't any of their business. And just as soon as Johnnie Gallegher's contract with Tommy is up, I'm going to hire him to run Hugh's mill. Any man who can get work out of that bunch of wild Irish he bosses can certainly get plenty of work out of convicts."
Convicts! Frank was speechless. Leasing convicts was the very worst of all the wild schemes Scarlett had ever suggested, worse even than her notion of building a saloon.
At least, it seemed worse to Frank and the conservative circles in which he moved. This new system of leasing convicts had come into being because of the poverty of the state after the war. Unable to support the convicts, the State was hiring them out to those needing large labor crews in the building of railroads, in turpentine forests and lumber camps. While Frank and his quiet churchgoing friends realized the necessity of the system, they deplored it just the same. Many of them had not even believed in slavery and they thought this was far worse than slavery had ever been.
And Scarlett wanted to lease convicts! Frank knew that if she' did he could never hold up his head again. This was far worse than owning and operating the mills herself, or anything else she' had done. His past objections had always been coupled with the question: "What will people say?" But this this went deeper than fear of public opinion. He felt that it was a traffic in human bodies on a par with prostitution, a sin that would be on his soul if he permitted her to do it.
From this conviction of wrongness, Frank gathered courage to forbid Scarlett to do such a thing, and so strong were his remarks that she', startled, relapsed into silence. Finally to quiet him, she' said meekly she' hadn't really meant it. She was just so outdone with Hugh and the free niggers she' had lost her temper. Secretly, she' still thought about it and with some longing. Convict labor would settle one of her hardest problems, but if Frank was going to take on so about it
She sighed. If even one of the mills were making money, she' could stand it. But Ashley was faring little better with his mill than Hugh.
At first Scarlett was shocked and disappointed that Ashley did not immediately take hold and make the mill pay double what it had paid under her management. He was so smart and he had read so many books and there was no reason at all why he should not make a brilliant success and lots of money. But he was no more successful than Hugh. His inexperience, his errors, his utter lack of business judgment and his scruples about close dealing were the same as Hugh's.
Scarlett's love hastily found excuses for him and she' did not consider the two men in the same light. Hugh was just hopelessly stupid, while Ashley was merely new at the business. Still, unbidden, came the thought that Ashley could never make a quick estimate in his head and give a price that was correct, as she' could. And she' sometimes wondered if he'd ever learn to distinguish between planking and sills. And because he was a gentleman and himself trustworthy, he trusted every scoundrel who came along and several times would have lost money for her if she' had not tactfully intervened. And if he liked a person and he seemed to like so many people! he sold them lumber on credit without ever thinking to find out if they had money in the bank or property. He was as bad as Frank in that respect.
But surely he would learn! And while he was learning she' had a fond and maternal indulgence and patience for his errors. Every evening when he called at her house, weary and discouraged, she' was tireless in her tactful, helpful suggestions. But for all her encouragement and cheer, there was a queer dead look in his eyes. She could not understand it and it frightened her. He was different, so different from the man he used to be. If only she' could see him alone, perhaps she' could discover the reason.
The situation gave her many sleepless nights. She worried about Ashley, both because she' knew he was unhappy and because she' knew his unhappiness wasn't helping him to become a good lumber dealer. It was a torture to have her mills in the hands of two men with no more business sense than Hugh and Ashley, heartbreaking to see her competitors taking her best customers away when she' had worked so hard and planned so carefully for these helpless months. Oh, if she' could only get back to work again! She would take Ashley in hand and then he would certainly learn. And Johnnie Gallegher could run the other mill, and she' could handle the selling, and then everything would be fine. As for Hugh, he could drive a delivery wagon if he still wanted to work for her. That was all he was good for.
Of course, Gallegher looked like an unscrupulous man, for all of his smartness, but who else could she' get? Why had the other men who were both smart and honest been so perverse about working for her? If she' only had one of them working for her now in place of Hugh, she' wouldn't have to worry so much, but
Tommy Wellburn, in spite of his crippled back, was the busiest contractor in town and coining money, so people said. Mrs. Merriwether and Rene were prospering and now had opened a bakery downtown. Rene was managing it with true French thrift and Grandpa Merriwether, glad to escape from his chimney corner, was driving Rene's pie wagon. The Simmons boys were so busy they were operating their brick kiln with three shifts of labor a day. And Kells Whiting was cleaning up money with his hair straightener, because he told the negroes they wouldn't ever be permitted to vote the Republican ticket if they had kinky hair.
It was the same with all the smart young men she' knew, the doctors, the lawyers, the storekeepers. The apathy which had clutched them immediately after the war had completely disappeared and they were too busy building their own fortunes to help her build hers. The ones who were not busy were the men of Hugh's type or Ashley's.
What a mess it was to try to run a business and have a baby too!
"I'll never have another one," she' decided firmly. "I'm not going to be like other women and have a baby every year. Good Lord, that would mean six months out of the year when I'd have to be away from the mills! And I see now I can't afford to be away from them even one day. I shall simply tell Frank that I won't have any more children."
Frank wanted a big family, but she' could manage Frank somehow. Her mind was made up. This was her last child. The mills were far more important.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett's child was a girl, a small bald headed mite, ugly as a hairless monkey and absurdly like Frank. No one except the doting father could see anything beautiful about her, but the neighbors were charitable enough to say that all ugly babies turned out pretty, eventually. She was named Ella Lorena, Ella for her grandmother Ellen, and Lorena because it was the most fashionable name of the day for girls, even as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were popular for boys and Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation for negro children.
She was born in the middle of a week when frenzied excitement gripped Atlanta and the air was tense with expectation of disaster. A negro who had boasted of rape had actually been arrested, but before he could be brought to trial the jail had been raided by the Ku Klux Klan and he had been quietly hanged. The Klan had acted to save the as yet unnamed victim from having to testify in open court. Rather than have her appear and advertise her shame, her father and brother would have shot her, so lynching the negro seemed a sensible solution to the townspeople, in fact, the only decent solution possible. But the military authorities were in a fury. They saw no reason why the girl should mind testifying publicly.
The soldiers made arrests right and left, swearing to wipe out the Klan if they had to put every white man in Atlanta in jail. The negroes, frightened and sullen, muttered of retaliatory house burnings. The air was thick with rumors of wholesale hangings by the Yankees should the guilty parties be found and of a concerted uprising against the whites by the negroes. The people of the town stayed at home behind locked doors and shuttered windows, the men fearing to go to their businesses and leave their women and children unprotected.
Scarlett, lying exhausted in bed, feebly and silently thanked God that Ashley had too much sense to belong to the Klan and Frank was too old and poor spirited. How dreadful it would be to know that the Yankees might swoop down and arrest them at any minute! Why didn't the crack brained young fools in the Klan leave bad enough alone and not stir up the Yankees like this? Probably the girl hadn't been raped after all. Probably she''d just been frightened silly and, because of her, a lot of men might lose their lives.
In this atmosphere, as nerve straining as watching a slow fuse burn toward a barrel of gunpowder, Scarlett came rapidly back to strength. The healthy vigor which had carried her through the hard days at Tara stood her in good stead now, and within two weeks of Ella Lorena's birth she' was strong enough to sit up and chafe at her inactivity. In three weeks she' was up, declaring she' had to see to the mills. They were standing idle because both Hugh and Ashley feared to leave their families alone all day.
Then the blow fell.
Frank, full of the pride of new fatherhood, summoned up courage enough to forbid Scarlett leaving the house while conditions were so dangerous. His commands would not have worried her at all and she' would have gone about her business in spite of them, if he had not put her horse and buggy in the livery stable and ordered that they should not be surrendered to anyone except himself. To make matters worse, he and Mammy had patiently searched the house while she' was ill and unearthed her hidden store of money. And Frank had deposited it in the bank in his own name, so now she' could not even hire a rig.
Scarlett raged at both Frank and Mammy, then was reduced to begging and finally cried all one morning like a furious thwarted child. But for all her pains she' heard only: "There, Sugar! You're just a sick little girl." And: "Miss Scarlett, ef you doan quit cahyin' on so, you gwine sour yo' milk an' de baby have colic, sho as gun's iron."
In a furious temper, Scarlett charged through her back yard to Melanie's house and there unburdened herself at the top of her voice, declaring she' would walk to the mills, she' would go about Atlanta telling everyone what a varmint she' had married, she' would not be treated like a naughty simple minded child. She would carry a pistol and shoot anyone who threatened her. She had shot one man and she' would love, yes, love to shoot another. She would
Melanie who feared to venture onto her own front porch was appalled by such threats.
"Oh, you must not risk yourself! I should die if anything happened to you! Oh, please "
"I will! I will! I will walk "
Melanie looked at her and saw that this was not the hysteria of a woman still weak from childbirth. There was the same breakneck, headlong determination in Scarlett's face that Melanie had often seen in Gerald O'Hara's face when his mind was made up. She put her arms around Scarlett's waist and held her tightly.
"It's all my fault for not being brave like you and for keeping Ashley at home with me all this time when he should have been at the mill. Oh, dear! I'm such a ninny! Darling, I'll tell Ashley I'm not a bit frightened and I'll come over and stay with you and Aunt Pitty and he can go back to work and "
Not even to herself would Scarlett admit that she' did not think Ashley could cope with the situation alone and she' shouted: "You'll do nothing of the kind! What earthly good would Ashley do at work if he was worried about you every minute? Everybody is just so hateful! Even Uncle Peter refuses to go out with me! But I don't care! I'll go alone. I'll walk every step of the way and pick up a crew of darkies somewhere "
"Oh, no! You mustn't do that! Something dreadful might happen to you. They say that Shantytown settlement on the Decatur road is just full of mean darkies and you'd have to pass right by it. Let me think Darling, promise me you won't do anything today and I'll think of something. Promise me you'll go home and lie down. You look right peaked. Promise me."
Because she' was too exhausted by her anger to do otherwise, Scarlett sulkily promised and went home, haughtily refusing any overtures of peace from her household.
That afternoon a strange figure stumped through Melanie's hedge and across Pitty's back yard. Obviously, he was one of those men whom Mammy and Dilcey referred to as "de riff raff whut Miss Melly pick up off de streets an' let sleep in her cellar."
There were three rooms in the basement of Melanie's house which formerly had been servants' quarters and a wine room. Now Dilcey occupied one, and the other two were in constant use by a stream of miserable and ragged transients. No one but Melanie knew whence they came or where they were going and no one but she' knew where she' collected them. Perhaps the negroes were right and she' did pick them up from the streets. But even as the great and the near great gravitated to her small parlor, so unfortunates found their way to her cellar where they were fed, bedded and sent on their way with packages of food. Usually the occupants of the rooms were former Confederate soldiers of the rougher, illiterate type, homeless men, men without families, beating their way about the country in hope of finding work.
Frequently, brown and withered country women with broods of tow haired silent children spent the night there, women widowed by the war, dispossessed of their farms, seeking relatives who were scattered and lost. Sometimes the neighborhood was scandalized by the presence of foreigners, speaking little or no English, who had been drawn South by glowing tales of fortunes easily made. Once a Republican had slept there. At least, Mammy insisted he was a Republican, saying she' could smell a Republican, same as a horse could smell a rattlesnake; but no one believed Mammy's story, for there must be some limit even to Melanie's charity. At least everyone hoped so.
Yes, thought Scarlett, sitting on the side porch in the pale November sunshine with the baby on her lap, he is one of Melanie's lame dogs. And he's really lame, at that!
The man who was making his way across the back yard stumped, like Will Benteen, on a wooden leg. He was a tall, thin old man with a bald head, which shone pinkishly dirty, and a grizzled beard so long he could tuck it in his belt. He was over sixty, to judge by his hard, seamed face, but there was no sag of age to his body. He was lank and ungainly but, even with his wooden peg, he moved as swiftly as a snake.
He mounted the steps and came toward her and, even before he spoke, revealing in his tones a twang and a burring of "r s" unusual in the lowlands, Scarlett knew that he was mountain born. For all his dirty, ragged clothes there was about him, as about most mountaineers, an air of fierce silent pride that permitted no liberties and tolerated no foolishness. His beard was stained with tobacco juice and a large wad in his jaw made his face look deformed. His nose was thin and craggy, his eyebrows bushy and twisted into witches' locks and a lush growth of hair sprang from his ears, giving them the tufted look of a lynx's ears. Beneath his brow was one hollow socket from which a scar ran down his cheek, carving a diagonal line through his beard. The other eye was small, pale and cold, an unwinking and remorseless eye. There was a heavy pistol openly in his trouser band and from the top of his tattered boot protruded the hilt of a bowie knife.
He returned Scarlett's stare coldly and spat across the rail of the banister before he spoke. There was contempt in his one eye, not a personal contempt for her, but for her whole sex.
"Miz Wilkes sont me to work for you," he said shortly. He spoke rustily, as one unaccustomed to speaking, the words coming slowly and almost with difficulty. "M' name's Archie."
"I'm sorry but I have no work for you, Mr. Archie."
"Archie's m'fuss name."
"I beg your pardon. What is your last name?"
He spat again. "I reckon that's my bizness," he said. "Archie'll do."
"I don't care what your last name is! I have nothing for you to do."
"I reckon you have. Miz Wilkes was upsot about yore wantin' to run aroun' like a fool by yoreself and she' sont me over here to drive aroun' with you."
"Indeed?" cried Scarlett, indignant both at the man's rudeness and Melly's meddling.
His one eye met hers with an impersonal animosity. "Yes. A woman's got no bizness botherin' her men folks when they're tryin' to take keer of her. If you're bound to gad about, I'll drive you. I hates niggers Yankees too."
He shifted his wad of tobacco to the other cheek and, without waiting for an invitation, sat down on the top step. "I ain't sayin' I like drivin' women aroun', but Miz Wilkes been good to me, lettin' me sleep in her cellar, and she' sont me to drive you."
"But " began Scarlett helplessly and then she' stopped and looked at him. After a moment she' began to smile. She didn't like the looks of this elderly desperado but his presence would simplify matters. With him beside her, she' could go to town, drive to the mills, call on customers. No one could doubt her safety with him and his very appearance was enough to keep from giving rise to scandal.
"It's a bargain," she' said. "That is, if my husband agrees."
After a private conversation with Archie, Frank gave his reluctant approval and sent word to the livery stable to release the horse and buggy. He was hurt and disappointed that motherhood had not changed Scarlett as he had hoped it would but, if she' was determined to go back to her damnable mills, then Archie was a godsend.
So began the relationship that at first startled Atlanta. Archie and Scarlett were a queerly assorted pair, the truculent dirty old man with his wooden peg sticking stiffly out over the dashboard and the pretty, neatly dressed young woman with forehead puckered in an abstracted frown. They could be seen at all hours and at all places in and near Atlanta, seldom speaking to each other, obviously disliking each other, but bound together by mutual need, he of money, she' of protection. At least, said the ladies of the town, it's better than riding around so brazenly with that Butler man. They wondered curiously where Rhett was these days, for he had abruptly left town three months before and no one, not even Scarlett, knew where he was.
Archie was a silent man, never speaking unless spoken to and usually answering with grunts. Every morning he came from Melanie's cellar and sat on the front steps of Pitty's house, chewing and spitting until Scarlett came out and Peter brought the buggy from the stable. Uncle Peter feared him only a little less than the devil or the Ku Klux and even Mammy walked silently and timorously around him. He hated negroes and they knew it and feared him. He reinforced his pistol and knife with another pistol, and his fame spread far among the black population. He never once had to draw a pistol or even lay his hand on his belt. The moral effect was sufficient. No negro dared even laugh while Archie was in hearing.
Once Scarlett asked him curiously why he hated negroes and was surprised when he answered, for generally all questions were answered by "I reckon that's my bizness."
"I hates them, like all mountain folks hates them. We never liked them and we never owned none. It was them niggers that started the war. I hates them for that, too."
"But you fought in the war."
"I reckon that's a man's privilege. I hates Yankees too, more'n I hates niggers. Most as much as I hates talkative women."
It was such outspoken rudeness as this that threw Scarlett into silent furies and made her long to be rid of him. But how could she' do without him? In what other way could she' obtain such freedom? He was rude and dirty and, occasionally, very odorous but he served his purpose. He drove her to and from the mills and on her round of customers, spitting and staring off into space while she' talked and gave orders. If she' climbed down from the buggy, he climbed after her and dogged her footsteps. When she' was among rough laborers, negroes or Yankee soldiers, he was seldom more than a pace from her elbow.
Soon Atlanta became accustomed to seeing Scarlett and her bodyguard and, from being accustomed, the ladies grew to envy her her freedom of movement. Since the Ku Klux lynching, the ladies had been practically immured, not even going to town to shop unless there were half a dozen in their group. Naturally social minded, they became restless and, putting their pride in their pockets, they began to beg the loan of Archie from Scarlett. And whenever she' did not need him, she' was gracious enough to spare him for the use of other ladies.
Soon Archie became an Atlanta institution and the ladies competed for his free time. There was seldom a morning when a child or a negro servant did not arrive at breakfast time with a note saying: "If you aren't using Archie this afternoon, do let me have him. I want to drive to the cemetery with flowers." "I must go to the milliners." "I should like Archie to drive Aunt Nelly for an airing." "I must go calling on Peters Street and Grandpa is not feeling well enough to take me. Could Archie "
He drove them all, maids, matrons and widows, and toward all he evidenced the same uncompromising contempt. It was obvious that he did not like women, Melanie excepted, any better than he liked negroes and Yankees. Shocked at first by his rudeness, the ladies finally became accustomed to him and, as he was so silent, except for intermittent explosions of tobacco juice, they took him as much for granted as the horses he drove and forgot his very existence. In fact, Mrs. Merriwether related to Mrs. Meade the complete details of her niece's confinement before she' even remembered Archie's presence on the front seat of the carriage.
At no other time than this could such a situation have been possible. Before the war, he would not have been permitted even in the ladies' kitchens. They would have handed him food through the back door and sent him about his business. But now they welcomed his reassuring presence. Rude, illiterate, dirty, he was a bulwark between the ladies and the terrors of Reconstruction. He was neither friend nor servant. He was a hired bodyguard, protecting the women while their men worked by day or were absent from home at night.
It seemed to Scarlett that after Archie came to work for her Frank was away at night very frequently. He said the books at the store had to be balanced and business was brisk enough now to give him little time to attend to this in working hours. And there were sick friends with whom he had to sit. Then there was the organization of Democrats who forgathered every Wednesday night to devise ways of regaining the ballot and Frank never missed a meeting. Scarlett thought this organization did little else except argue the merits of General John B. Gordon over every other general, except General Lee, and refight the war. Certainly she' could observe no progress in the direction of the recovery of the ballot. But Frank evidently enjoyed the meetings for he stayed out until all hours on those nights.
Ashley also sat up with the sick and he, too, attended the Democratic meetings and he was usually away on the same nights as Frank. On these nights, Archie escorted Pitty, Scarlett, Wade and little Ella though the back yard to Melanie's house and the two families spent the evenings together. The ladies sewed while Archie lay full length on the parlor sofa snoring, his gray whiskers fluttering at each rumble. No one had invited him to dispose himself on the sofa and as it was the finest piece of furniture in the house, the ladies secretly moaned every time he lay down on it, planting his boot on the pretty upholstery. But none of them had the courage to remonstrate with him. Especially after he remarked that it was lucky he went to sleep easy, for otherwise the sound of women clattering like a flock of guinea hens would certainly drive him crazy.
Scarlett sometimes wondered where Archie had come from and what his life had been before he came to live in Melly's cellar but she' asked no questions. There was that about his grim one eyed face which discouraged curiosity. All she' knew was that his voice bespoke the mountains to the north and that he had been in the army and had lost both leg and eye shortly before the surrender. It was words spoken in a fit of anger against Hugh Elsing which brought out the truth of Archie's past.
One morning, the old man had driven her to Hugh's mill and she' had found it idle, the negroes gone and Hugh sitting despondently under a tree. His crew had not made their appearance that morning and he was at a loss as to what to do. Scarlett was in a furious temper and did not scruple to expend it on Hugh, for she' had just received an order for a large amount of lumber a rush order at that. She had used energy and charm and bargaining to get that order and now the mill was quiet.
"Drive me out to the other mill," she' directed Archie. "Yes, I know it'll take a long time and we won't get any dinner but what am I paying you for? I'll have to make Mr. Wilkes stop what he's doing and run me off this lumber. Like as not, his crew won't be working either. Great balls of fire! I never saw such a nincompoop as Hugh Elsing! I'm going to get rid of him just as soon as that Johnnie Gallegher finishes the stores he's building. What do I care if Gallegher was in the Yankee Army? He'll work. I never saw a lazy Irishman yet. And I'm through with free issue darkies. You just can't depend on them. I'm going to get Johnnie Gallegher and lease me some convicts. He'll get work out of them. He'll "
Archie turned to her, his eye malevolent, and when he spoke there was cold anger in his rusty voice.
"The day you gits convicts is the day I quits you," he said.
Scarlett was startled. "Good heavens! Why?"
"I knows about convict leasin'. I calls it convict murderin'. Buyin' men like they was mules. Treatin' them worse than mules ever was treated. Beatin' them, starvin' them, killin' them. And who cares? The State don't care. It's got the lease money. The folks that gits the convicts, they don't care. All they want is to feed them cheap and git all the work they can out of them. Hell, Ma'm. I never thought much of women and I think less of them now."
"Is it any of your business?"
"I reckon," said Archie laconically and, after a pause, "I was a convict for nigh on to forty years."
Scarlett gasped, and, for a moment, shrank back against the cushions. This then was the answer to the riddle of Archie, his unwillingness to tell his last name or the place of his birth or any scrap of his past life, the answer to the difficulty with which he spoke and his cold hatred of the world. Forty years! He must have gone into prison a young man. Forty years! Why he must have been a life prisoner and lifers were
"Was it murder?"
"Yes," answered Archie briefly, as he flapped the reins. "M' wife."
Scarlett's eyelids batted rapidly with fright.
The mouth beneath the beard seemed to move, as if he were smiling grimly at her fear. "I ain't goin' to kill you, Ma'm, if that's what's frettin' you. Thar ain't but one reason for killin' a woman."
"You killed your wife!"
"She was layin' with my brother. He got away. I ain't sorry none that I kilt her. Loose women ought to be kilt. The law ain't got no right to put a man in jail for that but I was sont."
"But how did you get out? Did you escape? Were you pardoned?"
"You might call it a pardon." His thick gray brows writhed together as though the effort of stringing words together was difficult.
"'Long in 'sixty four when Sherman come through, I was at Milledgeville jail, like I had been for forty years. And the warden he called all us prisoners together and he says the Yankees are a comin' a burnin' and a killin'. Now if thar's one thing I hates worse than a nigger or a woman, it's a Yankee."
"Why? Had you Did you ever know any Yankees?"
"No'm. But I'd hearn tell of them. I'd hearn tell they couldn't never mind their own bizness. I hates folks who can't mind their own bizness. What was they doin' in Georgia, freein' our niggers and burnin' our houses and killin' our stock? Well, the warden he said the army needed more soldiers bad, and any of us who'd jine up would be free at the end of the war if we come out alive. But us lifers us murderers, the warden he said the army didn't want us. We was to be sont somewheres else to another jail. But I said to the warden I ain't like most lifers. I'm just in for killin' my wife and she' needed killin'. And I wants to fight the Yankees. And the warden he saw my side of it and he slipped me out with the other prisoners."
He paused and grunted.
"Huh. That was right funny. They put me in jail for killin' and they let me out with a gun in my hand and a free pardon to do more killin'. It shore was good to be a free man with a rifle in my hand again. Us men from Milledgeville did good fightin' and killin' and a lot of us was kilt. I never knowed one who deserted. And when the surrender come, we was free. I lost this here leg and this here eye. But I ain't sorry."
"Oh," said Scarlett, weakly.
She tried to remember what she' had heard about the releasing of the Milledgeville convicts in that last desperate effort to stem the tide of Sherman's army. Frank had mentioned it that Christmas of 1864. What had he said? But her memories of that time were too chaotic. Again she' felt the wild terror of those days, heard the siege guns, saw the line of wagons dripping blood into the red roads, saw the Home Guard marching off, the little cadets and the children like Phil Meade and the old men like Uncle Henry and Grandpa Merriwether. And the convicts had marched out too, to die in the twilight of the Confederacy, to freeze in the snow and sleet of that last campaign in Tennessee.
For a brief moment she' thought what a fool this old man was, to fight for a state which had taken forty years from his life. Georgia had taken his youth and his middle years for a crime that was no crime to him, yet he had freely given a leg and an eye to Georgia. The bitter words Rhett had spoken in the early days of the war came back to her, and she' remembered him saying he would never fight for a society that had made him an outcast. But when the emergency had arisen he had gone off to fight for that same society, even as Archie had done. It seemed to her that all Southern men, high or low, were sentimental fools and cared less for their hides than for words which had no meaning.
She looked at Archie's gnarled old hands, his two pistols and his knife, and fear pricked her again. Were there other ex convicts at large, like Archie, murderers, desperadoes, thieves, pardoned for their crimes, in the name of the Confederacy? Why, any stranger on the street might be a murderer! If Frank ever learned the truth about Archie, there would be the devil to pay. Or if Aunt Pitty but the shock would kill Pitty. And as for Melanie Scarlett almost wished she' could tell Melanie the truth about Archie. It would serve her right for picking up trash and foisting it off on her friends and relatives.
"I'm I'm glad you told me, Archie. I I won't tell anyone. It would be a great shock to Mrs. Wilkes and the other ladies if they knew."
"Huh. Miz Wilkes knows. I told her the night she' fuss let me sleep in her cellar. You don't think I'd let a nice lady like her take me into her house not knowin'?"
"Saints preserve us!" cried Scarlet, aghast.
Melanie knew this man was a murderer and a woman murderer at that and she' hadn't ejected him from her house. She had trusted her son with him and her aunt and sister in law and all her friends. And she', the most timid of females, had not been frightened to be alone with him in her house.
"Miz Wilkes is right sensible, for a woman. She 'lowed that I was all right. She 'lowed that a liar allus kept on lyin' and a thief kept on stealin' but folks don't do more'n one murder in a lifetime. And she' reckoned as how anybody who'd fought for the Confederacy had wiped out anything bad they'd done. Though I don't hold that I done nothin' bad, killin' my wife. . . . Yes, Miz Wilkes is right sensible, for a woman. . . . And I'm tellin' you, the day you leases convicts is the day I quits you."
Scarlett made no reply but she' thought,
"The sooner you quit me the better it will suit me. A murderer!"
How could Melly have been so so Well, there was no word for Melanie's action in taking in this old ruffian and not telling her friends he was a jailbird. So service in the army wiped out past sins! Melanie had that mixed up with baptism! But then Melly was utterly silly about the Confederacy, its veterans, and anything pertaining to them. Scarlett silently damned the Yankees and added another mark on her score against them. They were responsible for a situation that forced a woman to keep a murderer at her side to protect her.
Driving home with Archie in the chill twilight, Scarlett saw a clutter of saddle horses, buggies and wagons outside the Girl of the Period Saloon. Ashley was sitting on his horse, a strained alert look on his face; the Simmons boys were leaning from their buggy, making emphatic gestures; Hugh Elsing, his lock of brown hair falling in his eyes, was waving his hands. Grandpa Merriwether's pie wagon was in the center of the tangle and, as she' came closer, Scarlett saw that Tommy Wellburn and Uncle Henry Hamilton were crowded on the seat with him.
"I wish," thought Scarlett irritably, "that Uncle Henry wouldn't ride home in that contraption. He ought to be ashamed to be seen in it. It isn't as though he didn't have a horse of his own. He just does it so he and Grandpa can go to the saloon together every night."
As she' came abreast the crowd something of their tenseness reached her, insensitive though she' was, and made fear clutch at her heart.
"Oh!" she' thought. "I hope no one else has been raped! If the Ku Klux lynch just one more darky the Yankees will wipe us out!" And she' spoke to Archie. "Pull up. Something's wrong."
"You ain't goin' to stop outside a saloon," said Archie.
"You heard me. Pull up. Good evening, everybody. Ashley Uncle Henry is something wrong? You all look so "
The crowd turned to her, tipping their hats and smiling, but there was a driving excitement in their eyes.
"Something's right and something's wrong," barked Uncle Henry. "Depends on how you look at it. The way I figure is the legislature couldn't have done different."
The legislature? thought Scarlett in relief. She had little interest in the legislature, feeling that its doings could hardly affect her. It was the prospect of the Yankee soldiers on a rampage again that frightened her.
"What's the legislature been up to now?"
"They've flatly refused to ratify the amendment," said Grandpa Merriwether and there was pride in his voice. "That'll show the Yankees."
"And there'll be hell to pay for it I beg your pardon, Scarlett," said Ashley.
"Oh, the amendment?" questioned Scarlett, trying to look intelligent.
Politics were beyond her and she' seldom wasted time thinking about them. There had been a Thirteenth Amendment ratified sometime before or maybe it had been the Sixteenth Amendment but what ratification meant she' had no idea. Men were always getting excited about such things. Something of her lack of comprehension showed in her face and Ashley smiled.
"It's the amendment letting the darkies vote, you know," he explained. "It was submitted to the legislature and they refused to ratify it."
"How silly of them! You know the Yankees are going to force it down our throats!"
"That's what I meant by saying there'd be hell to pay," said Ashley.
"I'm proud of the legislature, proud of their gumption!" shouted Uncle Henry. "The Yankees can't force it down our throats if we won't have it."
"They can and they will." Ashley's voice was calm but there was worry in his eyes. "And it'll make things just that much harder for us."
"Oh, Ashley, surely not! Things couldn't be any harder than they are now!"
"Yes, things can get worse, even worse than they are now. Suppose we have a darky legislature? A darky governor? Suppose we have a worse military rule than we now have?"
Scarlett's eyes grew large with fear as some understanding entered her mind.
"I've been trying to think what would be best for Georgia, best for all of us." Ashley's face was drawn. "Whether it's wisest to fight this thing like the legislature has done, rouse the North against us and bring the whole Yankee Army on us to cram the darky vote down us, whether we want it or not. Or swallow our pride as best we can, submit gracefully and get the whole matter over with as easily as possible. It will amount to the same thing in the end. We're helpless. We've got to take the dose they're determined to give us. Maybe it would be better for us to take it without kicking."
Scarlett hardly heard his words, certainly their full import went over her head. She knew that Ashley, as usual, was seeing both sides of a question. She was seeing only one side how this slap in the Yankees' faces might affect her.
"Going to turn Radical and vote the Republican ticket, Ashley?" jeered Grandpa Merriwether harshly.
There was a tense silence. Scarlett saw Archie's hand make a swift move toward his pistol and then stop. Archie thought, and frequently said, that Grandpa was an old bag of wind and Archie had no intention of letting him insult Miss Melanie's husband, even if Miss Melanie's husband was talking like a fool.
The perplexity vanished suddenly from Ashley's eyes and hot anger flared. But before he could speak, Uncle Henry charged Grandpa.
"You God you blast I beg your pardon, Scarlett Grandpa, you jackass, don't you say that to Ashley!"
"Ashley can take care of himself without you defending him," said Grandpa coldly. "And he is talking like a Scallawag. Submit, hell! I beg your pardon, Scarlett."
"I didn't believe in secession," said Ashley and his voice shook with anger. "But when Georgia seceded, I went with her. And I didn't believe in war but I fought in the war. And I don't believe in making the Yankees madder than they already are. But if the legislature has decided to do it, I'll stand by the legislature. I "
"Archie," said Uncle Henry abruptly, "drive Miss Scarlett on home. This isn't any place for her. Politics aren't for women folks anyway, and there's going to be cussing in a minute. Go on, Archie. Good night, Scarlett."
As they drove off down Peachtree Street, Scarlett's heart was beating fast with fear. Would this foolish action of the legislature have any effect on her safety? Would it so enrage the Yankees that she' might lose her mills?
"Well, sir," rumbled Archie, "I've hearn tell of rabbits spittin' in bulldogs' faces but I ain't never seen it till now. Them legislatures might just as well have hollered 'Hurray for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy' for all the good it'll do them and us. Them nigger lovin' Yankees have made up their mind to make the niggers our bosses. But you got to admire them legislatures' sperrit!"
"Admire them? Great balls of fire! Admire them? They ought to be shot! It'll bring the Yankees down on us like a duck on a June bug. Why couldn't they have rati radi whatever they were supposed to do to it and smoothed the Yankees down instead of stirring them up again? They're going to make us knuckle under and we may as well knuckle now as later."
Archie fixed her with a cold eye.
"Knuckle under without a fight? Women ain't got no more pride than goats."
When Scarlett leased ten convicts, five for each of her mills, Archie made good his threat and refused to have anything further to do with her. Not all Melanie's pleading or Frank's promises of higher pay would induce him to take up the reins again. He willingly escorted Melanie and Pitty and India and their friends about the town but not Scarlett. He would not even drive for the other ladies if Scarlett was in the carriage. It was an embarrassing situation, having the old desperado sitting in judgment upon her, and it was still more embarrassing to know that her family and friends agreed with the old man.
Frank pleaded with her against taking the step. Ashley at first refused to work convicts and was persuaded, against his will, only after tears and supplications and promises that when times were better she' would hire free darkies. Neighbors were so outspoken in their disapproval that Frank, Pitty and Melanie found it hard to hold up their heads. Even Peter and Mammy declared that it was bad luck to work convicts and no good would come of it. Everyone said it was wrong to take advantage of the miseries and misfortunes of others.
"You didn't have any objections to working slaves!" Scarlett cried indignantly.
Ah, but that was different. Slaves were neither miserable nor unfortunate. The negroes were far better off under slavery than they were now under freedom, and if she' didn't believe it, just look about her! But, as usual, opposition had the effect of making Scarlett more determined on her course. She removed Hugh from the management of the mill, put him to driving a lumber wagon and closed the final details of hiring Johnnie Gallegher.
He seemed to be the only person she' knew who approved of the convicts. He nodded his bullet head briefly and said it was a smart move. Scarlett, looking at the little ex jockey, planted firmly on his short bowed legs, his gnomish face hard and businesslike, thought: "Whoever let him ride their horses didn't care much for horse flesh. I wouldn't let him get within ten feet of any horse of mine."
But she' had no qualms in trusting him with a convict gang.
"And I'm to have a free hand with the gang?" he questioned, his eyes as cold as gray agates.
"A free hand. All I ask is that you keep that mill running and deliver my lumber when I want it and as much as I want."
"I'm your man," said Johnnie shortly. "I'll tell Mr. Wellburn I'm leaving him."
As he rolled off through the crowd of masons and carpenters and hod carriers Scarlett felt relieved and her spirits rose. Johnnie was indeed her man. He was tough and hard and there was no nonsense about him. "Shanty Irish on the make," Frank had contemptuously called him, but for that very reason Scarlett valued him. She knew that an Irishman with a determination to get somewhere was a valuable man to have, regardless of what his personal characteristics might be. And she' felt a closer kinship with him than with many men of her own class, for Johnnie knew the value of money.
The first week he took over the mill he justified all her hopes, for he accomplished more with five convicts than Hugh had ever done with his crew of ten free negroes. More than that, he gave Scarlett greater leisure than she' had had since she' came to Atlanta the year before, because he had no liking for her presence at the mill and said so frankly.
"You tend to your end of selling and let me tend to my end of lumbering," he said shortly. "A convict camp ain't any place for a lady and if nobody else'll tell you so, Johnnie Gallegher's telling you now. I'm delivering your lumber, ain't I? Well, I've got no notion to be pestered every day like Mr. Wilkes. He needs pestering. I don't."
So Scarlett reluctantly stayed away from Johnnie's mill, fearing that if she' came too often he might quit and that would be ruinous. His remark that Ashley needed pestering stung her, for there was more truth in it than she' liked to admit. Ashley was doing little better with convicts than he had done with free labor, although why, he was unable to tell. Moreover, he looked as if he were ashamed to be working convicts and he had little to say to her these days.
Scarlett was worried by the change that was coming over him. There were gray hairs in his bright head now and a tired slump in his shoulders. And he seldom smiled. He no longer looked the debonaire Ashley who had caught her fancy so many years before. He looked like a man secretly gnawed by a scarcely endurable pain and there was a grim tight look about his mouth that baffled and hurt her. She wanted to drag his head fiercely down on her shoulder, stroke the graying hair and cry: "Tell me what's worrying you! I'll fix it! I'll make it right for you!"
But his formal, remote air kept her at arm's length.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
It was one of those rare December days when the sun was almost as warm as Indian summer. Dry red leaves still clung to the oak in Aunt Pitty's yard and a faint yellow green still persisted in the dying grass. Scarlett, with the baby in her arms, stepped out onto the side porch and sat down in a rocking chair in a patch of sunshine. She was wearing a new green challis dress trimmed with yards and yards of black rickrack braid and a new lace house cap which Aunt Pitty had made for her. Both were very becoming to her and she' knew it and took great pleasure in them. How good it was to look pretty again after the long months of looking so dreadful!
As she' sat rocking the baby and humming to herself, she' heard the sound of hooves coming up the side street and, peering curiously through the tangle of dead vines on the porch, she' saw Rhett Butler riding toward the house.
He had been away from Atlanta for months, since just after Gerald died, since long before Ella Lorena was born. She had missed him but she' now wished ardently that there was some way to avoid seeing him. In fact, the sight of his dark face brought a feeling of guilty panic to her breast. A matter in which Ashley was concerned lay on her conscience and she' did not wish to discuss it with Rhett, but she' knew he would force the discussion, no matter how disinclined she' might be.
He drew up at the gate and swung lightly to the ground and she' thought, staring nervously at him, that he looked just like an illustration in a book Wade was always pestering her to read aloud.
"All he needs is earrings and a cutlass between his teeth," she' thought. "Well, pirate or no, he's not going to cut my throat today if I can help it."
As he came up the walk she' called a greeting to him, summoning her sweetest smile. How lucky that she' had on her new dress and the becoming cap and looked so pretty! As his eyes went swiftly over her, she' knew he thought her pretty, too.
"A new baby! Why, Scarlett, this is a surprise!" he laughed, leaning down to push the blanket away from Ella Lorena's small ugly face.
"Don't be silly," she' said, blush ing. "How are you, Rhett? You've been away a long time."
"So I have. Let me hold the baby, Scarlett. Oh, I know how to hold babies. I have many strange accomplishments. Well, he certainly looks like Frank. All except the whiskers, but give him time."
"I hope not. It's a girl."
"A girl? That's better still. Boys are such nuisances. Don't ever have any more boys, Scarlett."
It was on the tip of her tongue to reply tartly that she' never intended to have any more babies, boys or girls, but she' caught herself in time and smiled, casting about quickly in her mind for some topic of conversation that would put off the bad moment when the subject she' feared would come up for discussion.
"Did you have a nice trip, Rhett? Where did you go this time?"
"Oh Cuba New Orleans other places. Here, Scarlett, take the baby. She's beginning to slobber and I can't get to my handkerchief. She's a fine baby, I'm sure, but she''s wetting my shirt bosom."
She took the child back into her lap and Rhett settled himself lazily on the banister and took a cigar from a silver case.
"You are always going to New Orleans," she' said and pouted a little. "And you never will tell me what you do there."
"I am a hard working man, Scarlett, and perhaps my business takes me there."
"Hard working! You!" she' laughed impertinently. "You never worked in your life. You're too lazy. All you ever do is finance Carpetbaggers in their thieving and take half the profits and bribe Yankee officials to let you in on schemes to rob us taxpayers."
He threw back his head and laughed.
"And how you would love to have money enough to bribe officials, so you could do likewise!"
"The very idea " She began to ruffle.
"But perhaps you will make enough money to get into bribery on a large scale some day. Maybe you'll get rich off those convicts you leased."
"Oh," she' said, a little disconcerted, "how did you find out about my gang so soon?"
"I arrived last night and spent the evening in the Girl of the Period Saloon, where one hears all the news of the town. It's a clearing house for gossip. Better than a ladies' sewing circle. Everyone told me that you'd leased a gang and put that little plug ugly, Gallegher, in charge to work them to death."
"That's a lie," she' said angrily. "He won't work them to death. I'll see to that."
"Of course I will! How can you even insinuate such things?"
"Oh, I do beg your pardon, Mrs. Kennedy! I know your motives are always above reproach. However, Johnnie Gallegher is a cold little bully if I ever saw one. Better watch him or you'll be having trouble when the inspector comes around."
"You tend to your business and I'll tend to mine," she' said indignantly. "And I don't want to talk about convicts any more. Everybody's been hateful about them. My gang is my own business And you haven't told me yet what you do in New Orleans. You go there so often that everybody says " She paused. She had not intended to say so much.
"What do they say?"
"Well that you have a sweetheart there. That you are going to get married. Are you, Rhett?"
She had been curious about this for so long that she' could not refrain from asking the point blank question. A queer little pang of jealousy jabbed at her at the thought of Rhett getting married, although why that should be she' did not know.
His bland eyes grew suddenly alert and he caught her gaze and held it until a little blush crept up into her cheeks.
"Would it matter much to you?"
"Well, I should hate to lose your friendship," she' said primly and, with an attempt at disinterestedness, bent down to pull the blanket closer about Ella Lorena's head.
He laughed suddenly, shortly, and said: "Look at me, Scarlett."
She looked up unwillingly, her blush deepening.
"You can tell your curious friends that when I marry it will be because I couldn't get the woman I wanted in any other way. And I've never yet wanted a woman bad enough to marry her."
Now she' was indeed confused and embarrassed, for she' remembered the night on this very porch during the siege when he had said: "I am not a marrying man" and casually suggested that she' become his mistress remembered, too, the terrible day when he was in jail and was shamed by the memory. A slow malicious smile went over his face as he read her eyes.
"But I will satisfy your vulgar curiosity since you ask such pointed questions. It isn't a sweetheart that takes me to New Orleans. It's a child, a little boy."
"A little boy!" The shock of this unexpected information wiped out her confusion.
"Yes, he is my legal ward and I am responsible for him. He's in school in New Orleans. I go there frequently to see him."
"And take him presents?" So, she' thought, that's how he always knows what kind of presents Wade likes!
"Yes," he said shortly, unwillingly.
"Well, I never! Is he handsome?"
"Too handsome for his own good."
"Is he a nice little boy?"
"No. He's a perfect hellion. I wish he had never been born. Boys are troublesome creatures. Is there anything else you'd like to know?"
He looked suddenly angry and his brow was dark, as though he already regretted speaking of the matter at all.
"Well, not if you don't want to tell me any more," she' said loftily, though she' was burning for further information. "But I just can't see you in the role of a guardian," and she' laughed, hoping to disconcert him.
"No, I don't suppose you can. Your vision is pretty limited."
He said no more and smoked his cigar in silence for a while. She cast about for some remark as rude as his but could think of none.
"I would appreciate it if you'd say nothing of this to anyone," he said finally. "Though I suppose that asking a woman to keep her mouth shut is asking the impossible."
"I can keep a secret," she' said with injured dignity.
"Can you? It's nice to learn unsuspected things about friends. Now, stop pouting, Scarlett. I'm sorry I was rude but you deserved it for prying. Give me a smile and let's be pleasant for a minute or two before I take up an unpleasant subject."
Oh, dear! she' thought. Now, he's going to talk about Ashley and the mill! and she' hastened to smile and show her dimple to divert him. "Where else did you go, Rhett? You haven't been in New Orleans all this time, have you?"
"No, for the last month I've been in Charleston. My father died."
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"Don't be. I'm sure he wasn't sorry to die, and I'm sure I'm not sorry he's dead."
"Rhett, what a dreadful thing to say!"
"It would be much more dreadful if I pretended to be sorry, when I wasn't, wouldn't it? There was never any love lost between us. I cannot remember when the old gentleman did not disapprove of me. I was too much like his own father and he disapproved heartily of his father. And as I grew older his disapproval of me became downright dislike, which, I admit, I did little to change. All the things Father wanted me to do and be were such boring things. And finally he threw me out into the world without a cent and no training whatsoever to be anything but a Charleston gentleman, a good pistol shot and an excellent poker player. And he seemed to take it as a personal affront that I did not starve but put my poker playing to excellent advantage and supported myself royally by gambling. He was so affronted at a Butler becoming a gambler that when I came home for the first time, he forbade my mother to see me. And all during the war when I was blockading out of Charleston, Mother had to lie and slip off to see me. Naturally that didn't increase my love for him."
"Oh, I didn't know all that!"
"He was what is pointed out as a fine old gentleman of the old school which means that he was ignorant, thick headed, intolerant and incapable of thinking along any lines except what other gentlemen of the old school thought. Everyone admired him tremendously for having cut me off and counted me as dead. 'If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out.' I was his right eye, his oldest son, and he plucked me out with a vengeance."
He smiled a little, his eyes hard with amused memory.
"Well, I could forgive all that but I can't forgive what he's done to Mother and my sister since the war ended. They've been practically destitute. The plantation house was burned and the rice fields have gone back to marsh lands. And the town house went for taxes and they've been living in two rooms that aren't fit for darkies. I've sent money to Mother, but Father has sent it back tainted money, you see! and several times I've gone to Charleston and given money, on the sly, to my sister. But Father always found out and raised merry hell with her, till her life wasn't worth living, poor girl. And back the money came to me. I don't know how they've lived. . . . Yes, I do know. My brother's given what he could, though he hasn't much to give and he won't take anything from me either speculator's money is unlucky money, you see! And the charity of their friends. Your Aunt Eulalie, she''s been very kind. She's one of Mother's best friends, you know. She's given them clothes and Good God! My mother on charity!"
It was one of the few times she' had ever seen him with his mask off, his face hard with honest hatred for his father and distress for his mother.
"Aunt 'Lalie! But, good Heavens, Rhett, she' hasn't got anything much above what I send her!"
"Ah, so that's where it comes from! How ill bred of you, my dear, to brag of such a thing in the face of my humiliation. You must let me reimburse you!"
"With pleasure," said Scarlett, her mouth suddenly twisting into a grin, and he smiled back.
"Ah, Scarlett, how the thought of a dollar does make your eyes sparkle! Are you sure you haven't some Scotch or perhaps Jewish blood as well as Irish?"
"Don't be hateful! I didn't mean to throw it in your face about Aunt 'Lalie. But honestly, she' thinks I'm made of money. She's always writing me for more and, God knows, I've got enough on my hands without supporting all of Charleston. What did your father die of?"
"Genteel starvation, I think and hope. It served him right. He was willing to let Mother and Rosemary starve with him. Now that he's dead, I can help them. I've bought them a house on the Battery and they've servants to look after them. But of course, they couldn't let it be known that the money came from me."
"My dear, surely you know Charleston! You've visited there. My family may be poor but they have a position to uphold. And they couldn't uphold it if it were known that gambling money and speculator's money and Carpetbag money was behind it. No, they gave it out that Father left an enormous life insurance that he'd beggared himself and starved himself to death to keep up the payments, so that after he died, they'd be provided for. So he is looked upon as an even greater gentleman of the old school than before. . . . In fact, a martyr to his family. I hope he's turning in his grave at the knowledge that Mother and Rosemary are comfortable now, in spite of his efforts. . . . In a way, I'm sorry he's dead because he wanted to die was so glad to die."
"Oh, he really died when Lee surrendered. You know the type. He never could adjust himself to the new times and spent his time talking about the good old days."
"Rhett, are all old folks like that?" She was thinking of Gerald and what Will had said about him.
"Heavens, no! Just look at your Uncle Henry and that old wild cat, Mr. Merriwether, just to name two. They took a new lease on life when they marched out with the Home Guard and it seems to me that they've gotten younger and more peppery ever since. I met old man Merriwether this morning driving Rene's pie wagon and cursing the horse like an army mule skinner. He told me he felt ten years younger since he escaped from the house and his daughter in law's coddling and took to driving the wagon. And your Uncle Henry enjoys fighting the Yankees in court and out and defending the widow and the orphan free of charge, I fear against the Carpetbaggers. If there hadn't been a war, he'd have retired long ago and nursed his rheumatism. They're young again because they are of use again and feel that they are needed. And they like this new day that gives old men another chance. But there are plenty of people, young people, who feel like my father and your father. They can't and won't adjust and that brings me to the unpleasant subject I want to discuss with you, Scarlett."
His sudden shift so disconcerted her that she' stammered: "What what " and inwardly groaned: "Oh, Lord! Now, it's coming. I wonder if I can butter him down?"
"I shouldn't have expected either truth or honor or fair dealing from you, knowing you as I do. But foolishly, I trusted you."
"I don't know what you mean."
"I think you do. At any rate, you look very guilty. As I was riding along Ivy Street a while ago, on my way to call on you, who should hail me from behind a hedge but Mrs. Ashley Wilkes! Of course, I stopped and chatted with her."
"Yes, we had an enjoyable talk. She told me she' had always wanted to let me know how brave she' thought I was to have struck a blow for the Confederacy, even at the eleventh hour."
"Oh, fiddle dee dee! Melly's a fool. She might have died that night because you acted so heroic."
"I imagine she' would have thought her life given in a good cause. And when I asked her what she' was doing in Atlanta she' looked quite surprised at my ignorance and told me that they were living here now and that you had been kind enough to make Mr. Wilkes a partner in your mill."
"Well, what of it?" questioned Scarlett, shortly.
"When I lent you the money to buy that mill I made one stipulation, to which you agreed, and that was that it should not go to the support of Ashley Wilkes."
"You are being very offensive. I've paid you back your money and I own the mill and what I do with it is my own business."
"Would you mind telling me how you made the money to pay back my loan?"
"I made it selling lumber, of course."
"You made it with the money I lent you to give you your start. That's what you mean. My money is being used to support Ashley. You are a woman quite without honor and if you hadn't repaid my loan, I'd take great pleasure in calling it in now and selling you out at public auction if you couldn't pay."
He spoke lightly but there was anger flickering in his eyes.
Scarlett hastily carried the warfare into the enemy's territory.
"Why do you hate Ashley so much? I believe you're jealous of him."
After she' had spoken she' could have bitten her tongue, for he threw back his head and laughed until she' went red with mortification.
"Add conceit to dishonor," he said. "You'll never get over being the belle of the County, will you? You'll always think you're the cutest little trick in shoe leather and that every man you meet is expiring for love of you."
"I don't either!" she' cried hotly. "But I just can't see why you hate Ashley so much and that's the only explanation I can think of."
"Well, think something else, pretty charmer, for that's the wrong explanation. And as for hating Ashley I don't hate him any more than I like him. In fact, my only emotion toward him and his kind is pity."
"Yes, and a little contempt. Now, swell up like a gobbler and tell me that he is worth a thousand blackguards like me and that I shouldn't dare to be so presumptuous as to feel either pity or contempt for him. And when you have finished swelling, I'll tell you what I mean, if you're interested."
"Well, I'm not."
"I shall tell you, just the same, for I can't bear for you to go on nursing your pleasant delusion of my jealousy. I pity him because he ought to be dead and he isn't. And I have a contempt for him because he doesn't know what to do with himself now that his world is gone."
There was something familiar in the idea he expressed. She had a confused memory of having heard similar words but she' could not remember when and where. She did not think very hard about it for her anger was hot.
"If you had your way all the decent men in the South would be dead!"
"And if they had their way, I think Ashley's kind would prefer to be dead. Dead with neat stones above them, saying: 'Here lies a soldier of the Confederacy, dead for the Southland' or 'Dulce et decorum est ' or any of the other popular epitaphs."
"I don't see why!"
"You never see anything that isn't written in letters a foot high and then shoved under your nose, do you? If they were dead, their troubles would be over, there'd be no problems to face, problems that have no solutions. Moreover, their families would be proud of them through countless generations. And I've heard the dead are happy. Do you suppose Ashley Wilkes is happy?"
"Why, of course " she' began and then she' remembered the look in Ashley's eyes recently and stopped.
"Is he happy or Hugh Elsing or Dr. Meade? Any more than my father and your father were happy?"
"Well, perhaps not as happy as they might be, because they've all lost their money."
"It isn't losing their money, my pet. I tell you it's losing their world the world they were raised in. They're like fish out of water or cats with wings. They were raised to be certain persons, to do certain things, to occupy certain niches. And those persons and things and niches disappeared forever when General Lee arrived at Appomattox. Oh, Scarlett, don't look so stupid! What is there for Ashley Wilkes to do, now that his home is gone and his plantation taken up for taxes and fine gentlemen are going twenty for a penny? Can he work with his head or his hands? I'll bet you've lost money hand over fist since he took over that mill."
"I have not!"
"How nice. May I look over your books some Sunday evening when you are at leisure?"
"You can go to the devil and not at your leisure. You can go now, for all I care."
"My pet, I've been to the devil and he's a very dull fellow. I won't go there again, even for you. . . . You took my money when you needed it desperately and you used it. We had an agreement as to how it should be used and you have broken that agreement. Just remember, my precious little cheat, the time will come when you will want to borrow more money from me. You'll want me to bank you, at some incredibly low interest, buy more mills and more mules and build more saloons. And you can whistle for the money."
"When I need money I'll borrow it from the bank, thank you," she' said coldly, but her breast was heaving with rage.
"Will you? Try to do it. I own plenty of stock in the bank."
"Yes, I am interested in some honest enterprises."
"There are other banks "
"Plenty of them. And if I can manage it, you'll play hell getting a cent from any of them. You can go to the Carpetbag usurers if you want money."
"I'll go to them with pleasure."
"You'll go but with little pleasure when you learn their rates of interest. My pretty, there are penalties in the business world for crooked dealing. You should have played straight with me."
"You're a fine man, aren't you? So rich and powerful yet picking on people who are down, like Ashley and me!"
"Don't put yourself in his class. You aren't down. Nothing will down you. But he is down and he'll stay there unless there's some energetic person behind him, guiding and protecting him as long as he lives. I'm of no mind to have my money used for the benefit of such a person."
"You didn't mind helping me and I was down and "
"You were a good risk, my dear, an interesting risk. Why? Because you didn't plump yourself down on your male relatives and sob for the old days. You got out and hustled and now your fortunes are firmly planted on money stolen from a dead man's wallet and money stolen from the Confederacy. You've got murder to your credit, and husband stealing, attempted fornication, lying and sharp dealing and any amount of chicanery that won't bear close inspection. Admirable things, all of them. They show you to be a person of energy and determination and a good money risk. It's entertaining, helping people who help themselves. I'd lend ten thousand dollars without even a note to that old Roman matron, Mrs. Merriwether. She started with a basket of pies and look at her now! A bakery employing half a dozen people, old Grandpa happy with his delivery wagon and that lazy little Creole, Rene, working hard and liking it. . . . Or that poor devil, Tommy Wellburn, who does two men's work with half a man's body and does it well or well, I won't go on and bore you."
"You do bore me. You bore me to distraction," said Scarlett coldly, hoping to annoy him and divert him from the ever unfortunate subject of Ashley. But he only laughed shortly and refused to take up the gauntlet.
"People like them are worth helping. But Ashley Wilkes bah! His breed is of no use or value in an upside down world like ours. Whenever the world up ends, his kind is the first to perish. And why not? They don't deserve to survive because they won't fight don't know how to fight. This isn't the first time the world's been upside down and it won't be the last. It's happened before and it'll happen again. And when it does happen, everyone loses everything and everyone is equal. And then they all start again at taw, with nothing at all. That is, nothing except the cunning of their brains and strength of their hands. But some people, like Ashley, have neither cunning nor strength or, having them, scruple to use them. And so they go under and they should go under. It's a natural law and the world is better off without them. But there are always a hardy few who come through and given time, they are right back where they were before the world turned over."
"You've been poor! You just said that your father turned you out without a penny!" said Scarlett, furious. "I should think you'd understand and sympathize with Ashley!"
"I do understand," said Rhett, "but I'm damned if I sympathize. After the surrender Ashley had much more than I had when I was thrown out. At least, he had friends who took him in, whereas I was Ishmael. But what has Ashley done with himself?"
"If you are comparing him with yourself, you conceited thing, why He's not like you, thank God! He wouldn't soil his hands as you do, making money with Carpetbaggers and Scallawags and Yankees. He's scrupulous and honorable!"
"But not too scrupulous and honorable to take aid and money from a woman."
"What else could he have done?"
"Who am I to say? I only know what I did, both when I was thrown out and nowadays. I only know what other men have done. We saw opportunity in the ruin of a civilization and we made the most of our opportunity, some honestly, some shadily, and we are still making the most of it. But the Ashleys of this world have the same chances and don't take them. They just aren't smart, Scarlett, and only the smart deserve to survive."
She hardly heard what he was saying, for now there was coming back to her the exact memory which had teased her a few minutes before when he first began speaking. She remembered the cold wind that swept the orchard of Tara and Ashley standing by a pile of rails, his eyes looking beyond her. And he had said what? Some funny foreign name that sounded like profanity and had talked of the end of the world. She had not known what he meant then but now bewildered comprehension was coming to her and with it a sick, weary feeling.
"Why, Ashley said "
"Once at Tara he said something about the a dusk of the gods and about the end of the world and some such foolishness."
"Ah, the Gotterdammerung!" Rhett's eyes were sharp with interest. "And what else?"
"Oh, I don't remember exactly. I wasn't paying much mind. But yes something about the strong coming through and the weak being winnowed out."
"Ah, so he knows. Then that makes it harder for him. Most of them don't know and will never know. They'll wonder all their lives where the lost enchantment has vanished. They'll simply suffer in proud and incompetent silence. But he understands. He knows he's winnowed out."
"Oh, he isn't! Not while I've got breath in my body."
He looked at her quietly and his brown face was smooth.
"Scarlett, how did you manage to get his consent to come to Atlanta and take over the mill? Did he struggle very hard against you?"
She had a quick memory of the scene with Ashley after Gerald's funeral and put it from her.
"Why, of course not," she' replied indignantly. "When I explained to him that I needed his help because I didn't trust that scamp who was running the mill and Frank was too busy to help me and I was going to well, there was Ella Lorena, you see. He was very glad to help me out."
"Sweet are the uses of motherhood! So that's how you got around him. Well, you've got him where you want him now, poor devil, as shackled to you by obligations as any of your convicts are by their chains. And I wish you both joy. But, as I said at the beginning of this discussion, you'll never get another cent out of me for any of your little unladylike schemes, my double dealing lady."
She was smarting with anger and with disappointment as well. For some time she' had been planning to borrow more money from Rhett to buy a lot downtown and start a lumber yard there.
"I can do without your money," she' cried. "I'm making money out of Johnnie Gallegher's mill, plenty of it, now that I don't use free darkies and I have some money out on mortgages and we are coining cash at the store from the darky trade."
"Yes, so I heard. How clever of you to rook the helpless and the widow and the orphan and the ignorant! But if you must steal, Scarlett, why not steal from the rich and strong instead of the poor and weak? From Robin Hood on down to now, that's been considered highly moral."
"Because," said Scarlett shortly, "it's a sight easier and safer to steal as you call it from the poor."
He laughed silently, his shoulders shaking.
"You're a fine honest rogue, Scarlett!"
A rogue! Queer that that term should hurt. She wasn't a rogue, she' told herself vehemently. At least, that wasn't what she' wanted to be. She wanted to be a great lady. For a moment her mind went swiftly down the years and she' saw her mother, moving with a sweet swish of skirts and a faint fragrance of sachet, her small busy hands tireless in the service of others, loved, respected, cherished. And suddenly her heart was sick.
"If you are trying to devil me," she' said tiredly, "it's no use. I know I'm not as scrupulous as I should be these days. Not as kind and as pleasant as I was brought up to be. But I can't help it, Rhett. Truly, I can't. What else could I have done? What would have happened to me, to Wade, to Tara and all of us if I'd been gentle when that Yankee came to Tara? I should have been but I don't even want to think of that. And when Jonas Wilkerson was going to take the home place, suppose I'd been kind and scrupulous? Where would we all be now? And if I'd been sweet and simple minded and not nagged Frank about bad debts we'd oh, well. Maybe I am a rogue, but I won't be a rogue forever, Rhett. But during these past years and even now what else could I have done? How else could I have acted? I've felt that I was trying to row a heavily loaded boat in a storm. I've had so much trouble just trying to keep afloat that I couldn't be bothered about things that didn't matter, things I could part with easily and not miss, like good manners and well, things like that. I've been too afraid my boat would be swamped and so I've dumped overboard the things that seemed least important."
"Pride and honor and truth and virtue and kindliness," he enumerated silkily. "You are right, Scarlett. They aren't important when a boat is sinking. But look around you at your friends. Either they are bringing their boats ashore safely with cargoes intact or they are content to go down with all flags flying."
"They are a passel of fools," she' said shortly. "There's a time for all things. When I've got plenty of money, I'll be nice as you please, too. Butter won't melt in my mouth. I can afford to be then."
"You can afford to be but you won't. It's hard to salvage jettisoned cargo and, if it is retrieved, it's usually irreparably damaged. And I fear that when you can afford to fish up the honor and virtue and kindness you've thrown overboard, you'll find they have suffered a sea change and not, I fear, into something rich and strange. . . ."
He rose suddenly and picked up his hat.
"You are going?"
"Yes. Aren't you relieved? I leave you to what remains of your conscience."
He paused and looked down at the baby, putting out a finger for the child to grip.
"I suppose Frank is bursting with pride?"
"Oh, of course."
"Has a lot of plans for this baby, I suppose?"
"Oh, well, you know how silly men are about their babies."
"Then, tell him," said Rhett and stopped short, an odd look on his face, "tell him if he wants to see his plans for his child work out, he'd better stay home at night more often than he's doing."
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. Tell him to stay home."
"Oh, you vile creature! To insinuate that poor Frank would "
"Oh, good Lord!" Rhett broke into a roar of laughter. "I didn't mean he was running around with women! Frank! Oh, good Lord!"
He went down the steps still laughing.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
The march afternoon was windy and cold, and Scarlett pulled the lap robe high under her arms as she' drove out the Decatur road toward Johnnie Gallegher's mill. Driving alone was hazardous these days and she' knew it, more hazardous than ever before, for now the negroes were completely out of hand. As Ashley had prophesied, there had been hell to pay since the legislature refused to ratify the amendment. The stout refusal had been like a slap in the face of the furious North and retaliation had come swiftly. The North was determined to force the negro vote on the state and, to this end, Georgia had been declared in rebellion and put under the strictest martial law. Georgia's very existence as a state had been wiped out and it had become, with Florida and Alabama, "Military District Number Three," under the command of a Federal general.
If life had been insecure and frightening before this, it was doubly so now. The military regulations which had seemed so stringent the year before were now mild by comparison with the ones issued by General Pope. Confronted with the prospect of negro rule, the future seemed dark and hopeless, and the embittered state smarted and writhed helplessly. As for the negroes, their new importance went to their heads, and, realizing that they had the Yankee Army behind them, their outrages increased. No one was safe from them.
In this wild and fearful time, Scarlett was frightened frightened but determined, and she' still made her rounds alone, with Frank's pistol tucked in the upholstery of the buggy. She silently cursed the legislature for bringing this worse disaster upon them all. What good had it done, this fine brave stand, this gesture which everyone called gallant? It had just made matters so much worse.
As she' drew near the path that led down through the bare trees into the creek bottom where the Shantytown settlement was, she' clucked to the horse to quicken his speed. She always felt uneasy driving past this dirty, sordid cluster of discarded army tents and slave cabins. It had the worst reputation of any spot in or near Atlanta, for here lived in filth outcast negroes, black prostitutes and a scattering of poor whites of the lowest order. It was rumored to be the refuge of negro and white criminals and was the first place the Yankee soldiers searched when they wanted a man. Shootings and cuttings went on here with such regularity that the authorities seldom troubled to investigate and generally left the Shantytowners to settle their own dark affairs. Back in the woods there was a still that manufactured a cheap quality of corn whisky and, by night, the cabins in the creek bottoms resounded with drunken yells and curses.
Even the Yankees admitted that it was a plague spot and should be wiped out, but they took no steps in this direction. Indignation was loud among the inhabitants of Atlanta and Decatur who were forced to use the road for travel between the two towns. Men went by Shantytown with their pistols loosened in their holsters and nice women never willingly passed it, even under the protection of their men, for usually there were drunken negro slatterns sitting along the road, hurling insults and shouting coarse words.
As long as she' had Archie beside her, Scarlett had not given Shantytown a thought, because not even the most impudent negro woman dared laugh in her presence. But since she' had been forced to drive alone, there had been any number of annoying, maddening incidents. The negro sluts seemed to try themselves whenever she' drove by. There was nothing she' could do except ignore them and boil with rage. She could not even take comfort in airing her troubles to her neighbors or family because the neighbors would say triumphantly: "Well, what else did you expect?" And her family would take on dreadfully again and try to stop her. And she' had no intention of stopping her trips.
Thank Heaven, there were no ragged women along the roadside today! As she' passed the trail leading down to the settlement she' looked with distaste at the group of shacks squatting in the hollow in the dreary slant of the afternoon sun. There was a chill wind blowing, and as she' passed there came to her nose the mingled smells of wood smoke, frying pork and untended privies. Averting her nose, she' flapped the reins smartly across the horse's back and hurried him past and around the bend of the road.
Just as she' was beginning to draw a breath of relief, her heart rose in her throat with sudden fright, for a huge negro slipped silently from behind a large oak tree. She was frightened but not enough to lose her wits and, in an instant, the horse was pulled up and she' had Frank's pistol in her hand.
"What do you want?" she' cried with all the sternness she' could muster. The big negro ducked back behind the oak, and the voice that answered was frightened.
"Lawd, Miss Scarlett, doan shoot Big Sam!"
Big Sam! For a moment she' could not take in his words. Big Sam, the foreman of Tara whom she' had seen last in the days of the siege. What on earth . . .
"Come out of there and let me see if you are really Sam!"
Reluctantly he slid out of his hiding place, a giant ragged figure, bare footed, clad in denim breeches and a blue Union uniform jacket that was far too short and tight for his big frame. When she' saw it was really Big Sam, she' shoved the pistol down into the upholstery and smiled with pleasure.
"Oh, Sam! How nice to see you!"
Sam galloped over to the buggy, his eyes rolling with joy and his white teeth flashing, and clutched her outstretched hand with two black hands as big as hams. His watermelon pink tongue lapped out, his whole body wiggled and his joyful contortions were as ludicrous as the gambolings of a mastiff.
"Mah Lawd, it sho is good ter see some of de fambly agin!" he cried, scrunching her hand until she' felt that the bones would crack. "Hucoome you got so mean lak, totin' a gun, Miss Scarlett?"
"So many mean folks these days, Sam, that I have to tote it. What on earth are you doing in a nasty place like Shantytown, you, a respectable darky? And why haven't you been into town to see me?"
"Law'm, Miss Scarlett, ah doan lib in Shantytown. Ah jes' bidin' hyah fer a spell. Ah wouldn' lib in dat place for nuthin'. Ah nebber in mah life seed sech trashy niggers. An' Ah din' know you wuz in 'Lanta. Ah thought you wuz at Tara. Ah wuz aimin' ter come home ter Tara soon as Ah got de chance."
"Have you been living in Atlanta ever since the siege?"
"No, Ma'm! Ah been trabelin'!" He released her hand and she' painfully flexed it to see if the bones were intact. "'Member w'en you seed me las'?"
Scarlett remembered the hot day before the siege began when she' and Rhett had sat in the carriage and the gang of negroes with Big Sam at their head had marched down the dusty street toward the entrenchments singing "Go Down, Moses." She nodded.
"Wel, Ah wuked lak a dawg diggin' bresswuks an' fillin' San' bags, tell de Confedruts lef' 'Lanta. De cap'n gempmum whut had me in charge, he wuz kilt an' dar warn't nobody ter tell Big Sam whut ter do, so Ah jes' lay low in de bushes. Ah thought Ah'd try ter git home ter Tara, but den Ah hear dat all de country roun' Tara done buhnt up. 'Sides, Ah din' hab no way ter git back an' Ah wuz sceered de patterollers pick me up, kase Ah din' hab no pass. Den de Yankees come in an' a Yankee gempmum, he wuz a cunnel, he tek a shine ter me an' he keep me te ten' ter his hawse an' his boots.
"Yas, Ma'm! Ah sho did feel bigitty, bein' a body serbant lak Poke, w'en Ah ain' nuthin' but a fe'el han'. Ah ain' tell de Cunnel Ah wuz a fe'el han' an' he Well, Miss Scarlett, Yankees is iggerunt folks! He din' know de diffunce! So Ah stayed wid him an' Ah went ter Sabannah wid him w'en Gin'ul Sherman went dar, an' fo' Gawd, Miss Scarlett, Ah nebber seed sech awful goin' ons as Ah seed on de way ter Sabannah! A stealin' an' a buhnin' did dey buhn Tara, Miss Scarlett?"
"They set fire to it, but we put it out."
"Well'm, Ah sho glad ter hear dat. Tara mah home an' Ah is aimin' ter go back dar. An' w'en de wah ober, de Cunnel he say ter me: 'You Sam! You come on back Nawth wid me. Ah pay you good wages.' Well'm, lak all de niggers, Ah wuz honin' ter try disyere freedom fo' Ah went home, so Ah goes Nawth wid de Cunnel. Yas'm, us went ter Washington an' Noo Yawk an' den ter Bawston whar de Cunnel lib. Yas, Ma'am, Ah's a trabeled nigger! Miss Scarlett, dar's mo' hawses and cah'iges on dem Yankee streets dan you kin shake a stick at! Ah wuz sceered all de time Ah wuz gwine git runned ober!"
"Did you like it up North, Sam?"
Sam scratched his woolly head.
"Ah did an' Ah din't. De Cunnel, he a mighty fine man an' he unnerstan' niggers. But his wife, she' sumpin' else. His wife, she' call me 'Mister' fust time she' seed me. Yas'm, she' do dat an' Ah lak ter drap in mah tracks w'en she' do it. De Cunnel, he tell her ter call me 'Sam' an' den she' do it. But all dem Yankee folks, fust time dey meet me, dey call me 'Mist' O'Hara.' An' dey ast me ter set down wid dem, lak Ah wuz jes' as good as dey wuz. Well, Ah ain' nebber set down wid w'ite folks an' Ah is too ole ter learn. Dey treat me lak Ah jes' as good as dey wuz, Miss Scarlett, but in dere hearts, dey din' lak me dey din' lak no niggers. An' dey wuz sceered of me, kase Ah's so big. An' dey wuz allus astin' me 'bout de blood houn's dat chase me an' de beatin's Ah got. An', Lawd, Miss Scarlett, Ah ain' nebber got no beatin's! You know Mist' Gerald ain' gwine let nobody beat a 'spensive nigger lak me!
"W'en Ah tell dem dat an' tell dem how good Miss Ellen ter de niggers, an' how she' set up a whole week wid me w'en Ah had de pneumony, dey doan b'lieve me. An', Miss Scarlett, Ah got ter honin' fer Miss Ellen an' Tara, tell it look lak Ah kain stan' it no longer, an' one night Ah lit out fer home, an' Ah rid de freight cabs all de way down ter 'Lanta. Ef you buy me a ticket ter Tara, Ah sho be glad ter git home. Ah sho be glad ter see Miss Ellen and Mist' Gerald agin. An done had nuff freedom. Ah wants somebody ter feed me good vittles reg'lar, and tell me whut ter do an' whut not ter do, an' look affer me w'en Ah gits sick. S'pose Ah gits de pneumony agin? Is dat Yankee lady gwine tek keer of me? No, Ma'm! She gwine call me 'Mist' O'Hara' but she' ain' gwine nuss me. But Miss Ellen, she' gwine nuss me, do Ah git sick an' whut's de mattuh, Miss Scarlett?"
"Pa and Mother are both dead, Sam."
"Daid? Is you funnin' wid me, Miss Scarlett? Dat ain' no way ter treat me!"
"I'm not funning. It's true. Mother died when Sherman men came through Tara and Pa he went last June. Oh, Sam, don't cry. Please don't! If you do, I'll cry too. Sam, don't! I just can't stand it. Let's don't talk about it now. I'll tell you all about it some other time. . . . Miss Suellen is at Tara and she''s married to a mighty fine man, Mr. Will Benteen. And Miss Carreen, she''s in a " Scarlett paused. She could never make plain to the weeping giant what a convent was. "She's living in Charleston now. But Pork and Prissy are at Tara. . . . There, Sam, wipe your nose. Do you really want to go home?"
"Yas'm but it ain' gwine be lak Ah thought wid Miss Ellen an' "
"Sam, how'd you like to stay here in Atlanta and work for me? I need a driver and I need one bad with so many mean folks around these days."
"Yas'm. You sho do. Ah been aimin' ter say you ain' got no bizness drivin' 'round by yo'seff, Miss Scarlett. You ain' got no notion how mean some niggers is dese days, specially dem whut live hyah in Shantytown. It ain' safe fer you. Ah ain' been in Shantytown but two days, but Ah hear dem talk 'bout you. An' yesterday w'en you druv by an' dem trashy black wenches holler at you, Ah recernize you but you went by so fas' Ah couldn' ketch you. But Ah sho tan de hides of dem niggers! Ah sho did. Ain' you notice dar ain' none of dem roun' hyah terday?"
"I did notice and I certainly thank you, Sam. Well, how would you like to be my carriage man?"
"Miss Scarlett, thankee, Ma'm, but Ah specs Ah better go ter Tara."
Big Sam looked down and his bare toe traced aimless marks in the road. There was a furtive uneasiness about him.
"Now, why? I'll pay you good wages. You must stay with me."
The big black face, stupid and as easily read as a child's, looked up at her and there was fear in it. He came closer and, leaning over the side of the buggy, whispered:
"Miss Scarlett, Ah got ter git outer 'Lanta. Ah got ter git ter Tara whar dey woan fine me. Ah Ah done kilt a man."
"No'm. A w'ite man. A Yankee sojer and dey's lookin' fer me. Dat de reason Ah'm hyah at Shantytown."
"How did it happen?"
"He wuz drunk an' he said sumpin' Ah couldn' tek noways an' Ah got mah han's on his neck an' Ah din' mean ter kill him, Miss Scarlett, but mah han's is pow'ful strong, an' fo' Ah knowed it, he wuz kilt. An' Ah wuz so sceered Ah din' know whut ter do! So Ah come out hyah ter hide an' w'en Ah seed you go by yestiddy, Ah says 'Bress Gawd! Dar Miss Scarlett! She tek keer of me. She ain' gwine let de Yankees git me. She sen' me back ter Tara."
"You say they're after you? They know you did it?"
"Yas'm, Ah's so big dar ain' no mistakin' me. Ah spec Ah's de bigges' nigger in 'Lanta. Dey done been out hyah already affer me las' night but a nigger gal, she' hid me in a cabe ober in de woods, tell dey wuz gone."
Scarlett sat frowning for a moment. She was not in the least alarmed or distressed that Sam had committed murder, but she' was disappointed that she' could not have him as a driver. A big negro like Sam would be as good a bodyguard as Archie. Well, she' must get him safe to Tara somehow, for of course the authorities must not get him. He was too valuable a darky to be hanged. Why, he was the best foreman Tara had ever had! It did not enter Scarlett's mind that he was free. He still belonged to her, like Pork and Mammy and Peter and Cookie and Prissy. He was still "one of our family" and, as such, must be protected.
"I'll send you to Tara tonight," she' said finally. "Now Sam, I've got to drive out the road a piece, but I ought to be back here before sundown. You be waiting here for me when I come back. Don't tell anyone where you are going and if you've got a hat, bring it along to hide your face."
"Ah ain' got no hat."
"Well, here's a quarter. You buy a hat from one of those shanty darkies and meet me here."
"Yas'm." His face glowed with relief at once more having someone to tell him what to do.
Scarlett drove on thoughtfully. Will would certainly welcome a good field hand at Tara. Pork had never been any good in the fields and never would be any good. With Sam on the place, Pork could come to Atlanta and join Dilcey as she' had promised him when Gerald died.
When she' reached the mill the sun was setting and it was later than she' cared to be out. Johnnie Gallegher was standing in the doorway of the miserable shack that served as cook room for the little lumber camp. Sitting on a log in front of the slab sided shack that was their sleeping quarters were four of the five convicts Scarlett had apportioned to Johnnie's mill. Their convict uniforms were dirty and foul with sweat, shackles clanked between their ankles when they moved tiredly, and there was an air of apathy and despair about them. They were a thin, unwholesome lot, Scarlett thought, peering sharply at them, and when she' had leased them, so short a time before, they were an upstanding crew. They did not even raise their eyes as she' dismounted from the buggy but Johnnie turned toward her, carelessly dragging off his hat. His little brown face was as hard as a nut as he greeted her.
"I don't like the look of the men," she' said abruptly. "They don't look well. Where's the other one?"
"Says he's sick," said Johnnie laconically. "He's in the bunk house."
"What ails him?"
"I'll go see him."
"Don't do that. He's probably nekkid. I'll tend to him. He'll be back at work tomorrow."
Scarlett hesitated and saw one of the convicts raise a weary head and give Johnnie a stare of intense hatred before he looked at the ground again.
"Have you been whipping these men?"
"Now, Mrs. Kennedy, begging your pardon, who's running this mill? You put me in charge and told me to run it. You said I'd have a free hand. You ain't got no complaints to make of me, have you? Ain't I making twice as much for you as Mr. Elsing did?"
"Yes, you are," said Scarlett, but a shiver went over her, like a goose walking across her grave.
There was something sinister about this camp with its ugly shacks, something which had not been here when Hugh Elsing had it. There was a loneliness, an isolation, about it that chilled her. These convicts were so far away from everything, so completely at the mercy of Johnnie Gallegher, and if he chose to whip them or otherwise mistreat them, she' would probably never know about it. The convicts would be afraid to complain to her for fear of worse punishment after she' was gone.
"The men look thin. Are you giving them enough to eat? God knows, I spend enough money on their food to make them fat as hogs. The flour and pork alone cost thirty dollars last month. What are you giving them for supper?"
She stepped over to the cook shack and looked in. A fat mulatto woman, who was leaning over a rusty old stove, dropped a half curtsy as she' saw Scarlett and went on stirring a pot in which black eyed peas were cooking. Scarlett knew Johnnie Gallegher lived with her but thought it best to ignore the fact. She saw that except for the peas and a pan of corn pone there was no other food being prepared.
"Haven't you got anything else for these men?"
"Haven't you got any side meat in these peas?"
"No boiling bacon in the peas? But black eyed peas are no good without bacon. There's no strength to them. Why isn't there any bacon?"
"Mist' Johnnie, he say dar ain' no use puttin' in no side meat."
"You'll put bacon in. Where do you keep your supplies?"
The negro woman rolled frightened eyes toward the small closet that served as a pantry and Scarlett threw the door open. There was an open barrel of cornmeal on the floor, a small sack of flour, a pound of coffee, a little sugar, a gallon jug of sorghum and two hams. One of the hams sitting on the shelf had been recently cooked and only one or two slices had been cut from it. Scarlett turned in a fury on Johnnie Gallegher and met his coldly angry gaze.
"Where are the five sacks of white flour I sent out last week? And the sugar sack and the coffee? And I had five hams sent and ten pounds of side meat and God knows how many bushels of yams and Irish potatoes. Well, where are they? You can't have used them all in a week if you fed the men five meals a day. You've sold them! That's what you've done, you thief! Sold my good supplies and put the money in your pocket and fed these men on dried peas and corn pone. No wonder they look so thin. Get out of the way."
She stormed past him to the doorway.
"You, man, there on the end yes, you! Come here!"
The man rose and walked awkwardly toward her, his shackles clanking, and she' saw that his bare ankles were red and raw from the chafing of the iron.
"When did you last have ham?"
The man looked down at the ground.
Still the man stood silent and abject. Finally he raised his eyes, looked Scarlett in the face imploringly and dropped his gaze again.
"Scared to talk, eh? Well, go in the pantry and get that ham off the shelf. Rebecca, give him your knife. Take it out to those men and divide it up. Rebecca, make some biscuits and coffee for the men. And serve plenty of sorghum. Start now, so I can see you do it."
"Dat's Mist' Johnnie's privut flour an' coffee," Rebecca muttered frightenedly.
"Mr. Johnnie's, my foot! I suppose it's his private ham too. You do what I say. Get busy. Johnnie Gallegher, come out to the buggy with me."
She stalked across the littered yard and climbed into the buggy, noticing with grim satisfaction that the men were tearing at the ham and cramming bits into their mouths voraciously. They looked as if they feared it would be taken from them at any minute.
"You are a rare scoundrel!" she' cried furiously to Johnnie as he stood at the wheel, his hat pushed back from his lowering brow. "And you can just hand over to me the price of my supplies. In the future, I'll bring you provisions every day instead of ordering them by the month. Then you can't cheat me."
"In the future I won't be here," said Johnnie Gallegher.
"You mean you are quitting!"
For a moment it was on Scarlett's hot tongue to cry: "Go and good riddance!" but the cool hand of caution stopped her. If Johnnie should quit, what would she' do? He had been doubling the amount of lumber Hugh turned out. And just now she' had a big order, the biggest she' had ever had and a rush order at that. She had to get that lumber into Atlanta. If Johnnie quit, whom would she' get to take over the mill?
"Yes, I'm quitting. You put me in complete charge here and you told me that all you expected of me was as much lumber as I could possibly get out. You didn't tell me how to run my business then and I'm not aiming to have you start now. How I get the lumber out is no affair of yours. You can't complain that I've fallen down on my bargain. I've made money for you and I've earned my salary and what I could pick up on the side, too. And here you come out here, interfering, asking questions and breaking my authority in front of the men. How can you expect me to keep discipline after this? What if the men do get an occasional lick? The lazy scum deserve worse. What if they ain't fed up and pampered? They don't deserve nothing better. Either you tend to your business and let me tend to mine or I quit tonight."
His hard little face looked flintier than ever and Scarlett was in a quandary. If he quit tonight, what would she' do? She couldn't stay here all night guarding the convicts!
Something of her dilemma showed in her eyes for Johnnie's expression changed subtly and some of the hardness went out of his face. There was an easy agreeable note in his voice when he spoke.
"It's getting late, Mrs. Kennedy, and you'd better be getting on home. We ain't going to fall out over a little thing like this, are we? S'pose you take ten dollars out of my next month's wages and let's call it square."
Scarlett's eyes went unwillingly to the miserable group gnawing on the ham and she' thought of the sick man lying in the windy shack. She ought to get rid of Johnnie Gallegher. He was a thief and a brutal man. There was no telling what he did to the convicts when she' wasn't there. But, on the other hand, he was smart and, God knows, she' needed a smart man. Well, she' couldn't part with him now. He was making money for her. She'd just have to see to it that the convicts got their proper rations in the future.
"I'll take twenty dollars out of your wages," she' said shortly, "and I'll be back and discuss the matter further in the morning."
She picked up the reins. But she' knew there would be no further discussion. She knew that the matter had ended there and she' knew Johnnie knew it.
As she' drove off down the path to the Decatur road her conscience battled with her desire for money. She knew she' had no business exposing human lives to the hard little man's mercies. If he should cause the death of one of them she' would be as guilty as he was, for she' had kept him in charge after learning of his brutalities. But, on the other hand well, on the other hand, men had no business getting to be convicts. If they broke laws and got caught, then they deserved what they got. This partly salved her conscience but as she' drove down the road the dull thin faces of the convicts would keep coming back into her mind.
"Oh, I'll think of them later," she' decided, and pushed the thought into the lumber room of her mind and shut the door upon it.
The sun had completely gone when she' reached the bend in the road above Shantytown and the woods about her were dark. With the disappearance of the sun, a bitter chill had fallen on the twilight world and a cold wind blew through the dark woods, making the bare boughs crack and the dead leaves rustle. She had never been out this late by herself and she' was uneasy and wished herself home.
Big Sam was nowhere to be seen and, as she' drew rein to wait for him, she' worried about his absence, fearing the Yankees might have already picked him up. Then she' heard footsteps coming up the path from the settlement and a sigh of relief went through her lips. She'd certainly dress Sam down for keeping her waiting.
But it wasn't Sam who came round the bend.
It was a big ragged white man and a squat black negro with shoulders and chest like a gorilla. Swiftly she' flapped the reins on the horse's back and clutched the pistol. The horse started to trot and suddenly shied as the white man threw up his hand.
"Lady," he said, "can you give me a quarter? I'm sure hungry."
"Get out of the way," she' answered, keeping her voice as steady as she' could. "I haven't got any money. Giddap."
With a sudden swift movement the man's hand was on the horse's bridle.
"Grab her!" he shouted to the negro. "She's probably got her money in her bosom!"
What happened next was like a nightmare to Scarlett, and it all happened so quickly. She brought up her pistol swiftly and some instinct told her not to fire at the white man for fear of shooting the horse. As the negro came running to the buggy, his black face twisted in a leering grin, she' fired point blank at him. Whether or not she' hit him, she' never knew, but the next minute the pistol was wrenched from her hand by a grasp that almost broke her wrist. The negro was beside her, so close that she' could smell the rank odor of him as he tried to drag her over the buggy side. With her one free hand she' fought madly, clawing at his face, and then she' felt his big hand at her throat and, with a ripping noise, her basque was torn open from neck to waist. Then the black hand fumbled between her breasts, and terror and revulsion such as she' had never known came over her and she' screamed like an insane woman.
"Shut her up! Drag her out!" cried the white man, and the black hand fumbled across Scarlett's face to her mouth. She bit as savagely as she' could and then screamed again, and through her screaming she' heard the white man swear and realized that there was a third man in the dark road. The black hand dropped from her mouth and the negro leaped away as Big Sam charged at him.
"Run, Miss Scarlett!" yelled Sam, grappling with the negro; and Scarlett, shaking and screaming, clutched up the reins and whip and laid them both over the horse. It went off at a jump and she' felt the wheels pass over something soft, something resistant. It was the white man who lay in the road where Sam had knocked him down.
Maddened by terror, she' lashed the horse again and again and it struck a gait that made the buggy rock and sway. Through her terror she' was conscious of the sound of feet running behind her and she' screamed at the horse to go faster. If that black ape got her again, she' would die before he even got his hands upon her.
A voice yelled behind her: "Miss Scarlett! Stop!"
Without slacking, she' looked trembling over her shoulder and saw Big Sam racing down the road behind her, his long legs working like hard driven pistons. She drew rein as he came up and he flung himself into the buggy, his big body crowding her to one side. Sweat and blood were streaming down his face as he panted:
"Is you hu't? Did dey hu't you?"
She could not speak, but seeing the direction of his eyes and their quick averting, she' realized that her basque was open to the waist and her bare bosom and corset cover were showing. With a shaking hand she' clutched the two edges together and bowing her head began to cry in terrified sobs.
"Gimme dem lines," said Sam, snatching the reins from her. "Hawse, mek tracks!"
The whip cracked and the startled horse went off at a wild gallop that threatened to throw the buggy into the ditch.
"Ah hope Ah done kill dat black baboon. But Ah din' wait ter fine out," he panted. "But ef he hahmed you, Miss Scarlett, Ah'll go back an' mek sho of it."
"No no drive on quickly," she' sobbed.
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
That night when Frank deposited her and Aunt Pitty and the children at Melanie's and rode off down the street with Ashley, Scarlett could have burst with rage and hurt. How could he go off to a political meeting on this of all nights in the world? A political meeting! And on the same night when she' had been attacked, when anything might have happened to her! It was unfeeling and selfish of him. But then, he had taken the whole affair with maddening calm, ever since Sam had carried her sobbing into the house, her basque gaping to the waist. He hadn't clawed his beard even once when she' cried out her story. He had just questioned gently: "Sugar, are you hurt or just scared?"
Wrath mingling with her tears she' had been unable to answer and Sam had volunteered that she' was just scared.
"Ah got dar fo' dey done mo'n t'ar her dress."
"You're a good boy, Sam, and I won't forget what you've done. If there's anything I can do for you "
"Yassah, you kin sen' me ter Tara, quick as you kin. De Yankees is affer me."
Frank had listened to this statement calmly too, and had asked no questions. He had looked very much as he did the night Tony came beating on their door, as though this was an exclusively masculine affair and one to be handled with a minimum of words and emotions.
"You go get in the buggy. I'll have Peter drive you as far as Rough and Ready tonight and you can hide in the woods till morning and then catch the train to Jonesboro. It'll be safer. . . . Now, Sugar, stop crying. It's all over now and you aren't really hurt. Miss Pitty, could I have your smelling salts? And Mammy, fetch Miss Scarlett a glass of wine."
Scarlett had burst into renewed tears, this time tears of rage. She wanted comforting, indignation, threats of vengeance. She would even have preferred him storming at her, saying that this was just what he had warned her would happen anything rather than have him take it all so casually and treat her danger as a matter of small moment. He was nice and gentle, of course, but in an absent way as if he had something far more important on his mind.
And that important thing had turned out to be a small political meeting!
She could hardly believe her ears when he told her to change her dress and get ready for him to escort her over to Melanie's for the evening. He must know how harrowing her experience had been, must know she' did not want to spend an evening at Melanie's when her tired body and jangled nerves cried out for the warm relaxation of bed and blankets with a hot brick to make her toes tingle and a hot toddy to soothe her fears. If he really loved her, nothing could have forced him from her side on this of all nights. He would have stayed home and held her hand and told her over and over that he would have died if anything had happened to her. And when he came home tonight and she' had him alone, she' would certainly tell him so.
Melanie's small parlor looked as serene as it usually did on nights when Frank and Ashley were away and the women gathered together to sew. The room was warm and cheerful in the firelight. The lamp on the table shed a quiet yellow glow on the four smooth heads bent to their needlework. Four skirts billowed modestly, eight small feet were daintily placed on low hassocks. The quiet breathing of Wade, Ella and Beau came through the open door of the nursery. Archie sat on a stool by the hearth, his back against the fireplace, his cheek distended with tobacco, whittling industriously on a bit of wood. The contrast between the dirty, hairy old man and the four neat, fastidious ladies was as great as though he were a grizzled, vicious old watchdog and they four small kittens.
Melanie's soft voice, tinged with indignation, went on and on as she' told of the recent outburst of temperament on the part of the Lady Harpists. Unable to agree with the Gentlemen's Glee Club as to the program for their next recital, the ladies had waited on Melanie that afternoon and announced their intention of withdrawing completely from the Musical Circle. It had taken all of Melanie's diplomacy to persuade them to defer their decision.
Scarlett, overwrought, could have screamed: "Oh, damn the Lady Harpists!" She wanted to talk about her dreadful experience. She was bursting to relate it in detail, so she' could ease her own fright by frightening the others. She wanted to tell how brave she' had been, just to assure herself by the sound of her own words that she' had, indeed, been brave. But every time she' brought up the subject, Melanie deftly steered the conversation into other and innocuous channels. This irritated Scarlett almost beyond endurance. They were as mean as Frank.
How could they be so calm and placid when she' had just escaped so terrible a fate? They weren't even displaying common courtesy in denying her the relief of talking about it.
The events of the afternoon had shaken her more than she' cared to admit, even to herself. Every time she' thought of that malignant black face peering at her from the shadows of the twilight forest road, she' fell to trembling. When she' thought of the black hand at her bosom and what would have happened if Big Sam had not appeared, she' bent her head lower and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. The longer she' sat silent in the peaceful room, trying to sew, listening to Melanie's voice, the tighter her nerves stretched. She felt that at any moment she' would actually hear them break with the same pinging sound a banjo string makes when it snaps.
Archie's whittling annoyed her and she' frowned at him. Suddenly it seemed odd that he should be sitting there occupying himself with a piece of wood. Usually he lay flat on the sofa, during the evenings when he was on guard, and slept and snored so violently that his long beard leaped into the air with each rumbling breath. It was odder still that neither Melanie nor India hinted to him that he should spread a paper on the floor to catch his litter of shavings. He had already made a perfect mess on the hearth rug but they did not seem to have noticed it.
While she' watched him, Archie turned suddenly toward the fire and spat a stream of tobacco juice on it with such vehemence that India, Melanie and Pitty leaped as though a bomb had exploded.
"NEED you expectorate so loudly?" cried India in a voice that cracked with nervous annoyance. Scarlett looked at her in surprise for India was always so self contained.
Archie gave her look for look.
"I reckon I do," he answered coldly and spat again. Melanie gave a little frowning glance at India.
"I was always so glad dear Papa didn't chew," began Pitty, and Melanie, her frown creasing deeper, swung on her and spoke sharper words than Scarlett had ever heard her speak.
"Oh, do hush, Auntie! You're so tactless."
"Oh, dear!" Pitty dropped her sewing in her lap and her mouth pressed up in hurt. "I declare, I don't know what ails you all tonight. You and India are just as jumpy and cross as two old sticks."
No one answered her. Melanie did not even apologize for her crossness but went back to her sewing with small violence.
"You're taking stitches an inch long," declared Pitty with some satisfaction. "You'll have to take every one of them out. What's the matter with you?"
But Melanie still did not answer.
Was there anything the matter with them, Scarlett wondered? Had she' been too absorbed with her own fears to notice? Yes, despite Melanie's attempts to make the evening appear like any one of fifty they had all spent together, there was a difference due to their alarm and shock at what had happened that afternoon. Scarlett stole glances at her companions and intercepted a look from India. It discomforted her because it was a long, measuring glance that carried in its cold depths something stronger than hate, something more insulting than contempt.
"As though she' thought I was to blame for what happened," Scarlett thought indignantly.
India turned from her to Archie and, all annoyance at him gone from her face, gave him a look of veiled anxious inquiry. But he did not meet her eyes. He did however look at Scarlett, staring at her in the same cold hard way India had done.
Silence fell dully in the room as Melanie did not take up the conversation again and, in the silence, Scarlett heard the rising wind outside. It suddenly began to be a most unpleasant evening. Now she' began to feel the tension in the air and she' wondered if it had been present all during the evening and she' too upset to notice it. About Archie's face there was an alert waiting look and his tufted, hairy old ears seemed pricked up like a lynx's. There was a severely repressed uneasiness about Melanie and India that made them raise their heads from their sewing at each sound of hooves in the road, at each groan of bare branches under the wailing wind, at each scuffing sound of dry leaves tumbling across the lawn. They started at each soft snap of burning logs on the hearth as if they were stealthy footsteps.
Something was wrong and Scarlett wondered what it was. Something was afoot and she' did not know about it. A glance at Aunt Pitty's plump guileless face, screwed up in a pout, told her that the old lady was as ignorant as she'. But Archie and Melanie and India knew. In the silence she' could almost feel the thoughts of India and Melanie whirling as madly as squirrels in a cage. They knew something, were waiting for something, despite their efforts to make things appear as usual. And their inner unease communicated itself to Scarlett, making her more nervous than before. Handling her needle awkwardly, she' jabbed it into her thumb and with a little scream of pain and annoyance that made them all jump, she' squeezed it until a bright red drop appeared.
"I'm just too nervous to sew," she' declared, throwing her mending to the floor. "I'm nervous enough to scream. I want to go home and go to bed. And Frank knew it and he oughtn't to have gone out. He talks, talks, talks about protecting women against darkies and Carpetbaggers and when the time comes for him to do some protecting, where is he? At home, taking care of me? No, indeed, he's gallivanting around with a lot of other men who don't do anything but talk and "
Her snapping eyes came to rest on India's face and she' paused. India was breathing fast and her pale lashless eyes were fastened on Scarlett's face with a deadly coldness.
"If it won't pain you too much, India," she' broke off sarcastically, "I'd be much obliged if you'd tell me why you've been staring at me all evening. Has my face turned green or something?"
"It won't pain me to tell you. I'll do it with pleasure," said India and her eyes glittered. "I hate to see you underrate a fine man like Mr. Kennedy when, if you knew "
"India!" said Melanie warningly, her hands clenching on her sewing.
"I think I know my husband better than you do," said Scarlett, the prospect of a quarrel, the first open quarrel she' had ever had with India, making her spirits rise and her nervousness depart. Melanie's eyes caught India's and reluctantly India closed her lips. But almost instantly she' spoke again and her voice was cold with hate.
"You make me sick, Scarlett O'Hara, talking about being protected! You don't care about being protected! If you did you'd never have exposed yourself as you have done all these months, prissing yourself about this town, showing yourself off to strange men, hoping they'll admire you! What happened to you this afternoon was just what you deserved and if there was any justice you'd have gotten worse."
"Oh, India, hush!" cried Melanie.
"Let her talk," cried Scarlett. "I'm enjoying it. I always knew she' hated me and she' was too much of a hypocrite to admit it. If she' thought anyone would admire her, she''d be walking the streets naked from dawn till dark."
India was on her feet, her lean body quivering with insult.
"I do hate you," she' said in a clear but trembling voice. "But it hasn't been hypocrisy that's kept me quiet. It's something you can't understand, not possessing any any common courtesy, common good breeding. It's the realization that if all of us don't hang together and submerge our own small hates, we can't expect to beat the Yankees. But you you you've done all you could to lower the prestige of decent people working and bringing shame on a good husband, giving Yankees and riffraff the right to laugh at us and make insulting remarks about our lack of gentility. Yankees don't know that you aren't one of us and have never been. Yankees haven't sense enough to know that you haven't any gentility. And when you've ridden about the woods exposing yourself to attack, you've exposed every well behaved woman in town to attack by putting temptation in the ways of darkies and mean white trash. And you've put our men folks' lives in danger because they've got to "
"My God, India!" cried Melanie and even in her wrath, Scarlett was stunned to hear Melanie take the Lord's name in vain. "You must hush! She doesn't know and she' you must hush! You promised "
"Oh, girls!" pleaded Miss Pittypat, her lips trembling.
"What don't I know?" Scarlett was on her feet, furious, facing the coldly blazing India and the imploring Melanie.
"Guinea hens," said Archie suddenly and his voice was contemptuous. Before anyone could rebuke him, his grizzled head went up sharply and he rose swiftly. "Somebody comin' up the walk. 'Tain't Mr. Wilkes neither. Cease your cackle."
There was male authority in his voice and the women stood suddenly silent, anger fading swiftly from their faces as he stumped across the room to the door.
"Who's thar?" he questioned before the caller even knocked.
"Captain Butler. Let me in."
Melanie was across the floor so swiftly that her hoops swayed up violently, revealing her pantalets to the knees, and before Archie could put his hand on the knob she' flung the door open. Rhett Butler stood in the doorway, his black slouch hat low over his eyes, the wild wind whipping his cape about him in snapping folds. For once his good manners had deserted him. He neither took off his hat nor spoke to the others in the room. He had eyes for no one but Melanie and he spoke abruptly without greeting.
"Where have they gone? Tell me quickly. It's life or death."
Scarlett and Pitty, startled and bewildered, looked at each other in wonderment and, like a lean old cat, India streaked across the room to Melanie's side.
"Don't tell him anything," she' cried swiftly. "He's a spy, a Scallawag!"
Rhett did not even favor her with a glance.
"Quickly, Mrs. Wilkes! There may still be time."
Melanie seemed in a paralysis of terror and only stared into his face.
"What on earth " began Scarlett.
"Shet yore mouth," directed Archie briefly. "You too, Miss Melly. Git the hell out of here, you damned Scallawag."
"No, Archie, no!" cried Melanie and she' put a shaking hand on Rhett's arm as though to protect him from Archie. "What has happened? How did how did you know?"
On Rhett's dark face impatience fought with courtesy.
"Good God, Mrs. Wilkes, they've all been under suspicion since the beginning only they've been too clever until tonight! How do I know? I was playing poker tonight with two drunken Yankee captains and they let it out. The Yankees knew there'd be trouble tonight and they've prepared for it. The fools have walked into a trap."
For a moment it was as though Melanie swayed under the impact of a heavy blow and Rhett's arm went around her waist to steady her.
"Don't tell him! He's trying to trap you!" cried India, glaring at Rhett. "Didn't you hear him say he'd been with Yankee officers tonight?"
Still Rhett did not look at her. His eyes were bent insistently on Melanie's white face.
"Tell me. Where did they go? Have they a meeting place?"
Despite her fear and incomprehension, Scarlett thought she' had never seen a blanker, more expressionless face than Rhett's but evidently Melanie saw something else, something that made her give her trust. She straightened her small body away from the steadying arm and said quietly but with a voice that shook:
"Out the Decatur road near Shantytown. They meet in the cellar of the old Sullivan plantation the one that's half burned."
"Thank you. I'll ride fast. When the Yankees come here, none of you know anything."
He was gone so swiftly, his black cape melting into the night, that they could hardly realize he had been there at all until they heard the spattering of gravel and the mad pounding of a horse going off at full gallop.
"The Yankees coming here?" cried Pitty and, her small feet turning under her, she' collapsed on the sofa, too frightened for tears.
"What's it all about? What did he mean? If you don't tell me I'll go crazy!" Scarlett laid hands on Melanie and shook her violently as if by force she' could shake an answer from her.
"Mean? It means you've probably been the cause of Ashley's and Mr. Kennedy's death!" In spite of the agony of fear there was a note of triumph in India's voice. "Stop shaking Melly. She's going to faint."
"No, I'm not," whispered Melanie, clutching the back of a chair.
"My God, my God! I don't understand! Kill Ashley? Please, somebody tell me "
Archie's voice, like a rusty hinge, cut through Scarlett's words.
"Set down," he ordered briefly. "Pick up yore sewin'. Sew like nothin' had happened. For all we know, the Yankees might have been spyin' on this house since sundown. Set down, I say, and sew."
Trembling they obeyed, even Pitty picking up a sock and holding it in shaking fingers while her eyes, wide as a frightened child's went around the circle for an explanation.
"Where is Ashley? What has happened to him, Melly?" cried Scarlett.
"Where's your husband? Aren't you interested in him?" India's pale eyes blazed with insane malice as she' crumpled and straightened the torn towel she' had been mending.
"India, please!" Melanie had mastered her voice but her white, shaken face and tortured eyes showed the strain under which she' was laboring. "Scarlett, perhaps we should have told you but but you had been through so much this afternoon that we that Frank didn't think and you were always so outspoken against the Klan "
"The Klan "
At first, Scarlett spoke the word as if she' had never heard it before and had no comprehension of its meaning and then:
"The Klan!" she' almost screamed it. "Ashley isn't in the Klan! Frank can't be! Oh, he promised me!"
"Of course, Mr. Kennedy is in the Klan and Ashley, too, and all the men we know," cried India. "They are men, aren't they? And white men and Southerners. You should have been proud of him instead of making him sneak out as though it were something shameful and "
"You all have known all along and I didn't "
"We were afraid it would upset you," said Melanie sorrowfully.
"Then that's where they go when they're supposed to be at the political meetings? Oh, he promised me! Now, the Yankees will come and take my mills and the store and put him in jail oh, what did Rhett Butler mean?"
India's eyes met Melanie's in wild fear. Scarlett rose, flinging her sewing down.
"If you don't tell me, I'm going downtown and find out. I'll ask everybody I see until I find "
"Set," said Archie, fixing her with his eye. "I'll tell you. Because you went gallivantin' this afternoon and got yoreself into trouble through yore own fault, Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Kennedy and the other men are out tonight to kill that thar nigger and that thar white man, if they can catch them, and wipe out that whole Shantytown settlement. And if what that Scallawag said is true, the Yankees suspected sumpin' or got wind somehow and they've sont out troops to lay for them. And our men have walked into a trap. And if what Butler said warn't true, then he's a spy and he is goin' to turn them up to the Yankees and they'll git kilt just the same. And if he does turn them up, then I'll kill him, if it's the last deed of m' life. And if they ain't kilt, then they'll all have to light out of here for Texas and lay low and maybe never come back. It's all yore fault and thar's blood on yore hands."
Anger wiped out the fear from Melanie's face as she' saw comprehension come slowly across Scarlett's face and then horror follow swiftly. She rose and put her hand on Scarlett's shoulder.
"Another such word and you go out of this house, Archie," she' said sternly. "It's not her fault. She only did did what she' felt she' had to do. And our men did what they felt they had to do. People must do what they must do. We don't all think alike or act alike and it's wrong to to judge others by ourselves. How can you and India say such cruel things when her husband as well as mine may be may be "
"Hark!" interrupted Archie softly. "Set, Ma'm. Thar's horses."
Melanie sank into a chair, picked up one of Ashley's shirts and, bowing her head over it, unconsciously began to tear the frills into small ribbons.
The sound of hooves grew louder as horses trotted up to the house. There was the jangling of bits and the strain of leather and the sound of voices. As the hooves stopped in front of the house, one voice rose above the others in a command and the listeners heard feet going through the side yard toward the back porch. They felt that a thousand inimical eyes looked at them through the unshaded front window and the four women, with fear in their hearts, bent their heads and plied their needles. Scarlett's heart screamed in her breast: "I've killed Ashley! I've killed him!" And in that wild moment she' did not even think that she' might have killed Frank too. She had no room in her mind for any picture save that of Ashley, lying at the feet of Yankee cavalrymen, his fair hair dappled with blood.
As the harsh rapid knocking sounded at the door, she' looked at Melanie and saw come over the small, strained face a new expression, an expression as blank as she' had just seen on Rhett Butler's face, the bland blank look of a poker player bluffing a game with only two deuces.
"Archie, open the door," she' said quietly.
Slipping his knife into his boot top and loosening the pistol in his trouser band, Archie stumped over to the door and flung it open. Pitty gave a little squeak, like a mouse who feels the trap snap down, as she' saw massed in the doorway, a Yankee captain and a squad of bluecoats. But the others said nothing. Scarlett saw with the faintest feeling of relief that she' knew this officer. He was Captain Tom Jaffery, one of Rhett's friends. She had sold him lumber to build his house. She knew him to be a gentleman. Perhaps, as he was a gentleman, he wouldn't drag them away to prison. He recognized her instantly and, taking off his hat, bowed, somewhat embarrassed.
"Good evening, Mrs. Kennedy. And which of you ladies is Mrs. Wilkes?"
"I am Mrs. Wilkes," answered Melanie, rising and for all her smallness, dignity flowed from her. "And to what do I owe this intrusion?"
The eyes of the captain flickered quickly about the room, resting for an instant on each face, passing quickly from their faces to the table and the hat rack as though looking for signs of male occupancy.
"I should like to speak to Mr. Wilkes and Mr. Kennedy, if you please."
"They are not here," said Melanie, a chill in her soft voice.
"Are you sure?"
"Don't you question Miz Wilkes' word," said Archie, his beard bristling.
"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Wilkes. I meant no disrespect. If you give me your word, I will not search the house."
"You have my word. But search if you like. They are at a meeting downtown at Mr. Kennedy's store."
"They are not at the store. There was no meeting tonight," answered the captain grimly. "We will wait outside until they return."
He bowed briefly and went out, closing the door behind him. Those in the house heard a sharp order, muffled by the wind: "Surround the house. A man at each window and door." There was a tramping of feet. Scarlett checked a start of terror as she' dimly saw bearded faces peering in the windows at them. Melanie sat down and with a hand that did not tremble reached for a book on the table. It was a ragged copy of Les Miserables, that book which caught the fancy of the Confederate soldiers. They had read it by camp fire light and took some grim pleasure in calling it "Lee's Miserables." She opened it at the middle and began to read in a clear monotonous voice.
"Sew," commanded Archie in a hoarse whisper and the three women, nerved by Melanie's cool voice, picked up their sewing and bowed their heads.
How long Melanie read beneath that circle of watching eyes, Scarlett never knew but it seemed hours. She did not even hear a word that Melanie read. Now she' was beginning to think of Frank as well as Ashley. So this was the explanation of his apparent calm this evening! He had promised her he would have nothing to do with the Klan. Oh, this was just the kind of trouble she' had feared would come upon them! All the work of this last year would go for nothing. All her struggles and fears and labors in rain and cold had been wasted. And who would have thought that spiritless old Frank would get himself mixed up in the hot headed doings of the Klan? Even at this minute, he might be dead. And if he wasn't dead and the Yankees caught him, he'd be hanged. And Ashley, too!
Her nails dug into her palms until four bright red crescents showed. How could Melanie read on and on so calmly when Ashley was in danger of being hanged? When he might be dead? But something in the cool soft voice reading the sorrows of Jean Valjean steadied her, kept her from leaping to her feet and screaming.
Her mind fled back to the night Tony Fontaine had come to them, hunted, exhausted, without money. If he had not reached their house and received money and a fresh horse, he would have been hanged long since. If Frank and Ashley were not dead at this very minute, they were in Tony's position, only worse. With the house surrounded by soldiers they couldn't come home and get money and clothes without being captured. And probably every house up and down the street had a similar guard of Yankees, so they could not apply to friends for aid. Even now they might be riding wildly through the night, bound for Texas.
But Rhett perhaps Rhett had reached them in time. Rhett always had plenty of cash in his pocket. Perhaps he would lend them enough to see them through. But that was queer. Why should Rhett bother himself about Ashley's safety? Certainly he disliked him, certainly he professed a contempt for him. Then why But this riddle was swallowed up in a renewed fear for the safety of Ashley and Frank.
"Oh, it's all my fault!" she' wailed to herself. "India and Archie spoke the truth. It's all my fault. But I never thought either of them was foolish enough to join the Klan! And I never thought anything would really happen to me! But I couldn't have done otherwise. Melly spoke the truth. People have to do what they have to do. And I had to keep the mills going! I had to have money! And now I'll probably lose it all and somehow it's all my fault!"
After a long time Melanie's voice faltered, trailed off and was silent. She turned her head toward the window and stared as though no Yankee soldier stared back from behind the glass. The others raised their heads, caught by her listening pose, and they too listened.
There was a sound of horses' feet and of singing, deadened by the closed windows and doors, borne away by the wind but still recognizable. It was the most hated and hateful of all songs, the song about Sherman's men "Marching through Georgia" and Rhett Butler was singing it.
Hardly had he finished the first lines when two other voices, drunken voices, assailed him, enraged foolish voices that stumbled over words and blurred them together. There was a quick command from Captain Jaffery on the front porch and the rapid tramp of feet. But even before these sounds arose, the ladies looked at one another stunned. For the drunken voices expostulating with Rhett were those of Ashley and Hugh Elsing.
Voices rose louder on the front walk, Captain Jaffery's curt and questioning, Hugh's shrill with foolish laughter, Rhett's deep and reckless and Ashley's queer, unreal, shouting: "What the hell! What the hell!"
"That can't be Ashley!" thought Scarlett wildly. "He never gets drunk! And Rhett why, when Rhett's drunk he gets quieter and quieter never loud like that!"
Melanie rose and, with her, Archie rose. They heard the captain's sharp voice: "These two men are under arrest." And Archie's hand closed over his pistol butt.
"No," whispered Melanie firmly. "No. Leave it to me." There was in her face the same look Scarlett had seen that day at Tara when Melanie had stood at the top of the steps looking down at the dead Yankee, her weak wrist weighed down by the heavy saber a gentle and timid soul nerved by circumstances to the caution and fury of a tigress. She threw the front door open.
"Bring him in, Captain Butler," she' called in a clear tone that bit with venom. "I suppose you've gotten him intoxicated again. Bring him in."
From the dark windy walk, the Yankee captain spoke: "I'm sorry, Mrs. Wilkes, but your husband and Mr. Elsing are under arrest."
"Arrest? For what? For drunkenness? If everyone in Atlanta was arrested for drunkenness, the whole Yankee garrison would be in jail continually. Well, bring him in, Captain Butler that is, if you can walk yourself."
Scarlett's mind was not working quickly and for a brief moment nothing made sense. She knew neither Rhett nor Ashley was drunk and she' knew Melanie knew they were not drunk. Yet here was Melanie, usually so gentle and refined, screaming like a shrew and in front of Yankees too, that both of them were too drunk to walk.
There was a short mumbled argument, punctuated with curses, and uncertain feet ascended the stairs. In the doorway appeared Ashley, white faced, his head lolling, his bright hair tousled, his long body wrapped from neck to knees in Rhett's black cape. Hugh Elsing and Rhett, none too steady on their feet, supported him on either side and it was obvious he would have fallen to the floor but for their aid. Behind them came the Yankee captain, his face a study of mingled suspicion and amusement. He stood in the open doorway with his men peering curiously over his shoulders and the cold wind swept the house.
Scarlett, frightened, puzzled, glanced at Melanie and back to the sagging Ashley and then half comprehension came to her. She started to cry out: "But he can't be drunk!" and bit back the words. She realized she' was witnessing a play, a desperate play on which lives hinged. She knew she' was not part of it nor was Aunt Pitty but the others were and they were tossing cues to one another like actors in an oft rehearsed drama. She understood only half but she' understood enough to keep silent.
"Put him in the chair," cried Melanie indignantly. "And you, Captain Butler, leave this house immediately! How dare you show your face here after getting him in this condition again!"
The two men eased Ashley into a rocker and Rhett, swaying, caught hold of the back of the chair to steady himself and addressed the captain with pain in his voice.
"That's fine thanks I get, isn't it? For keeping the police from getting him and bringing him home and him yelling and trying to claw me!"
"And you, Hugh Elsing, I'm ashamed of you! What will your poor mother say? Drunk and out with a a Yankee loving Scallawag like Captain Butler! And, oh, Mr. Wilkes, how could you do such a thing?"
"Melly, I ain't so very drunk," mumbled Ashley, and with the words fell forward and lay face down on the table, his head buried in his arms.
"Archie, take him to his room and put him to bed as usual," ordered Melanie. "Aunt Pitty, please run and fix the bed and oo oh," she' suddenly burst into tears. "Oh, how could he? After he promised!"
Archie already had his arm under Ashley's shoulder and Pitty, frightened and uncertain, was on her feet when the captain interposed.
"Don't touch him. He's under arrest. Sergeant!"
As the sergeant stepped into the room, his rifle at trail, Rhett, evidently trying to steady himself, put a hand on the captain's arm and, with difficulty, focused his eyes.
"Tom, what you arresting him for? He ain't so very drunk. I've seen him drunker."
"Drunk be damned," cried the captain. "He can lie in the gutter for all I care. I'm no policeman. He and Mr. Elsing are under arrest for complicity in a Klan raid at Shantytown tonight. A nigger and a white man were killed. Mr. Wilkes was the ringleader in it."
"Tonight?" Rhett began to laugh. He laughed so hard that he sat down on the sofa and put his head in his hands. "Not tonight, Tom," he said when he could speak. "These two have been with me tonight ever since eight o'clock when they were supposed to be at the meeting."
"With you, Rhett? But " A frown came over the captain's forehead and he looked uncertainly at the snoring Ashley and his weeping wife. "But where were you?"
"I don't like to say," and Rhett shot a look of drunken cunning at Melanie.
"You'd better say!"
"Le's go out on the porch and I'll tell you where we were."
"You'll tell me now."
"Hate to say it in front of ladies. If you ladies'll step out of the room "
"I won't go," cried Melanie, dabbing angrily at her eyes with her handkerchief. "I have a right to know. Where was my husband?"
"At Belle Watling's sporting house," said Rhett, looking abashed. "He was there and Hugh and Frank Kennedy and Dr. Meade and and a whole lot of them. Had a party. Big party. Champagne. Girls "
"At at Belle Watling's?"
Melanie's voice rose until it cracked with such pain that all eyes turned frightenedly to her. Her hand went clutching at her bosom and, before Archie could catch her, she' had fainted. Then a hubbub ensued, Archie picking her up, India running to the kitchen for water, Pitty and Scarlett fanning her and slapping her wrists, while Hugh Elsing shouted over and over: "Now you've done it! Now you've done it!"
"Now it'll be all over town," said Rhett savagely. "I hope you're satisfied, Tom. There won't be a wife in Atlanta who'll speak to her husband tomorrow."
"Rhett, I had no idea " Though the chill wind was blowing through the open door on his back, the captain was perspiring. "Look here! You take an oath they were at er at Belle's?"
"Hell, yes," growled Rhett. "Go ask Belle herself if you don't believe me. Now, let me carry Mrs. Wilkes to her room. Give her to me, Archie. Yes, I can carry her. Miss Pitty, go ahead with a lamp."
He took Melanie's limp body from Archie's arms with ease.
"You get Mr. Wilkes to bed, Archie. I don't want to ever lay eyes or hands on him again after this night."
Pitty's hand trembled so that the lamp was a menace to the safety of the house but she' held it and trotted ahead toward the dark bedroom. Archie, with a grunt, got an arm under Ashley and raised him.
"But I've got to arrest these men!"
Rhett turned in the dim hallway.
"Arrest them in the morning then. They can't run away in this condition and I never knew before that it was illegal to get drunk in a sporting house. Good God, Tom, there are fifty witnesses to prove they were at Belle's."
"There are always fifty witnesses to prove a Southerner was somewhere he wasn't," said the captain morosely. "You come with me, Mr. Elsing. I'll parole Mr. Wilkes on the word of "
"I am Mr. Wilkes' sister. I will answer for his appearance," said India coldly. "Now, will you please go? You've caused enough trouble for one night."
"I regret it exceedingly." The captain bowed awkwardly. "I only hope they can prove their presence at the er Miss Mrs. Watling's house. Will you tell your brother that he must appear before the provost marshal tomorrow morning for questioning?"
India bowed coldly and, putting her hand upon the door knob, intimated silently that his speedy retirement would be welcome. The captain and the sergeant backed out, Hugh Elsing with them, and she' slammed the door behind them. Without even looking at Scarlett, she' went swiftly to each window and drew down the shade. Scarlett, her knees shaking, caught hold of the chair in which Ashley had been sitting to steady herself. Looking down at it, she' saw that there was a dark moist spot, larger than her hand, on the cushion in the back of the chair. Puzzled, her hand went over it and, to her horror, a sticky red wetness appeared on her palm.
"India," she' whispered, "India, Ashley's he's hurt."
"You fool! Did you think he was really drunk?"
India snapped down the last shade and started on flying feet for the bedroom, with Scarlett close behind her, her heart in her throat. Rhett's big body barred the doorway but, past his shoulder, Scarlett saw Ashley lying white and still on the bed. Melanie, strangely quick for one so recently in a faint, was rapidly cutting off his blood soaked shirt with embroidery scissors. Archie held the lamp low over the bed to give light and one of his gnarled fingers was on Ashley's wrist.
"Is he dead?" cried both girls together.
"No, just fainted from loss of blood. It's through his shoulder," said Rhett.
"Why did you bring him here, you fool?" cried India. "Let me get to him! Let me pass! Why did you bring him here to be arrested?"
"He was too weak to travel. There was nowhere else to bring him, Miss Wilkes. Besides do you want him to be an exile like Tony Fontaine? Do you want a dozen of your neighbors to live in Texas under assumed names for the rest of their lives? There's a chance that we may get them all off if Belle "
"Let me pass!"
"No, Miss Wilkes. There's work for you. You must go for a doctor Not Dr. Meade. He's implicated in this and is probably explaining to the Yankees at this very minute. Get some other doctor. Are you afraid to go out alone at night?"
"No," said India, her pale eyes glittering. "I'm not afraid." She caught up Melanie's hooded cape which was hanging on a hook in the hall. "I'll go for old Dr. Dean." The excitement went out of her voice as, with an effort, she' forced calmness. "I'm sorry I called you a spy and a fool. I did not understand. I'm deeply grateful for what you've done for Ashley but I despise you just the same."
"I appreciate frankness and I thank you for it." Rhett bowed and his lip curled down in an amused smile. "Now, go quickly and by back ways and when you return do not come in this house if you see signs of soldiers about."
India shot one more quick anguished look at Ashley, and, wrapping her cape about her, ran lightly down the hall to the back door and let herself out quietly into the night.
Scarlett, straining her eyes past Rhett, felt her heart beat again as she' saw Ashley's eyes open. Melanie snatched a folded towel from the washstand rack and pressed it against his streaming shoulder and he smiled up weakly, reassuringly into her face. Scarlett felt Rhett's hard penetrating eyes upon her, knew that her heart was plain upon her face, but she' did not care. Ashley was bleeding, perhaps dying and she' who loved him had torn that hole through his shoulder. She wanted to run to the bed, sink down beside it and clasp him to her but her knees trembled so that she' could not enter the room. Hand at her mouth, she' stared while Melanie packed a fresh towel against his shoulder, pressing it hard as though she' could force back the blood into his body. But the towel reddened as though by magic.
How could a man bleed so much and still live? But, thank God, there was no bubble of blood at his lips oh, those frothy red bubbles, forerunners of death that she' knew so well from the dreadful day of the battle at Peachtree Creek when the wounded had died on Aunt Pitty's lawn with bloody mouths.
"Brace up," said Rhett, and there was a hard, faintly jeering note in his voice. "He won't die. Now, go take the lamp and hold it for Mrs. Wilkes. I need Archie to run errands."
Archie looked across the lamp at Rhett.
"I ain't takin' no orders from you," he said briefly, shifting his wad of tobacco to the other cheek.
"You do what he says," said Melanie sternly, "and do it quickly. Do everything Captain Butler says. Scarlett, take the lamp."
Scarlett went forward and took the lamp, holding it in both hands to keep from dropping it. Ashley's eyes had closed again. His bare chest heaved up slowly and sank quickly and the red stream seeped from between Melanie's small frantic fingers. Dimly she' heard Archie stump across the room to Rhett and heard Rhett's low rapid words. Her mind was so fixed upon Ashley that of the first half whispered words of Rhett, she' only heard: "Take my horse . . . tied outside . . . ride like hell."
Archie mumbled some question and Scarlett heard Rhett reply: "The old Sullivan plantation. You'll find the robes pushed up the biggest chimney. Burn them."
"Um," grunted Archie.
"And there's two men in the cellar. Pack them over the horse as best you can and take them to that vacant lot behind Belle's the one between her house and the railroad tracks. Be careful. If anyone sees you, you'll hang as well as the rest of us. Put them in that lot and put pistols near them in their hands. Here take mine."
Scarlett, looking across the room, saw Rhett reach under his coat tails and produce two revolvers which Archie took and shoved into his waist band.
"Fire one shot from each. It's got to appear like a plain case of shooting. You understand?"
Archie nodded as if he understood perfectly and an unwilling gleam of respect shone in his cold eye. But understanding was far from Scarlett. The last half hour had been so nightmarish that she' felt nothing would ever be plain and clear again. However, Rhett seemed in perfect command of the bewildering situation and that was a small comfort.
Archie turned to go and then swung about and his one eye went questioningly to Rhett's face.
Archie grunted and spat on the floor.
"Hell to pay," he said as he stumped down the hall to the back door.
Something in the last low interchange of words made a new fear and suspicion rise up in Scarlett's breast like a chill ever swelling bubble. When that bubble broke
"Where's Frank?" she' cried.
Rhett came swiftly across the room to the bed, his big body swinging as lightly and noiselessly as a cat's.
"All in good time," he said and smiled briefly. "Steady that lamp, Scarlett. You don't want to burn Mr. Wilkes up. Miss Melly "
Melanie looked up like a good little soldier awaiting a command and so tense was the situation it did not occur to her that for the first time Rhett was calling her familiarly by the name which only family and old friends used.
"I beg your pardon, I mean, Mrs. Wilkes. . . ."
"Oh, Captain Butler, do not ask my pardon! I should feel honored if you called me 'Melly' without the Miss! I feel as though you were my my brother or or my cousin. How kind you are and how clever! How can I ever thank you enough?"
"Thank you," said Rhett and for a moment he looked almost embarrassed. "I should never presume so far, but Miss Melly," and his voice was apologetic, "I'm sorry I had to say that Mr. Wilkes was in Belle Watling's house. I'm sorry to have involved him and the others in such a a But I had to think fast when I rode away from here and that was the only plan that occurred to me. I knew my word would be accepted because I have so many friends among the Yankee officers. They do me the dubious honor of thinking me almost one of them because they know my shall we call it my 'unpopularity'? among my townsmen. And you see, I was playing poker in Belle's bar earlier in the evening. There are a dozen Yankee soldiers who can testify to that. And Belle and her girls will gladly lie themselves black in the face and say Mr. Wilkes and the others were upstairs all evening. And the Yankees will believe them. Yankees are queer that way. It won't occur to them that women of their profession are capable of intense loyalty or patriotism. The Yankees wouldn't take the word of a single nice Atlanta lady as to the whereabouts of the men who were supposed to be at the meeting tonight but they will take the word of fancy ladies. And I think that between the word of honor of a Scallawag and a dozen fancy ladies, we may have a chance of getting the men off."
There was a sardonic grin on his face at the last words but it faded as Melanie turned up to him a face that blazed with gratitude.
"Captain Butler, you are so smart! I wouldn't have cared if you'd said they were in hell itself tonight, if it saves them! For I know and every one else who matters knows that my husband was never in a dreadful place like that!"
"Well " began Rhett awkwardly, "as a matter of fact, he was at Belle's tonight."
Melanie drew herself up coldly.
"You can never make me believe such a lie!"
"Please, Miss Melly! Let me explain! When I got out to the old Sullivan place tonight, I found Mr. Wilkes wounded and with him were Hugh Elsing and Dr. Meade and old man Merriwether "
"Not the old gentleman!" cried Scarlett.
"Men are never too old to be fools. And your Uncle Henry "
"Oh, mercy!" cried Aunt Pitty.
"The others had scattered after the brush with the troops and the crowd that stuck together had come to the Sullivan place to hide their robes in the chimney and to see how badly Mr. Wilkes was hurt. But for his wound, they'd be headed for Texas by now all of them but he couldn't ride far and they wouldn't leave him. It was necessary to prove that they had been somewhere instead of where they had been, and so I took them by back ways to Belle Watling's."
"Oh I see. I do beg your pardon for my rudeness, Captain Butler. I see now it was necessary to take them there but Oh, Captain Butler, people must have seen you going in!"
"No one saw us. We went in through a private back entrance that opens on the railroad tracks. It's always dark and locked."
"Then how ?"
"I have a key," said Rhett laconically, and his eyes met Melanie's evenly.
As the full impact of the meaning smote her, Melanie became so embarrassed that she' fumbled with the bandage until it slid off the wound entirely.
"I did not mean to pry " she' said in a muffled voice, her white face reddening, as she' hastily pressed the towel back into place.
"I regret having to tell a lady such a thing."
"Then it's true!" thought Scarlett with an odd pang. "Then he does live with that dreadful Watling creature! He does own her house!"
"I saw Belle and explained to her. We gave her a list of the men who were out tonight and she' and her girls will testify that they were all in her house tonight. Then to make our exit more conspicuous, she' called the two desperadoes who keep order at her place and had us dragged downstairs, fighting, and through the barroom and thrown out into the street as brawling drunks who were disturbing the place."
He grinned reminiscently. "Dr. Meade did not make a very convincing drunk. It hurt his dignity to even be in such a place. But your Uncle Henry and old man Merriwether were excellent. The stage lost two great actors when they did not take up the drama. They seemed to enjoy the affair. I'm afraid your Uncle Henry has a black eye due to Mr. Merriwether's zeal for his part. He "
The back door swung open and India entered, followed by old Dr. Dean, his long white hair tumbled, his worn leather bag bulging under his cape. He nodded briefly but without words to those present and quickly lifted the bandage from Ashley's shoulder.
"Too high for the lung," he said. "If it hasn't splintered his collar bone it's not so serious. Get me plenty of towels, ladies, and cotton if you have it, and some brandy."
Rhett took the lamp from Scarlett and set it on the table as Melanie and India sped about, obeying the doctor's orders.
"You can't do anything here. Come into the parlor by the fire." He took her arm and propelled her from the room. There was a gentleness foreign to him in both hand and voice. "You've had a rotten day, haven't you?"
She allowed herself to be led into the front room and though she' stood on the hearth rug in front of the fire she' began to shiver. The bubble of suspicion in her breast was swelling larger now. It was more than a suspicion. It was almost a certainty and a terrible certainty. She looked up into Rhett's immobile face and for a moment she' could not speak. Then:
"Was Frank at Belle Watling's?"
Rhett's voice was blunt.
"Archie's carrying him to the vacant lot near Belle's. He's dead. Shot through the head."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Few families in the north end of town slept that night for the news of the disaster to the Klan, and Rhett's stratagem spread swiftly on silent feet as the shadowy form of India Wilkes slipped through back yards, whispered urgently through kitchen doors and slipped away into the windy darkness. And in her path, she' left fear and desperate hope.
From without, houses looked black and silent and wrapped in sleep but, within, voices whispered vehemently into the dawn. Not only those involved in the night's raid but every member of the Klan was ready for flight and in almost every stable along Peachtree Street, horses stood saddled in the darkness, pistols in holsters and food in saddlebags. All that prevented a wholesale exodus was India's whispered message: "Captain Butler says not to run. The roads will be watched. He has arranged with that Watling creature " In dark rooms men whispered: "But why should I trust that damned Scallawag Butler? It may be a trap!" And voices implored: "Don't go! If he saved Ashley and Hugh, he may save everybody. If India and Melanie trust him " And they half trusted and stayed because there was no other course open to them.
Earlier in the night, the soldiers had knocked at a dozen doors and those who could not or would not tell where they had been that night were marched off under arrest. Rene Picard and one of Mrs. Merriwether's nephews and the Simmons boys and Andy Bonnell were among those who spent the night in jail. They had been in the ill starred foray but had separated from the others after the shooting. Riding hard for home they were arrested before they learned of Rhett's plan. Fortunately they all replied, to questions, that where they had been that night was their own business and not that of any damned Yankees. They had been locked up for further questioning in the morning. Old man Merriwether and Uncle Henry Hamilton declared shamelessly that they had spent the evening at Belle Watling's sporting house and when Captain Jaffery remarked irritably that they were too old for such goings on, they wanted to fight him.
Belle Watling herself answered Captain Jaffery's summons, and before he could make known his mission she' shouted that the house was closed for the night. A passel of quarrelsome drunks had called in the early part of the evening and had fought one another, torn the place up, broken her finest mirrors and so alarmed the young ladies that all business had been suspended for the night. But if Captain Jaffery wanted a drink; the bar was still open
Captain Jaffery, acutely conscious of the grins of his men and feeling helplessly that he was fighting a mist, declared angrily that he wanted neither the young ladies nor a drink and demanded if Belle knew the names of her destructive customers. Oh, yes, Belle knew them. They were her regulars. They came every Wednesday night and called themselves the Wednesday Democrats, though what they meant by that she' neither knew or cared. And if they didn't pay for the damage to the mirrors in the upper hall, she' was going to have the law on them. She kept a respectable house and Oh, their names? Belle unhesitatingly reeled off the names of twelve under suspicion, Captain Jaffery smiled sourly.
"These damned Rebels are as efficiently organized as our Secret Service," he said. "You and your girls will have to appear before the provost marshal tomorrow."
"Will the provost make them pay for my mirrors?"
"To hell with your mirrors! Make Rhett Butler pay for them. He owns the place, doesn't he?"
Before dawn, every ex Confederate family in town knew everything. And their negroes, who had been told nothing, knew everything too, by that black grapevine telegraph system which defies white understanding. Everyone knew the details of the raid, the killing of Frank Kennedy and crippled Tommy Wellburn and how Ashley was wounded in carrying Frank's body away.
Some of the feeling of bitter hatred the women bore Scarlett for her share in the tragedy was mitigated by the knowledge that her husband was dead and she' knew it and could not admit it and have the poor comfort of claiming his body. Until morning light disclosed the bodies and the authorities notified her, she' must know nothing. Frank and Tommy, pistols in cold hands, lay stiffening among the dead weeds in a vacant lot. And the Yankees would say they killed each other in a common drunken brawl over a girl in Belle's house. Sympathy ran high for Fanny, Tommy's wife, who had just had a baby, but no one could slip through the darkness to see her and comfort her because a squad of Yankees surrounded the house, waiting for Tommy to return. And there was another squad about Aunt Pitty's house, waiting for Frank.
Before dawn the news had trickled about that the military inquiry would take place that day. The townspeople, heavy eyed from sleeplessness and anxious waiting, knew that the safety of some of their most prominent citizens rested on three things the ability of Ashley Wilkes to stand on his feet and appear before the military board, as though he suffered nothing more serious than a morning after headache, the word of Belle Watling that these men had been in her house all evening and the word of Rhett Butler that he had been with them.
The town writhed at these last two! Belle Watling! To owe their men's lives to her! It was intolerable! Women who had ostentatiously crossed the street when they saw Belle coming, wondered if she' remembered and trembled for fear she' did. The men felt less humiliation at taking their lives from Belle than the women did, for many of them thought her a good sort. But they were stung that they must owe lives and freedom to Rhett Butler, a speculator and a Scallawag. Belle and Rhett, the town's best known fancy woman and the town's most hated man. And they must be under obligation to them.
Another thought that stung them to impotent wrath was the knowledge that the Yankees and Carpetbaggers would laugh. Oh, how they would laugh! Twelve of the town's most prominent citizens revealed as habitual frequenters of Belle Watling's sporting house! Two of them killed in a fight over a cheap little girl, others ejected from the place as too drunk to be tolerated even by Belle and some under arrest, refusing to admit they were there when everyone knew they were there!
Atlanta was right in fearing that the Yankees would laugh. They had squirmed too long beneath Southern coldness and contempt and now they exploded with hilarity. Officers woke comrades and retailed the news. Husbands roused wives at dawn and told them as much as could be decently told to women. And the women, dressing hastily, knocked on their neighbors' doors and spread the story. The Yankee ladies were charmed with it all and laughed until tears ran down their faces. This was Southern chivalry and gallantry for you! Maybe those women who carried their heads so high and snubbed all attempts at friendliness wouldn't be so uppity, now that everyone knew where their husbands spent their time when they were supposed to be at political meetings. Political meetings! Well, that was funny!
But even as they laughed, they expressed regret for Scarlett and her tragedy. After all, Scarlett was a lady and one of the few ladies in Atlanta who were nice to Yankees. She had already won their sympathy by the fact that she' had to work because her husband couldn't or wouldn't support her properly. Even though her husband was a sorry one, it was dreadful that the poor thing should discover he had been untrue to her. And it was doubly dreadful that his death should occur simultaneously with the discovery of his infidelity. After all, a poor husband was better than no husband at all, and the Yankee ladies decided they'd be extra nice to Scarlett. But the others, Mrs. Meade, Mrs. Merriwether, Mrs. Elsing, Tommy Wellburn's widow and most of all, Mrs. Ashley Wilkes, they'd laugh in their faces every time they saw them. That would teach them a little courtesy.
Much of the whispering that went on in the dark rooms on the north side of town that night was on this same subject. Atlanta ladies vehemently told their husbands that they did not care a rap what the Yankees thought. But inwardly they felt that running an Indian gantlet would be infinitely preferable to suffering the ordeal of Yankee grins and not being able to tell the truth about their husbands.
Dr. Meade, beside himself with outraged dignity at the position into which Rhett had jockeyed him and the others, told Mrs. Meade that, but for the fact that it would implicate the others, he would rather confess and be hanged than say he had been at Belle's house.
"It is an insult to you, Mrs. Meade," he fumed.
"But everyone will know you weren't there for for "
"The Yankees won't know. They'll have to believe it if we save our necks. And they'll laugh. The very thought that anyone will believe it and laugh infuriates me. And it insults you because my dear, I have always been faithful to you."
"I know that," and in the darkness Mrs. Meade smiled and slipped a thin hand into the doctor's. "But I'd rather it were really true than have one hair of your head in danger."
"Mrs. Meade, do you know what you are saying?" cried the doctor, aghast at the unsuspected realism of his wife.
"Yes, I know. I've lost Darcy and I've lost Phil and you are all I have and, rather than lose you, I'd have you take up your permanent abode at that place."
"You are distrait! You cannot know what you are saying."
"You old fool," said Mrs. Meade tenderly and laid her head against his sleeve.
Dr. Meade fumed into silence and stroked her cheek and then exploded again. "And to be under obligation to that Butler man! Hanging would be easy compared to that. No, not even if I owe him my life, can I be polite to him. His insolence is monumental and his shamelessness about his profiteering makes me boil. To owe my life to a man who never went in the army "
"Melly said he enlisted after Atlanta fell."
"It's a lie. Miss Melly will believe any plausible scoundrel. And what I can't understand is why he is doing all this going to all this trouble. I hate to say it but well, there's always been talk about him and Mrs. Kennedy. I've seen them coming in from rides together too often this last year. He must have done it because of her."
"If it was because of Scarlett, he wouldn't have lifted his hand. He'd have been glad to see Frank Kennedy hanged. I think it's because of Melly "
"Mrs. Meade, you can't be insinuating that there's ever been anything between those two!"
"Oh, don't be silly! But she''s always been unaccountably fond of him ever since he tried to get Ashley exchanged during the war. And I must say this for him, he never smiles in that nasty nice way when he's with her. He's just as pleasant and thoughtful as can be really a different man. You can tell by the way he acts with Melly that he could be decent if he wanted to. Now, my idea of why he's doing all this is " She paused. "Doctor, you won't like my idea."
"I don't like anything about this whole affair!"
"Well, I think he did it partly for Melly's sake but mostly because he thought it would be a huge joke on us all. We've hated him so much and showed it so plainly and now he's got us in a fix where all of you have your choice of saying you were at that Watling woman's house and shaming yourself and wives before the Yankees or telling the truth and getting hanged. And he knows we'll all be under obligation to him and his mistress and that we'd almost rather be hanged than be obliged to them. Oh, I'll wager he's enjoying it."
The doctor groaned. "He did look amused when he took us upstairs in that place."
"Doctor," Mrs. Meade hesitated, "what did it look like?"
"What are you saying, Mrs. Meade?"
"Her house. What did it look like? Are there cut glass chandeliers? And red plush curtains and dozens of full length gilt mirrors? And were the girls were they unclothed?"
"Good God!" cried the doctor, thunderstruck, for it had never occurred to him that the curiosity of a chaste woman concerning her unchaste sisters was so devouring. "How can you ask such immodest questions? You are not yourself. I will mix you a sedative."
"I don't want a sedative. I want to know. Oh, dear, this is my only chance to know what a bad house looks like and now you are mean enough not to tell me!"
"I noticed nothing. I assure you I was too embarrassed at finding myself in such a place to take note of my surroundings," said the doctor formally, more upset at this unsuspected revelation of his wife's character than he had been by all the previous events of the evening. "If you will excuse me now, I will try to get some sleep."
"Well, go to sleep then," she' answered, disappointment in her tones. Then as the doctor leaned over to remove his boots, her voice spoke from the darkness with renewed cheerfulness. "I imagine Dolly has gotten it all out of old man Merriwether and she' can tell me about it."
"Good Heavens, Mrs. Meade! Do you mean to tell me that nice women talk about such things among them "
"Oh, go to bed," said Mrs. Meade.
It sleeted the next day, but as the wintry twilight drew on the icy particles stopped falling and a cold wind blew. Wrapped in her cloak, Melanie went bewilderedly down her front walk behind a strange negro coachman who had summoned her mysteriously to a closed carriage waiting in front of the house. As she' came up to the carriage the door was opened and she' saw a woman in the dim interior.
Leaning closer, peering inside, Melanie questioned: "Who is it? Won't you come in the house? It's so cold "
"Please come in here and set with me a minute, Miz Wilkes," came a faintly familiar voice, an embarrassed voice from the depths of the carriage.
"Oh, you're Miss Mrs. Watling!" cried Melanie. "I did so want to see you! You must come in the house."
"I can't do that, Miz Wilkes." Belle Watling's voice sounded scandalized. "You come in here and set a minute with me."
Melanie entered the carriage and the coachman closed the door behind her. She sat down beside Belle and reached for her hand.
"How can I ever thank you enough for what you did today! How can any of us thank you enough!"
"Miz Wilkes, you hadn't ought of sent me that note this mornin'. Not that I wasn't proud to have a note from you but the Yankees might of got it. And as for sayin' you was goin' to call on me to thank me why, Miz Wilkes, you must of lost your mind! The very idea! I come up here as soon as 'twas dark to tell you you mustn't think of any sech thing. Why, I why, you it wouldn't be fittin' at all."
"It wouldn't be fitting for me to call and thank a kind woman who saved my husband's life?"
"Oh, shucks, Miz Wilkes! You know what I mean!"
Melanie was silent for a moment, embarrassed by the implication. Somehow this handsome, sedately dressed woman sitting in the darkness of the carriage didn't look and talk as she' imagined a bad woman, the Madam of a House, should look and talk. She sounded like well, a little common and countrified but nice and warm hearted.
"You were wonderful before the provost marshal today, Mrs. Watling! You and the other your the young ladies certainly saved our men's lives."
"Mr. Wilkes was the wonderful one. I don't know how he even stood up and told his story, much less look as cool as he done. He was sure bleedin' like a pig when I seen him last night. Is he goin' to be all right, Miz Wilkes?"
"Yes, thank you. The doctor says it's just a flesh wound, though he did lose a tremendous lot of blood. This morning he was well, he was pretty well laced with brandy or he'd never have had the strength to go through with it all so well. But it was you, Mrs. Watling, who saved them. When you got mad and talked about the broken mirrors you sounded so so convincing."
"Thank you, Ma'm. But I I thought Captain Butler done mighty fine too," said Belle, shy pride in her voice.
"Oh, he was wonderful!" cried Melanie warmly. "The Yankees couldn't help but believe his testimony. He was so smart about the whole affair. I can never thank him enough or you either! How good and kind you are!"
"Thank you kindly, Miz Wilkes. It was a pleasure to do it. I I hope it ain't goin' to embarrass you none, me sayin' Mr. Wilkes come regular to my place. He never, you know "
"Yes, I know. No, it doesn't embarrass me at all. I'm just so grateful to you."
"I'll bet the other ladies ain't grateful to me," said Belle with sudden venom. "And I'll bet they ain't grateful to Captain Butler neither. I'll bet they'll hate him just this much more. I'll bet you'll be the only lady who even says thanks to me. I'll bet they won't even look me in the eye when they see me on the street. But I don't care. I wouldn't of minded if all their husbands got hung. But I did mind about Mr. Wilkes. You see I ain't forgot how nice you was to me durin' the war, about the money for the hospital. There ain't never been a lady in this town nice to me like you was and I don't forget a kindness. And I thought about you bein' left a widder with a little boy if Mr. Wilkes got hung and he's a nice little boy, your boy is, Miz Wilkes. I got a boy myself and so I "
"Oh, you have? Does he live er "
"Oh, no'm! He ain't here in Atlanta. He ain't never been here. He's off at school. I ain't seen him since he was little. I well, anyway, when Captain Butler wanted me to lie for those men I wanted to know who the men was and when I heard Mr. Wilkes was one I never hesitated. I said to my girls, I said, 'I'll whale the livin' daylights out of you all if you don't make a special point of sayin' you was with Mr. Wilkes all evenin'."
"Oh!" said Melanie, still more embarrassed by Belle's offhand reference to her "girls." "Oh, that was er kind of you and of them, too."
"No more'n you deserve," said Belle warmly. "But I wouldn't of did it for just anybody. If it had been that Miz Kennedy's husband by hisself, I wouldn't of lifted a finger, no matter what Captain Butler said."
"Well, Miz Wilkes, people in my business knows a heap of things. It'd surprise and shock a heap of fine ladies if they had any notion how much we knows about them. And she' ain't no good, Miz Wilkes. She kilt her husband and that nice Wellburn boy, same as if she' shot them. She caused it all, prancin' about Atlanta by herself, enticin' niggers and trash. Why, not one of my girls "
"You must not say unkind things about my sister in law." Melanie stiffened coldly.
Belle put an eager placating hand on Melanie's arm and then hastily withdrew it.
"Don't freeze me, please, Miz Wilkes. I couldn't stand it after you been so kind and sweet to me. I forgot how you liked her and I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry about poor Mr. Kennedy bein' dead too. He was a nice man. I used to buy some of the stuff for my house from him and he always treated me pleasant. But Miz Kennedy well, she' just ain't in the same class with you, Miz Wilkes. She's a mighty cold woman and I can't help it if I think so. . . . When are they goin' to bury Mr. Kennedy?"
"Tomorrow morning. And you are wrong about Mrs. Kennedy. Why, this very minute she''s prostrated with grief."
"Maybe so," said Belle with evident disbelief. "Well, I got to be goin'. I'm afraid somebody might recognize this carriage if I stayed here longer and that wouldn't do you no good. And, Miz Wilkes, if you ever see me on the street, you you don't have to speak to me. I'll understand."
"I shall be proud to speak to you. Proud to be under obligation to you. I hope I hope we meet again."
"No," said Belle. "That wouldn't be fittin'. Good night."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Scarlett sat in her bedroom, picking at the supper tray Mammy had brought her, listening to the wind hurling itself out of the night. The house was frighteningly still, quieter even than when Frank had lain in the parlor just a few hours before. Then there had been tiptoeing feet and hushed voices, muffled knocks on the door, neighbors rustling in to whisper sympathy and occasional sobs from Frank's sister who had come up from Jonesboro for the funeral.
But now the house was cloaked in silence. Although her door was open she' could hear no sounds from below stairs. Wade and the baby had been at Melanie's since Frank's body was brought home and she' missed the sound of the boy's feet and Ella's gurgling. There was a truce in the kitchen and no sound of quarreling from Peter, Mammy and Cookie floated up to her. Even Aunt Pitty, downstairs in the library, was not rocking her creaking chair in deference to Scarlett's sorrow.
No one intruded upon her, believing that she' wished to be left alone with her grief, but to be left alone was the last thing Scarlett desired. Had it only been grief that companioned her, she' could have borne it as she' had borne other griefs. But, added to her stunned sense of loss at Frank's death, were fear and remorse and the torment of a suddenly awakened conscience. For the first time in her life she' was regretting things she' had done, regretting them with a sweeping superstitious fear that made her cast sidelong glances at the bed upon which she' had lain with Frank.
She had killed Frank. She had killed him just as surely as if it had been her finger that pulled the trigger. He had begged her not to go about alone but she' had not listened to him. And now he was dead because of her obstinacy. God would punish her for that. But there lay upon her conscience another matter that was heavier and more frightening even than causing his death a matter which had never troubled her until she' looked upon his coffined face. There had been something helpless and pathetic in that still face which had accused her. God would punish her for marrying him when he really loved Suellen. She would have to cower at the seat of judgment and answer for that lie she' told him coming back from the Yankee camp in his buggy.
Useless for her to argue now that the end justified the means, that she' was driven into trapping him, that the fate of too many people hung on her for her to consider either his or Suellen's rights and happiness. The truth stood out boldly and she' cowered away from it. She had married him coldly and used him coldly. And she' had made him unhappy during the last six months when she' could have made him very happy. God would punish her for not being nicer to him punish her for all her bullyings and proddings and storms of temper and cutting remarks, for alienating his friends and shaming him by operating the mills and building the saloon and leasing convicts.
She had made him very unhappy and she' knew it, but he had borne it all like a gentleman. The only thing she' had ever done that gave him any real happiness was to present him with Ella. And she' knew if she' could have kept from having Ella, Ella would never have been born.
She shivered, frightened, wishing Frank were alive, so she' could be nice to him, so very nice to him to make up for it all. Oh, if only God did not seem so furious and vengeful! Oh, if only the minutes did not go by so slowly and the house were not so still! If only she' were not so alone!
If only Melanie were with her, Melanie could calm her fears. But Melanie was at home, nursing Ashley. For a moment Scarlett thought of summoning Pittypat to stand between her and her conscience but she' hesitated. Pitty would probably make matters worse, for she' honestly mourned Frank. He had been more her contemporary than Scarlett's and she' had been devoted to him. He had filled to perfection Pitty's need for "a man in the house," for he brought her little presents and harmless gossip, jokes and stories, read the paper to her at night and explained topics of the day to her while she' mended his socks. She had fussed over him and planned special dishes for him and coddled him during his innumerable colds. Now she' missed him acutely and repeated over and over as she' dabbed at her red swollen eyes: "If only he hadn't gone out with the Klan!"
If there were only someone who could comfort her, quiet her fears, explain to her just what were these confused fears which made her heart sink with such cold sickness! If only Ashley but she' shrank from the thought. She had almost killed Ashley, just as she' had killed Frank. And if Ashley ever knew the real truth about how she' lied to Frank to get him, knew how mean she' had been to Frank, he could never love her any more. Ashley was so honorable, so truthful, so kind and he saw so straightly, so clearly. If he knew the whole truth, he would understand. Oh, yes, he would understand only too well! But he would never love her any more. So he must never know the truth because he must keep on loving her. How could she' live if that secret source of her strength, his love, were taken from her? But what a relief it would be to put her head on his shoulder and cry and unburden her guilty heart!
The still house with the sense of death heavy upon it pressed about her loneliness until she' felt she' could not bear it unaided any longer. She arose cautiously, pushed her door half closed and then dug about in the bottom bureau drawer beneath her underwear. She produced Aunt Pitty's "swoon bottle" of brandy which she' had hidden there and held it up to the lamp. It was nearly half empty. Surely she' hadn't drunk that much since last night! She poured a generous amount into her water glass and gulped it down. She would have to put the bottle back in the cellaret before morning, filled to the top with water. Mammy had hunted for it, just before the funeral when the pallbearers wanted a drink, and already the air in the kitchen was electric with suspicion between Mammy, Cookie and Peter.
The brandy burned with fiery pleasantness. There was nothing like it when you needed it. In fact, brandy was good almost any time, so much better than insipid wine. Why on earth should it be proper for a woman to drink wine and not spirits? Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Meade had sniffed her breath most obviously at the funeral and she' had seen the triumphant look they had exchanged. The old cats!
She poured another drink. It wouldn't matter if she' did get a little tipsy tonight for she' was going to bed soon and she' could gargle cologne before Mammy came up to unlace her. She wished she' could get as completely and thoughtlessly drunk as Gerald used to get on Court Day. Then perhaps she' could forget Frank's sunken face accusing her of ruining his life and then killing him.
She wondered if everyone in town thought she' had killed him. Certainly the people at the funeral had been cold to her. The only people who had put any warmth into their expressions of sympathy were the wives of the Yankee officers with whom she' did business. Well, she' didn't care what the town said about her. How unimportant that seemed beside what she' would have to answer for to God!
She took another drink at the thought, shuddering as the hot brandy went down her throat. She felt very warm now but still she' couldn't get the thought of Frank out of her mind. What fools men were when they said liquor made people forget! Unless she' drank herself into insensibility, she''d still see Frank's face as it had looked the last time he begged her not to drive alone, timid, reproachful, apologetic.
The knocker on the front door hammered with a dull sound that made the still house echo and she' heard Aunt Pitty's waddling steps crossing the hall and the door opening. There was the sound of greeting and an indistinguishable murmur. Some neighbor calling to discuss the funeral or to bring a blanc mange. Pitty would like that. She had taken an important and melancholy pleasure in talking to the condolence callers.
She wondered incuriously who it was and, when a man's voice, resonant and drawling, rose above Pitty's funereal whispering, she' knew. Gladness and relief flooded her. It was Rhett. She had not seen him since he broke the news of Frank's death to her, and now she' knew, deep in her heart, that he was the one person who could help her tonight.
"I think she''ll see me," Rhett's voice floated up to her.
"But she' is lying down now, Captain Butler, and won't see anyone. Poor child, she' is quite prostrated. She "
"I think she' will see me. Please tell her I am going away tomorrow and may be gone some time. It's very important."
"But " fluttered Aunt Pittypat.
Scarlett ran out into the hall, observing with some astonishment that her knees were a little unsteady, and leaned over the banisters.
"I'll be down terrectly, Rhett," she' called.
She had a glimpse of Aunt Pittypat's plump upturned face, her eyes owlish with surprise and disapproval. Now it'll be all over town that I conducted myself most improperly on the day of my husband's funeral, thought Scarlett, as she' hurried back to her room and began smoothing her hair. She buttoned her black basque up to the chin and pinned down the collar with Pittypat's mourning brooch. I don't look very pretty she' thought, leaning toward the mirror, too white and scared. For a moment her hand went toward the lock box where she' kept her rouge hidden but she' decided against it. Poor Pittypat would be upset in earnest if she' came downstairs pink and blooming. She picked up the cologne bottle and took a large mouthful, carefully rinsed her mouth and then spit into the slop jar.
She rustled down the stairs toward the two who still stood in the hall, for Pittypat had been too upset by Scarlett's action to ask Rhett to sit down. He was decorously clad in black, his linen frilly and starched, and his manner was all that custom demanded from an old friend paying a call of sympathy on one bereaved. In fact, it was so perfect that it verged on the burlesque, though Pittypat did not see it. He was properly apologetic for disturbing Scarlett and regretted that in his rush of closing up business before leaving town he had been unable to be present at the funeral.
"Whatever possessed him to come?" wondered Scarlett. "He doesn't mean a word he's saying."
"I hate to intrude on you at this time but I have a matter of business to discuss that will not wait. Something that Mr. Kennedy and I were planning "
"I didn't know you and Mr. Kennedy had business dealings," said Aunt Pittypat, almost indignant that some of Frank's activities were unknown to her.
"Mr. Kennedy was a man of wide interests," said Rhett respectfully. "Shall we go into the parlor?"
"No!" cried Scarlett. glancing at the closed folding doors. She could still see the coffin in that room. She hoped she' never had to enter it again. Pitty, for once, took a hint, although with none too good grace.
"Do use the library. I must I must go upstairs and get out the mending. Dear me, I've neglected it so this last week. I declare "
She went up the stairs with a backward look of reproach which was noticed by neither Scarlett nor Rhett. He stood aside to let her pass before him into the library.
"What business did you and Frank have?" she' questioned abruptly.
He came closer and whispered. "None at all. I just wanted to get Miss Pitty out of the way." He paused as he leaned over her. "It's no good, Scarlett."
"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"I'm sure you do. You've been drinking pretty heavily."
"Well, what if I have? Is it any of your business?"
"The soul of courtesy, even in the depths of sorrow. Don't drink alone, Scarlett. People always find it out and it ruins the reputation. And besides, it's a bad business, this drinking alone. What's the matter, honey?"
He led her to the rosewood sofa and she' sat down in silence.
"May I close the doors?"
She knew if Mammy saw the closed doors she' would be scandalized and would lecture and grumble about it for days, but it would be still worse if Mammy should overhear this discussion of drinking, especially in light of the missing brandy bottle. She nodded and Rhett drew the sliding doors together. When he came back and sat down beside her, his dark eyes alertly searching her face, the pall of death receded before the vitality he radiated and the room seemed pleasant and homelike again, the lamps rosy and warm.
"What's the matter, honey?"
No one in the world could say that foolish word of endearment as caressingly as Rhett, even when he was joking, but he did not look as if he were joking now. She raised tormented eyes to his face and somehow found comfort in the blank inscrutability she' saw there. She did not know why this should be, for he was such an unpredictable, callous person. Perhaps it was because, as he often said, they were so much alike. Sometimes she' thought that all the people she' had ever known were strangers except Rhett.
"Can't you tell me?" he took her hand, oddly gentle. "It's more than old Frank leaving you? Do you need money?"
"Money? God, no! Oh, Rhett, I'm so afraid."
"Don't be a goose, Scarlett, you've never been afraid in your life."
"Oh, Rhett, I am afraid!"
The words bubbled up faster than she' could speak them. She could tell him. She could tell Rhett anything. He'd been so bad himself that he wouldn't sit in judgment on her. How wonderful to know someone who was bad and dishonorable and a cheat and a liar, when all the world was filled with people who would not lie to save their souls and who would rather starve than do a dishonorable deed!
"I'm afraid I'll die and go to hell."
If he laughed at her she' would die, right then. But he did not laugh.
"You are pretty healthy and maybe there isn't any hell after all."
"Oh, but there is, Rhett! You know there is!"
"I know there is but it's right here on earth. Not after we die. There's nothing after we die, Scarlett. You are having your hell now."
"Oh, Rhett, that's blasphemous!"
"But singularly comforting. Tell me, why are you going to hell?"
He was teasing now, she' could see the glint in his eyes but she' did not mind. His hands felt so warm and strong, so comforting to cling to.
"Rhett, I oughtn't to have married Frank. It was wrong. He was Suellen's beau and he loved her, not me. But I lied to him and told him she' was going to marry Tony Fontaine. Oh, how could I have done it?"
"Ah, so that was how it came about! I always wondered."
"And then I made him so miserable. I made him do all sorts of things he didn't want to do, like making people pay their bills when they really couldn't afford to pay them. And it hurt him so when I ran the mills and built the saloon and leased convicts. He could hardly hold up his head for shame. And Rhett, I killed him. Yes, I did! I didn't know he was in the Klan. I never dreamed he had that much gumption. But I ought to have known. And I killed him."
"'Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?'"
"No matter. Go on."
"Go on? That's all. Isn't it enough? I married him, I made him unhappy and I killed him. Oh, my God! I don't see how I could have done it! I lied to him and I married him. It all seemed so right when I did it but now I see how wrong it was. Rhett, it doesn't seem like it was me who did all these things. I was so mean to him but I'm not really mean. I wasn't raised that way. Mother " She stopped and swallowed. She had avoided thinking of Ellen all day but she' could no longer blot out her image.
"I often wondered what she' was like. You seemed to me so like your father."
"Mother was Oh, Rhett, for the first time I'm glad she''s dead, so she' can't see me. She didn't raise me to be mean. She was so kind to everybody, so good. She'd rather I'd have starved than done this. And I so wanted to be just like her in every way and I'm not like her one bit. I hadn't thought of that there's been so much else to think about but I wanted to be like her. I didn't want to be like Pa. I loved him but he was so so thoughtless. Rhett, sometimes I did try so hard to be nice to people and kind to Frank, but then the nightmare would come back and scare me so bad I'd want to rush out and just grab money away from people, whether it was mine or not."
Tears were streaming unheeded down her face and she' clutched his hand so hard that her nails dug into his flesh.
"What nightmare?" His voice was calm and soothing.
"Oh I forgot you didn't know. Well, just when I would try to be nice to folks and tell myself that money wasn't everything, I'd go to bed and dream that I was back at Tara right after Mother died, right after the Yankees went through. Rhett, you can't imagine I get cold when I think about it. I can see how everything is burned and so still and there's nothing to eat. Oh, Rhett, in my dream I'm hungry again."
"I'm hungry and everybody, Pa and the girls and the darkies, are starving and they keep saying over and over: 'We're hungry' and I'm so empty it hurts, and so frightened. My mind keeps saying: 'If I ever get out of this, I'll never, never be hungry again' and then the dream goes off into a gray mist and I'm running, running in the mist, running so hard my heart's about to burst and something is chasing me, and I can't breathe but I keep thinking that if I can just get there, I'll be safe. But I don't know where I'm trying to get to. And then I'd wake up and I'd be cold with fright and so afraid that I'd be hungry again. When I wake up from that dream, it seems like there's not enough money in the world to keep me from being afraid of being hungry again. And then Frank would be so mealy mouthed and slow poky that he would make me mad and I'd lose my temper. He didn't understand, I guess, and I couldn't make him understand. I kept thinking that I'd make it up to him some day when we had money and I wasn't so afraid of being hungry. And now he's dead and it's too late. Oh, it seemed so right when I did it but it was all so wrong. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it so differently."
"Hush," he said, disentangling her frantic grip and pulling a clean handkerchief from his pocket. "Wipe your face. There is no sense in your tearing yourself to pieces this way."
She took the handkerchief and wiped her damp cheeks, a little relief stealing over her as if she' had shifted some of her burden to his broad shoulders. He looked so capable and calm and even the slight twist of his mouth was comforting as though it proved her agony and confusion unwarranted.
"Feel better now? Then let's get to the bottom of this. You say if you had it to do over again, you'd do it differently. But would you? Think, now. Would you?"
"No, you'd do the same things again. Did you have any other choice?"
"Then what are you sorry about?"
"I was so mean and now he's dead."
"And if he wasn't dead, you'd still be mean. As I understand it, you are not really sorry for marrying Frank and bullying him and inadvertently causing his death. You are only sorry because you are afraid of going to hell. Is that right?"
"Well that sounds so mixed up."
"Your ethics are considerably mixed up too. You are in the exact position of a thief who's been caught red handed and isn't sorry he stole but is terribly, terribly sorry he's going to jail."
"A thief "
"Oh, don't be so literal! In other words if you didn't have this silly idea that you were damned to hell fire eternal, you'd think you were well rid of Frank."
"Oh, come! You are confessing and you might as well confess the truth as a decorous lie. Did your er conscience bother you much when you offered to shall we say part with that jewel which is dearer than life for three hundred dollars?"
The brandy was spinning in her head now and she' felt giddy and a little reckless. What was the use in lying to him? He always seemed to read her mind.
"I really didn't think about God much then or hell. And when I did think well, I just reckoned God would understand."
"But you don't credit God with understanding why you married Frank?"
"Rhett, how can you talk so about God when you know you don't believe there is one?"
"But you believe in a God of Wrath and that's what's important at present. Why shouldn't the Lord understand? Are you sorry you still own Tara and there aren't Carpetbaggers living there? Are you sorry you aren't hungry and ragged?"
"Well, did you have any alternative except marrying Frank?"
"He didn't have to marry you, did he? Men are free agents. And he didn't have to let you bully him into doing things he didn't want to, did he?"
"Scarlett, why worry about it? If you had it to do over again you would be driven to the lie and he to marrying you. You would still have run yourself into danger and he would have had to avenge you. If he had married Sister Sue, she' might not have caused his death but she''d probably have made him twice as unhappy as you did. It couldn't have happened differently."
"But I could have been nicer to him."
"You could have been if you'd been somebody else. But you were born to bully anyone who'll let you do it. The strong were made to bully and the weak to knuckle under. It's all Frank's fault for not beating you with a buggy whip. . . . I'm surprised at you, Scarlett, for sprouting a conscience this late in life. Opportunists like you shouldn't have them."
"What is an oppor what did you call it?"
"A person who takes advantage of opportunities."
"Is that wrong?"
"It has always been held in disrepute especially by those who had the same opportunities and didn't take them."
"Oh, Rhett, you are joking and I thought you were going to be nice!"
"I am being nice for me. Scarlett, darling, you are tipsy. That's what's the matter with you."
"You dare "
"Yes, I dare. You are on the verge of what is vulgarly called a 'crying jag' and so I shall change the subject and cheer you up by telling you some news that will amuse you. In fact, that's why I came here this evening, to tell you my news before I went away."
"Where are you going?"
"To England and I may be gone for months. Forget your conscience, Scarlett. I have no intention of discussing your soul's welfare any further. Don't you want to hear my news?"
"But " she' began feebly and paused. Between the brandy which was smoothing out the harsh contours of remorse and Rhett's mocking but comforting words, the pale specter of Frank was receding into shadows. Perhaps Rhett was right. Perhaps God did understand. She recovered enough to push the idea from the top of her mind and decide: "I'll think about it all tomorrow."
"What's your news?" she' said with an effort, blowing her nose on his handkerchief and pushing back the hair that had begun to straggle.
"My news is this," he answered, grinning down at her. "I still want you more than any woman I've ever seen and now that Frank's gone, I thought you'd be interested to know it."
Scarlett jerked her hands away from his grasp and sprang to her feet.
"I you are the most ill bred man in the world, coming here at this time of all times with your filthy I should have known you'd never change. And Frank hardly cold! If you had any decency Will you leave this "
"Do be quiet or you'll have Miss Pittypat down here in a minute," he said, not rising but reaching up and taking both her fists. "I'm afraid you miss my point."
"Miss your point? I don't miss anything." She pulled against his grip. "Turn me loose and get out of here. I never heard of such bad taste. I "
"Hush," he said. "I am asking you to marry me. Would you be convinced if I knelt down?"
She said "Oh" breathlessly and sat down hard on the sofa.
She stared at him, her mouth open, wondering if the brandy were playing tricks on her mind, remembering senselessly his jibing: "My dear, I'm not a marrying man." She was drunk or he was crazy. But he did not look crazy. He looked as calm as though he were discussing the weather, and his smooth drawl fell on her ears with no particular emphasis.
"I always intended having you, Scarlett, since that first day I saw you at Twelve Oaks when you threw that vase and swore and proved that you weren't a lady. I always intended having you, one way or another. But as you and Frank have made a little money, I know you'll never be driven to me again with any interesting propositions of loans and collaterals. So I see I'll have to marry you."
"Rhett Butler, is this one of your vile jokes?"
"I bare my soul and you are suspicious! No, Scarlett, this is a bona fide honorable declaration. I admit that it's not in the best of taste, coming at this time, but I have a very good excuse for my lack of breeding. I'm going away tomorrow for a long time and I fear that if I wait till I return you'll have married some one else with a little money. So I thought, why not me and my money? Really, Scarlett, I can't go all my life, waiting to catch you between husbands."
He meant it. There was no doubt about it. Her mouth was dry as she' assimilated this knowledge and she' swallowed and looked into his eyes, trying to find some clue. They were full of laughter but there was something else, deep in them, which she' had never seen before, a gleam that defied analysis. He sat easily, carelessly but she' felt that he was watching her as alertly as a cat watches a mouse hole. There was a sense of leashed power straining beneath his calm that made her draw back, a little frightened.
He was actually asking her to marry him; he was committing the incredible. Once she' had planned how she' would torment him should he ever propose. Once she' had thought that if he ever spoke those words she' would humble him and make him feel her power and take a malicious pleasure in doing it. Now, he had spoken and the plans did not even occur to her, for he was no more in her power than he had ever been. In fact, he held the whip hand of the situation so completely that she' was as flustered as a girl at her first proposal and she' could only blush and stammer.
"I I shall never marry again."
"Oh, yes, you will. You were born to be married. Why not me?"
"But Rhett, I I don't love you."
"That should be no drawback. I don't recall that love was prominent in your other two ventures."
"Oh, how can you? You know I was fond of Frank!"
He said nothing.
"I was! I was!"
"Well, we won't argue that. Will you think over my proposition while I'm gone?"
"Rhett, I don't like for things to drag on. I'd rather tell you now. I'm going home to Tara soon and India Wilkes will stay with Aunt Pittypat. I want to go home for a long spell and I I don't ever want to get married again."
"Oh, well never mind why. I just don't like being married."
"But, my poor child, you've never really been married. How can you know? I'll admit you've had bad luck once for spite and once for money. Did you ever think of marrying just for the fun of it?"
"Fun! Don't talk like a fool. There's no fun being married."
"No? Why not?"
A measure of calm had returned and with it all the natural bluntness which brandy brought to the surface.
"It's fun for men though God knows why. I never could understand it. But all a woman gets out of it is something to eat and a lot of work and having to put up with a man's foolishness and a baby every year."
He laughed so loudly that the sound echoed in the stillness and Scarlett heard the kitchen door open.
"Hush! Mammy has ears like a lynx and it isn't decent to laugh so soon after hush laughing. You know it's true. Fun! Fiddle dee dee!"
"I said you'd had bad luck and what you've just said proves it. You've been married to a boy and to an old man. And into the bargain I'll bet your mother told you that women must bear 'these things' because of the compensating joys of motherhood. Well, that's all wrong. Why not try marrying a fine young man who has a bad reputation and a way with women? It'll be fun."
"You are coarse and conceited and I think this conversation has gone far enough. It's it's quite vulgar."
"And quite enjoyable, too, isn't it? I'll wager you never discussed the marital relation with a man before, even Charles or Frank."
She scowled at him. Rhett knew too much. She wondered where he had learned all he knew about women. It wasn't decent.
"Don't frown. Name the day, Scarlett. I'm not urging instant matrimony because of your reputation. We'll wait the decent interval. By the way, just how long is a 'decent interval'?"
"I haven't said I'd marry you. It isn't decent to even talk of such things at such a time."
"I've told you why I'm talking of them. I'm going away tomorrow and I'm too ardent a lover to restrain my passion any longer. But perhaps I've been too precipitate in my wooing."
With a suddenness that startled her, he slid off the sofa onto his knees and with one hand placed delicately over his heart, he recited rapidly:
"Forgive me for startling you with the impetuosity of my sentiments, my dear Scarlett I mean, my dear Mrs. Kennedy. It cannot have escaped your notice that for some time past the friendship I have had in my heart for you has ripened into a deeper feeling, a feeling more beautiful, more pure, more sacred. Dare I name it you? Ah! It is love which makes me so bold!"
"Do get up," she' entreated. "You look such a fool and suppose Mammy should come in and see you?"
"She would be stunned and incredulous at the first signs of my gentility," said Rhett, arising lightly. "Come, Scarlett, you are no child, no schoolgirl to put me off with foolish excuses about decency and so forth. Say you'll marry me when I come back or, before God, I won't go. I'll stay around here and play a guitar under your window every night and sing at the top of my voice and compromise you, so you'll have to marry me to save your reputation."
"Rhett, do be sensible. I don't want to marry anybody."
"No? You aren't telling me the real reason. It can't be girlish timidity. What is it?"
Suddenly she' thought of Ashley, saw him as vividly as though he stood beside her, sunny haired, drowsy eyed, full of dignity, so utterly different from Rhett. He was the real reason she' did not want to marry again, although she' had no objections to Rhett and at times was genuinely fond of him. She belonged to Ashley, forever and ever. She had never belonged to Charles or Frank, could never really belong to Rhett. Every part of her, almost everything she' had ever done, striven after, attained, belonged to Ashley, were done because she' loved him. Ashley and Tara, she' belonged to them. The smiles, the laughter, the kisses she' had given Charles and Frank were Ashley's, even though he had never claimed them, would never claim them. Somewhere deep in her was the desire to keep herself for him, although she' knew he would never take her.
She did not know that her face had changed, that reverie had brought a softness to her face which Rhett had never seen before. He looked at the slanting green eyes, wide and misty, and the tender curve of her lips and for a moment his breath stopped. Then his mouth went down violently at one corner and he swore with passionate sexy impatience.
"Scarlett O'Hara, you're a fool!"
Before she' could withdraw her mind from its far places, his arms were around her, as sure and hard as on the dark road to Tara, so long ago. She felt again the rush of helplessness, the sinking yielding, the surging tide of warmth that left her limp. And the quiet face of Ashley Wilkes was blurred and drowned to nothingness. He bent back her head across his arm and kissed her, softly at first, and then with a swift gradation of intensity that made her cling to him as the only solid thing in a dizzy swaying world. His insistent mouth was parting her shaking lips, sending wild tremors along her nerves, evoking from her sensations she' had never known she' was capable of feeling. And before a swimming giddiness spun her round and round, she' knew that she' was kissing him back.
"Stop please, I'm faint!" she' whispered, trying to turn her head weakly from him. He pressed her head back hard against his shoulder and she' had a dizzy glimpse of his face. His eyes were wide and blazing queerly and the tremor in his arms frightened her.
"I want to make you faint. I will make you faint. You've had this coming to you for years. None of the fools you've known have kissed you like this have they? Your precious Charles or Frank or your stupid Ashley "
"I said your stupid Ashley. Gentlemen all what do they know about women? What did they know about you? I know you."
His mouth was on hers again and she' surrendered without a struggle, too weak even to turn her head, without even the desire to turn it, her heart shaking her with its poundings, fear of his strength and her nerveless weakness sweeping her. What was he going to do? She would faint if he did not stop. If he would only stop if he would never stop.
"Say Yes!" His mouth was poised above hers and his eyes were so close that they seemed enormous, filling the world. "Say Yes, damn you, or "
She whispered "Yes" before she' even thought. It was almost as if he had willed the word and she' had spoken it without her own volition. But even as she' spoke it, a sudden calm fell on her spirit, her head began to stop spinning and even the giddiness of the brandy was lessened. She had promised to marry him when she' had had no intention of promising. She hardly knew how it had all come about but she' was not sorry. It now seemed very natural that she' had said Yes almost as if by divine intervention, a hand stronger than hers was about her affairs, settling her problems for her.
He drew a quick breath as she' spoke and bent as if to kiss her again and her eyes closed and her head fell back. But he drew back and she' was faintly disappointed. It made her feel so strange to be kissed like this and yet there was something exciting about it.
He sat very still for a while holding her head against his shoulder and, as if by effort, the trembling of his arms ceased. He moved away from her a little and looked down at her. She opened her eyes and saw that the frightening glow had gone from his face. But somehow she' could not meet his gaze and she' dropped her eyes in a rush of tingling confusion.
When he spoke his voice was very calm.
"You meant it? You don't want to take it back?"
"It's not just because I've what is the phrase? 'swept you off your feet' by my er ardor?"
She could not answer for she' did not know what to say, nor could she' meet his eyes. He put a hand under her chin and lifted her face.
"I told you once that I could stand anything from you except a lie. And now I want the truth. Just why did you say Yes?"
Still the words would not come, but, a measure of poise returning, she' kept her eyes demurely down and tucked the corners of her mouth into a little smile.
"Look at me. Is it my money?"
"Why, Rhett! What a question!"
"Look up and don't try to sweet talk me. I'm not Charles or Frank or any of the County boys to be taken in by your fluttering lids. Is it my money?"
"Well yes, a part."
He did not seem annoyed. He drew a swift breath and with an effort wiped from his eyes the eagerness her words had brought, an eagerness which she' was too confused to see.
"Well," she' floundered helplessly, "money does help, you know, Rhett, and God knows Frank didn't leave any too much. But then well, Rhett, we do get on, you know. And you are the only man I ever saw who could stand the truth from a woman, and it would be nice having a husband who didn't think me a silly fool and expect me to tell lies and well, I am fond of you."
"Fond of me?"
"Well," she' said fretfully, "if I said I was madly in love with you, I'd be lying and what's more, you'd know it."
"Sometimes I think you carry your truth telling too far, my pet. Don't you think, even if it was a lie, that it would be appropriate for you to say 'I love you, Rhett,' even if you didn't mean it?"
What was he driving at, she' wondered, becoming more confused. He looked so queer, eager, hurt, mocking. He took his hands from her and shoved them deep in his trousers pockets and she' saw him ball his fists.
"If it costs me a husband, I'll tell the truth," she' thought grimly, her blood up as always when he baited her.
"Rhett, it would be a lie, and why should we go through all that foolishness? I'm fond of you, like I said. You know how it is. You told me once that you didn't love me but that we had a lot in common. Both rascals, was the way you "
"Oh, God!" he whispered rapidly, turning his head away. "To be taken in my own trap!"
"What did you say?"
"Nothing," and he looked at her and laughed, but it was not a pleasant laugh. "Name the day, my dear," and he laughed again and bent and kissed her hands. She was relieved to see his mood pass and good humor apparently return, so she' smiled too.
He played with her hand for a moment and grinned up at her.
"Did you ever in your novel reading come across the old situation of the disinterested wife falling in love with her own husband?"
"You know I don't read novels," she' said and, trying to equal his jesting mood, went on: "Besides, you once said it was the height of bad form for husbands and wives to love each other."
"I once said too God damn many things," he retorted abruptly and rose to his feet.
"You'll have to get used to it and learn to swear too. You'll have to get used to all my bad habits. That'll be part of the price of being fond of me and getting your pretty paws on my money."
"Well, don't fly off the handle so, because I didn't lie and make you feel conceited. You aren't in love with me, are you? Why should I be in love with you?"
"No, my dear, I'm not in love with you, no more than you are with me, and if I were, you would be the last person I'd ever tell. God help the man who ever really loves you. You'd break his heart, my darling, cruel, destructive little cat who is so careless and confident she' doesn't even trouble to sheathe her claws."
He jerked her to her feet and kissed her again, but this time his lips were different for he seemed not to care if he hurt her seemed to want to hurt her, to insult her. His lips slid down to her throat and finally he pressed them against the taffeta over her breast, so hard and so long that his breath burnt to her skin. Her hands struggled up, pushing him away in outraged modesty.
"You mustn't! How dare you!"
"Your heart's going like a rabbit's," he said mockingly. "All too fast for mere fondness I would think, if I were conceited. Smooth your ruffled feathers. You are just putting on these virginal airs. Tell me what I shall bring you from England. A ring? What kind would you like?"
She wavered momentarily between interest in his last words and a feminine desire to prolong the scene with anger and indignation.
"Oh a diamond ring and Rhett, do buy a great big one."
"flaunt it before your poverty stricken friends and say 'See what I caught!' Very well, you shall have a big one, one so big that your less fortunate friends can comfort themselves by whispering that it's really vulgar to wear such large stones."
He abruptly started off across the room and she' followed him, bewildered, to the closed doors.
"What is the matter? Where are you going?"
"To my rooms to finish packing."
"Oh, but "
"Nothing. I hope you have a nice trip."
He opened the door and walked into the hall. Scarlett trailed after him, somewhat at a loss, a trifle disappointed as at an unexpected anticlimax. He slipped on his coat and picked up his gloves and hat.
"I'll write you. Let me know if you change your mind."
"Aren't you "
"Well?" He seemed impatient to be off.
"Aren't you going to kiss me good by?" she' whispered, mindful of the ears of the house.
"Don't you think you've had enough kissing for one evening?" he retorted and grinned down at her. "To think of a modest, well brought up young woman Well, I told you it would be fun, didn't I?"
"Oh, you are impossible!" she' cried in wrath, not caring if Mammy did hear. "And I don't care if you never come back."
She turned and flounced toward the stairs, expecting to feel his warm hand on her arm, stopping her. But he only pulled open the front door and a cold draft swept in.
"But I will come back," he said and went out, leaving her on the bottom step looking at the closed door.
The ring Rhett brought back from England was large indeed, so large it embarrassed Scarlett to wear it. She loved gaudy and expensive jewelry but she' had an uneasy feeling that everyone was saying, with perfect truth, that this ring was vulgar. The central stone was a four carat diamond and, surrounding it, were a number of emeralds. It reached to the knuckle of her finger and gave her hand the appearance of being weighted down. Scarlett had a suspicion that Rhett had gone to great pains to have the ring made up and, for pure meanness, had ordered it made as ostentatious as possible.
Until Rhett was back in Atlanta and the ring on her finger she' told no one, not even her family, of her intentions, and when she' did announce her engagement a storm of bitter gossip broke out. Since the Klan affair Rhett and Scarlett had been, with the exception of the Yankees and Carpetbaggers, the town's most unpopular citizens. Everyone had disapproved of Scarlett since the far away day when she' abandoned the weeds worn for Charlie Hamilton. Their disapproval had grown stronger because of her unwomanly conduct in the matter of the mills, her immodesty in showing herself when she' was pregnant and so many other things. But when she' brought about the death of Frank and Tommy and jeopardized the lives of a dozen other men, their dislike flamed into public condemnation.
As for Rhett, he had enjoyed the town's hatred since his speculations during the war and he had not further endeared himself to his fellow citizens by his alliances with the Republicans since then. But, oddly enough, the fact that he had saved the lives of some of Atlanta's most prominent men was what aroused the hottest hate of Atlanta's ladies.
It was not that they regretted their men were still alive. It was that they bitterly resented owing the men's lives to such a man as Rhett and to such an embarrassing trick. For months they had writhed under Yankee laughter and scorn, and the ladies felt and said that if Rhett really had the good of the Klan at heart he would have managed the affair in a more seemly fashion. They said he had deliberately dragged in Belle Watling to put the nice people of the town in a disgraceful position. And so he deserved neither thanks for rescuing the men nor forgiveness for his past sins.
These women, so swift to kindness, so tender to the sorrowing, so untiring in times of stress, could be as implacable as furies to any renegade who broke one small law of their unwritten code. This code was simple. Reverence for the Confederacy, honor to the veterans, loyalty to old forms, pride in poverty, open hands to friends and undying hatred to Yankees. Between them, Scarlett and Rhett had outraged every tenet of this code.
The men whose lives Rhett had saved attempted, out of decency and a sense of gratitude, to keep their women silent but they had little success. Before the announcement of their coming marriage, the two had been unpopular enough but people could still be polite to them in a formal way. Now even that cold courtesy was no longer possible. The news of their engagement came like an explosion, unexpected and shattering, rocking the town, and even the mildest mannered women spoke their minds heatedly. Marrying barely a year after Frank's death and she' had killed him! And marrying that Butler man who owned a brothel and who was in with the Yankees and Carpetbaggers in all kinds of thieving schemes! Separately the two of them could be endured, but the brazen combination of Scarlett and Rhett was too much to be borne. Common and vile, both of them! They ought to be run out of town!
Atlanta might perhaps have been more tolerant toward the two if the news of their engagement had not come at a time when Rhett's Carpetbagger and Scallawag cronies were more odious in the sight of respectable citizens than they had ever been before. Public feeling against the Yankees and all their allies was at fever heat at the very time when the town learned of the engagement, for the last citadel of Georgia's resistance to Yankee rule had just fallen. The long campaign which had begun when Sherman moved southward from above Dalton, four years before, had finally reached its climax, and the state's humiliation was complete.
Three years of Reconstruction had passed and they had been three years of terrorism. Everyone had thought that conditions were already as bad as they could ever be. But now Georgia was discovering that Reconstruction at its worst had just begun.
For three years the Federal government had been trying to impose alien ideas and an alien rule upon Georgia and, with an army to enforce its commands, it had largely succeeded. But only the power of the military upheld the new regime. The state was under the Yankee rule but not by the state's consent. Georgia's leaders had kept on battling for the state's right to govern itself according to its own ideas. They had continued resisting all efforts to force them to bow down and accept the dictates of Washington as their own state law.
Officially, Georgia's government had never capitulated but it had been a futile fight, an ever losing fight. It was a fight that could not win but it had, at least, postponed the inevitable. Already many other Southern states had illiterate negroes in high public office and legislatures dominated by negroes and Carpetbaggers. But Georgia, by its stubborn resistance, had so far escaped this final degradation. For the greater part of three years, the state's capitol had remained in the control of white men and Democrats. With Yankee soldiers everywhere, the state officials could do little but protest and resist. Their power was nominal but they had at least been able to keep the state government in the hands of native Georgians. Now even that last stronghold had fallen.
Just as Johnston and his men had been driven back step by step from Dalton to Atlanta, four years before, so had the Georgia Democrats been driven back little by little, from 1865 on. The power of the Federal government over the state's affairs and the lives of its citizens had been steadily made greater and greater. Force had been piled on top of force and military edicts in increasing numbers had rendered the civil authority more and more impotent. Finally, with Georgia in the status of a military province, the polls had been ordered thrown open to the negroes, whether the state's laws permitted it or not.
A week before Scarlett and Rhett announced their engagement, an election for governor had been held. The Southern Democrats had General John B. Gordon, one of Georgia's best loved and most honored citizens, as their candidate. Opposing him was a Republican named Bullock. The election had lasted three days instead of one. Trainloads of negroes had been rushed from town to town, voting at every precinct along the way. Of course, Bullock had won.
If the capture of Georgia by Sherman had caused bitterness, the final capture of the state's capitol by the Carpetbaggers, Yankees and negroes caused an intensity of bitterness such as the state had never known before. Atlanta and Georgia seethed and raged.
And Rhett Butler was a friend of the hated Bullock!
Scarlett, with her usual disregard of all matters not directly under her nose, had scarcely known an election was being held. Rhett had taken no part in the election and his relations with the Yankees were no different from what they had always been. But the fact remained that Rhett was a Scallawag and a friend of Bullock. And, if the marriage went through, Scarlett also would be turning Scallawag. Atlanta was in no mood to be tolerant or charitable toward anyone in the enemy camp and, the news of the engagement coming when it did, the town remembered all of the evil things about the pair and none of the good.
Scarlett knew the town was rocking but she' did not realize the extent of public feeling until Mrs. Merriwether, urged on by her church circle, took it upon herself to speak to her for her own good.
"Because your own dear mother is dead and Miss Pitty, not being a matron, is not qualified to er, well, to talk to you upon such a subject, I feel that I must warn you, Scarlett, Captain Butler is not the kind of a man for any woman of good family to marry. He is a "
"He managed to save Grandpa Merriwether's neck and your nephew's, too."
Mrs. Merriwether swelled. Hardly an hour before she' had had an irritating talk with Grandpa. The old man had remarked that she' must not value his hide very much if she' did not feel some gratitude to Rhett Butler, even if the man was a Scallawag and a scoundrel.
"He only did that as a dirty trick on us all, Scarlett, to embarrass us in front of the Yankees," Mrs. Merriwether continued. "You know as well as I do that the man is a rogue. He always has been and now he's unspeakable. He is simply not the kind of man decent people receive."
"No? That's strange, Mrs. Merriwether. He was in your parlor often enough during the war. And he gave Maybelle her white satin wedding dress, didn't he? Or is my memory wrong?"
"Things are so different during the war and nice people associated with many men who were not quite It was all for the Cause and very proper, too. Surely you can't be thinking of marrying a man who wasn't in the army, who jeered at men who did enlist?"
"He was, too, in the army. He was in the army eight months. He was in the last campaign and fought at Franklin and was with General Johnston when he surrendered."
"I had not heard that," said Mrs. Merriwether and she' looked as if she' did not believe it either. "But he wasn't wounded," she' added, triumphantly.
"Lots of men weren't."
"Everybody who was anybody got wounded. _I_ know no one who wasn't wounded."
Scarlett was goaded.
"Then I guess all the men you knew were such fools they didn't know when to come in out of a shower of rain or of minie balls. Now, let me tell you this, Mrs. Merriwether, and you can take it back to your busybody friends. I'm going to marry Captain Butler and I wouldn't care if he'd fought on the Yankee side."
When that worthy matron went out of the house with her bonnet jerking with rage, Scarlett knew she' had an open enemy now instead of a disapproving friend. But she' did not care. Nothing Mrs. Merriwether could say or do could hurt her. She did not care what anyone said anyone except Mammy.
Scarlett had borne with Pitty's swooning at the news and had steeled herself to see Ashley look suddenly old and avoid her eyes as he wished her happiness. She had been amused and irritated at the letters from Aunt Pauline and Aunt Eulalie in Charleston, horror struck at the news, forbidding the marriage, telling her it would not only ruin her social position but endanger theirs. She had even laughed when Melanie with a worried pucker in her brows said loyally: "Of course, Captain Butler is much nicer than most people realize and he was so kind and clever, the way he saved Ashley. And after all, he did fight for the Confederacy. But, Scarlett, don't you think you'd better not decide so hastily?"
No, she' didn't mind what anybody said, except Mammy. Mammy's words were the ones that made her most angry and brought the greatest hurt.
"Ah has seed you do a heap of things dat would hu't Miss Ellen, did she' know. An' it has done sorrered me a plen'y. But disyere is de wust yit. Mahyin' trash! Yas'm, Ah said trash! Doan go tellin' me he come frum fine folkses. Dat doan mek no diffunce. Trash come outer de high places, same as de low, and he trash! Yas'm, Miss Scarlett, Ah's seed you tek Mist' Charles 'way frum Miss Honey w'en you din' keer nuthin' 'bout him. An' Ah's seed you rob yo own sister of Mist' Frank. An' Ah's heshed mah mouf 'bout a heap of things you is done, lak sellin' po' lumber fer good, an' lyin' 'bout de other lumber gempmums, an' ridin' roun' by yo'seff, exposin' yo'seff ter free issue niggers an' gettin' Mist' Frank shot, an' not feedin' dem po' convicts nuff ter keep dey souls in dey bodies. Ah's done heshed mah mouf, even ef Miss Ellen in de Promise Lan' wuz sayin' 'Mammy, Mammy! You ain' look affer mah chile right!' Yas'm. Ah's stood fer all dat but Ah ain' gwine stand fer dis, Miss Scarlett. You kain mahy wid trash. Not w'ile Ah got breaf in mah body."
"I shall marry whom I please," said Scarlett coldly. "I think you are forgetting your place, Mammy."
"An' high time, too! Ef Ah doan say dese wuds ter you, who gwine ter do it?"
"I've been thinking the matter over, Mammy, and I've decided that the best thing for you to do is to go back to Tara. I'll give you some money and "
Mammy drew herself up with all her dignity.
"Ah is free, Miss Scarlett. You kain sen' me nowhar Ah doan wanter go. An' w'en Ah goes back ter Tara, it's gwine be w'en you goes wid me. Ah ain' gwine leave Miss Ellen's chile, an' dar ain' no way in de worl' ter mek me go. An' Ah ain' gwine leave Miss Ellen's gran'chillun fer no trashy step pa ter bring up, needer. Hyah Ah is and hyah Ah stays!"
"I will not have you staying in my house and being rude to Captain Butler. I am going to marry him and there's no more to be said."
"Dar is plen'y mo' ter be said," retorted Mammy slowly and into her blurred old eyes there came the light of battle.
"But Ah ain' never thought ter say it ter none of Miss Ellen's blood. But, Miss Scarlett, lissen ter me. You ain' nuthin' but a mule in hawse harness. You kin polish a mule's feet an' shine his hide an' put brass all over his harness an' hitch him ter a fine cah'ige. But he a mule jes' de same. He doan fool nobody. An' you is jes' de same. You got silk dresses an' de mills an' de sto' an' de money, an' you give yo'seff airs lak a fine hawse, but you a mule jes' de same. An' you ain' foolin' nobody, needer. An' dat Butler man, he come of good stock and he all slicked up lak a race hawse, but he a mule in hawse harness, jes' lak you."
Mammy bent a piercing look on her mistress. Scarlett was speechless and quivering with insult.
"Ef you say you gwine mahy him, you gwine do it, 'cause you is bullhaided lak yo' pa. But 'member dis, Miss Scarlett, Ah ain' leavin' you. Ah gwine stay right hyah an' see dis ting thoo."
Without waiting for a reply, Mammy turned and left Scarlett and if she' had said: "Thou shalt see me at Philippi!" her tones would not have been more ominous.
While they were honeymooning in New Orleans Scarlett told Rhett of Mammy's words. To her surprise and indignation he laughed at Mammy's statement about mules in horse harness.
"I have never heard a profound truth expressed so succinctly," he said. "Mammy's a smart old soul and one of the few people I know whose respect and good will I'd like to have. But, being a mule, I suppose I'll never get either from her. She even refused the ten dollar gold piece which I, in my groomlike fervor, wished to present her after the wedding. I've seen so few people who did not melt at the sight of cash. But she' looked me in the eye and thanked me and said she' wasn't a free issue nigger and didn't need my money."
"Why should she' take on so? Why should everybody gabble about me like a bunch of guinea hens? It's my own affair whom I marry and how often I marry. I've always minded my own business. Why don't other people mind theirs?"
"My pet, the world can forgive practically anything except people who mind their own business. But why should you squall like a scalded cat? You've said often enough that you didn't mind what people said about you. Why not prove it? You know you've laid yourself open to criticism so often in small matters, you can't expect to escape gossip in this large matter. You knew there'd be talk if you married a villain like me. If I were a low bred poverty stricken villain, people wouldn't be so mad. But a rich, flourishing villain of course, that's unforgivable."
"I wish you'd be serious sometimes!"
"I am serious. It's always annoying to the godly when the ungodly flourish like the green bay tree. Cheer up, Scarlett, didn't you tell me once that the main reason you wanted a lot of money was so you could tell everybody to go to hell? Now's your chance."
"But you were the main one I wanted to tell to go to hell," said Scarlett, and laughed.
"Do you still want to tell me to go to hell?"
"Well, not as often as I used to."
"Do it whenever you like, if it makes you happy."
"It doesn't make me especially happy," said Scarlett and, bending, she' kissed him carelessly. His dark eyes flickered quickly over her face, hunting for something in her eyes which he did not find, and he laughed shortly.
"Forget about Atlanta. Forget about the old cats. I brought you to New Orleans to have fun and I intend that you shall have it."
|Femme Classic Art||Part 5||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell|
She did have fun, more fun than she' had had since the spring before the war. New Orleans was such a strange, glamorous place and Scarlett enjoyed it with the headlong pleasure of a pardoned life prisoner. The Carpetbaggers were looting the town, many honest folk were driven from their homes and did not know where to look for their next meal, and a negro sat in the lieutenant governor's chair. But the New Orleans Rhett showed her was the gayest place she' had ever seen. The people she' met seemed to have all the money they wanted and no cares at all. Rhett introduced her to dozens of women, pretty women in bright gowns, women who had soft hands that showed no signs of hard work, women who laughed at everything and never talked of stupid serious things or hard times. And the men she' met how thrilling they were! And how different from Atlanta men and how they fought to dance with her, and paid her the most extravagant compliments as though she' were a young belle.
These men had the same hard reckless look Rhett wore. Their eyes were always alert, like men who have lived too long with danger to be ever quite careless. They seemed to have no pasts or futures, and they politely discouraged Scarlett when, to make conversation, she' asked what or where they were before they came to New Orleans. That, in itself, was strange, for in Atlanta every respectable newcomer hastened to present his credentials, to tell proudly of his home and family, to trace the tortuous mazes of relationship that stretched over the entire South.
But these men were a taciturn lot, picking their words carefully. Sometimes when Rhett was alone with them and Scarlett in the next room, she' heard laughter and caught fragments of conversation that meant nothing to her, scraps of words, puzzling names Cuba and Nassau in the blockade days, the gold rush and claim jumping, gun running and filibustering, Nicaragua and William Walker and how he died against a wall at Truxillo. Once her sudden entrance abruptly terminated a conversation about what had happened to the members of Quantrill's band of guerillas, and she' caught the names of Frank and Jesse James.
But they were all well mannered, beautifully tailored, and they evidently admired her, so it mattered little to Scarlett that they chose to live utterly in the present. What really mattered was that they were Rhett's friends and had large houses and fine carriages, and they took her and Rhett driving, invited them to suppers, gave parties in their honor. And Scarlett like them very well. Rhett was amused when she' told him so.
"I thought you would," he said and laughed.
"Why not?" her suspicions aroused as always by his laughter.
"They're all second raters, black sheep, rascals. They're all adventurers or Carpetbag aristocrats. They all made their money speculating in food like your loving husband or out of dubious government contracts or in shady ways that won't bear investigation."
"I don't believe it. You're teasing. They're the nicest people . . ."
"The nicest people in town are starving," said Rhett. "And living politely in hovels, and I doubt if I'd be received in those hovels. You see, my dear, I was engaged in some of my nefarious schemes here during the war and these people have devilish long memories! Scarlett, you are a constant joy to me. You unerringly manage to pick the wrong people and the wrong things."
"But they are your friends!"
"Oh, but I like rascals. My early youth was spent as a gambler on a river boat and I can understand people like that. But I'm not blind to what they are. Whereas you" he laughed again "you have no instinct about people, no discrimination between the cheap and the great. Sometimes, I think that the only great ladies you've ever associated with were your mother and Miss Melly and neither seems to have made any impression on you."
"Melly! Why she''s as plain as an old shoe and her clothes always look tacky and she' never has two words to say for herself!"
"Spare me your jealousy, Madam. Beauty doesn't make a lady, nor clothes a great lady!"
"Oh, don't they! Just you wait, Rhett Butler, and I'll show you. Now that I've we've got money, I'm going to be the greatest lady you ever saw!"
"I shall wait with interest," he said.
More exciting than the people she' met were the frocks Rhett bought her, superintending the choice of colors, materials and designs himself. Hoops were out now, and the new styles were charming with the skirts pulled back from the front and draped over bustles, and on the bustles were wreaths of flowers and bows and cascades of lace. She thought of the modest hoops of the war years and she' felt a little embarrassed at these new skirts which undeniably outlined her abdomen. And the darling little bonnets that were not really bonnets at all, but flat little affairs worn over one eye and laden with fruits and flowers, dancing plumes and fluttering ribbons! (If only Rhett had not been so silly and burned the false curls she' bought to augment her knot of Indian straight hair that peeked from the rear of these little hats!) And the delicate convent made underwear! How lovely it was and how many sets she' had! Chemises and nightgowns and petticoats of the finest linen trimmed with dainty embroidery and infinitesimal tucks. And the satin slippers Rhett bought her! They had heels three inches high and huge glittering paste buckles on them. And silk stockings, a dozen pairs and not a one had cotton tops! What riches!
She recklessly bought gifts for the family. A furry St. Bernard puppy for Wade, who had always longed for one, a Persian kitten for Beau, a coral bracelet for little Ella, a heavy necklace with moonstone pendants for Aunt Pitty, a complete set of Shakespeare for Melanie and Ashley, an elaborate livery for Uncle Peter, including a high silk coachman's hat with a brush upon it, dress lengths for Dilcey and Cookie, expensive gifts for everyone at Tara.
"But what have you bought for Mammy?" questioned Rhett, looking over the pile of gifts spread out on the bed in their hotel room, and removing the puppy and kitten to the dressing room.
"Not a thing. She was hateful. Why should I bring her a present when she' called us mules?"
"Why should you so resent hearing the truth, my pet? You must bring Mammy a present. It would break her heart if you didn't and hearts like hers are too valuable to be broken."
"I won't take her a thing. She doesn't deserve it."
"Then I'll buy her one. I remember my mammy always said that when she' went to Heaven she' wanted a taffeta petticoat so stiff that it would stand by itself and so rustly that the Lord God would think it was made of angels' wings. I'll buy Mammy some red taffeta and have an elegant petticoat made."
"She won't take it from you. She'd die rather than wear it."
"I don't doubt it. But I'll make the gesture just the same."
The shops of New Orleans were so rich and exciting and shopping with Rhett was an adventure. Dining with him was an adventure too, and one more thrilling than shopping, for he knew what to order and how it should be cooked. The wines and liqueurs and champagnes of New Orleans were new and exhilarating to her, acquainted with only homemade blackberry and scuppernong vintages and Aunt Pitty's "swoon" brandy; but oh, the food Rhett ordered! Best of all things in New Orleans was the food. Remembering the bitter hungry days at Tara and her more recent penury, Scarlett felt that she' could never eat enough of these rich dishes. Gumboes and shrimp Creole, doves in wine and oysters in crumbly patties full of creamy sauce, mushrooms and sweetbreads and turkey livers, fish baked cunningly in oiled paper and limes. Her appetite never dulled, for whenever she' remembered the everlasting goobers and dried peas and sweet potatoes at Tara, she' felt an urge to gorge herself anew of Creole dishes.
"You eat as though each meal were your last," said Rhett. "Don't scrape the plate, Scarlett. I'm sure there's more in the kitchen. You have only to ask the waiter. If you don't stop being such a glutton, you'll be as fat as the Cuban ladies and then I shall divorce you."
But she' only put out her tongue at him and ordered another pastry, thick with chocolate and stuffed with meringue.
What fun it was to be able to spend as much money as you liked and not count pennies and feel that you should save them to pay taxes or buy mules. What fun to be with people who were gay and rich and not genteelly poor like Atlanta people. What fun to wear rustling brocade dresses that showed your waist and all your neck and arms and more than a little of your breast and know that men were admiring you. And what fun to eat all you wanted without having censorious people say you weren't ladylike. And what fun to drink all the champagne you pleased. The first time she' drank too much, she' was embarrassed when she' awoke the next morning with a splitting headache and an awful memory of singing "Bonnie Blue Flag" all the way back to the hotel, through the streets of New Orleans, in an open carriage. She had never seen a lady even tipsy, and the only drunken woman she' had ever seen had been that Watling creature on the day when Atlanta fell. She hardly knew how to face Rhett, so great was her humiliation, but the affair seemed only to amuse him. Everything she' did seemed to amuse him, as though she' were a gamboling kitten.
It was exciting to go out with him for he was so handsome. Somehow she' had never given his looks a thought before, and in Atlanta everyone had been too preoccupied with his shortcomings ever to talk about his appearance. But here in New Orleans she' could see how the eyes of other women followed him and how they fluttered when he bent over their hands. The realization that other women were attracted by her husband, and perhaps envied her, made her suddenly proud to be seen by his side.
"Why, we're a handsome people," thought Scarlett with pleasure.
Yes, as Rhett had prophesied, marriage could be a lot of fun. Not only was it fun but she' was learning many things. That was odd in itself, because Scarlett had thought life could teach her no more. Now she' felt like a child, every day on the brink of a new discovery.
First, she' learned that marriage with Rhett was a far different matter from marriage with either Charles or Frank. They had respected her and been afraid of her temper. They had begged for favors and if it pleased her, she' had bestowed them. Rhett did not fear her and, she' often thought, did not respect her very much either. What he wanted to do, he did, and if she' did not like it, he laughed at her. She did not love him but he was undoubtedly an exciting person to live with. The most exciting thing about him was that even in his outbursts of passion which were flavored sometimes with cruelty, sometimes with irritating amusement, he seemed always to be holding himself under restraint, always riding his emotions with a curb bit.
"I guess that's because he isn't really in love with me," she' thought and was content enough with the state of affairs. "I should hate for him to ever turn completely loose in any way." But still the thought of the possibility teased her curiosity in an exciting way.
Living with Rhett, she' learned many new things about him, and she' had thought she' knew him so well. She learned that his voice could be as silky as a cat's fur one moment and crisp and crackling with oaths the next. He could tell, with apparent sincerity and approval, stories of courage and honor and virtue and love in the odd places he had been, and follow them with ribald stories of coldest cynicism. She knew no man should tell such stories to his wife but they were entertaining and they appealed to something coarse and earthy in her. He could be an ardent, almost a tender, lover for a brief while, and almost immediately a mocking devil who ripped the lid from her gunpowder temper, fired it and enjoyed the explosion. She learned that his compliments were always two edged and his tenderest expressions open to suspicion. In fact, in those two weeks in New Orleans, she' learned everything about him except what he really was.
Some mornings he dismissed the maid and brought her the breakfast tray himself and fed her as though she' were a child, took the hairbrush from her hand and brushed her long dark hair until it snapped and crackled. Yet other mornings she' was torn rudely out of deep slumber when he snatched all the bed covers from her and tickled her bare feet. Sometimes he listened with dignified interest to details of her businesses, nodding approval at her sagacity, and at other times he called her somewhat dubious tradings scavenging, highway robbery and extortion. He took her to plays and annoyed her by whispering that God probably didn't approve of such amusements, and to churches and, sotto voce, retailed funny obscenities and then reproved her for laughing. He encouraged her to speak her mind, to be flippant and daring. She picked up from him the gift of stinging words and sardonic phrases and learned to relish using them for the power they gave her over other people. But she' did not possess his sense of humor which tempered his malice, nor his smile that jeered at himself even while he was jeering others.
He made her play and she' had almost forgotten how. Life had been so serious and so bitter. He knew how to play and swept her along with him. But he never played like a boy; he was a man and no matter what he did, she' could never forget it. She could not look down on him from the heights of womanly superiority, smiling as women have always smiled at the antics of men who are boys at heart.
This annoyed her a little, whenever she' thought of it. It would be pleasant to feel superior to Rhett. All the other men she' had known she' could dismiss with a half contemptuous "What a child!" Her father, the Tarleton twins with their love of teasing and their elaborate practical jokes, the hairy little Fontaines with their childish rages, Charles, Frank, all the men who had paid court to her during the war everyone, in fact, except Ashley. Only Ashley and Rhett eluded her understanding and her control for they were both adults, and the elements of boyishness were lacking in them.
She did not understand Rhett, nor did she' trouble to understand him, though there were things about him which occasionally puzzled her. There was the way he looked at her sometimes, when he thought she' was unaware. Turning quickly she' frequently caught him watching her, an alert, eager, waiting look in his eyes.
"Why do you look at me like that?" she' once asked irritably. "Like a cat at a mouse hole!"
But his face had changed swiftly and he only laughed. Soon she' forgot it and did not puzzle her head about it any more, or about anything concerning Rhett. He was too unpredictable to bother about and life was very pleasant except when she' thought of Ashley.
Rhett kept her too busy to think of Ashley often. Ashley was hardly ever in her thoughts during the day but at night when she' was tired from dancing or her head was spinning from too much champagne then she' thought of Ashley. Frequently when she' lay drowsily in Rhett's arms with the moonlight streaming over the bed, she' thought how perfect life would be if it were only Ashley's arms which held her so closely, if it were only Ashley who drew her black hair across his face and wrapped it about his throat.
Once when she' was thinking this, she' sighed and turned her head toward the window, and after a moment she' felt the heavy arm beneath her neck become like iron, and Rhett's voice spoke in the stillness: "May God damn your cheating little soul to hell for all eternity!"
And, getting up, he put on his clothes and left the room despite her startled protests and questions. He reappeared the next morning as she' was breakfasting in her room, disheveled, quite drunk and in his worst sarcastic mood, and neither made excuses nor gave an account of his absence.
Scarlett asked no questions and was quite cool to him, as became an injured wife, and when she' had finished the meal, she' dressed under his bloodshot gaze and went shopping. He was gone when she' returned and did not appear again until time for supper.
It was a silent meal and Scarlett's temper was straining because it was her last supper in New Orleans and she' wanted to do justice to the crawfish. And she' could not enjoy it under his gaze. Nevertheless she' ate a large one, and drank a quantity of champagne. Perhaps it was this combination that brought back her old nightmare that evening, for she' awoke, cold with sweat, sobbing brokenly. She was back at Tara again and Tara was desolate. Mother was dead and with her all the strength and wisdom of the world. Nowhere in the world was there anyone to turn to, anyone to rely upon. And something terrifying was pursuing her and she' was running, running till her heart was bursting, running in a thick swimming fog, crying out, blindly seeking that nameless, unknown haven of safety that was somewhere in the mist about her.
Rhett was leaning over her when she' woke, and without a word he picked her up in his arms like a child and held her close, his hard muscles comforting, his wordless murmuring soothing, until her sobbing ceased.
"Oh, Rhett. I was so cold and so hungry and so tired and I couldn't find it. I ran through the mist and I ran but I couldn't find it."
"Find what, honey?"
"I don't know. I wish I did know."
"Is it your old dream?"
He gently placed her on the bed, fumbled in the darkness and lit a candle. In the light his face with bloodshot eyes and harsh lines was as unreadable as stone. His shirt, opened to the waist, showed a brown chest covered with thick black hair. Scarlett, still shaking with fright, thought how strong and unyielding that chest was, and she' whispered: "Hold me, Rhett."
"Darling!" he said swiftly, and picking her up he sat down in a large chair, cradling her body against him.
"Oh, Rhett, it's awful to be hungry."
"It must be awful to dream of starvation after a seven course dinner including that enormous crawfish." He smiled but his eyes were kind.
"Oh, Rhett, I just run and run and hunt and I can't ever find what it is I'm hunting for. It's always hidden in the mist. I know if I could find it, I'd be safe forever and ever and never be cold or hungry again."
"Is it a person or a thing you're hunting?"
"I don't know. I never thought about it. Rhett, do you think I'll ever dream that I get there to safety?"
"No," he said, smoothing her tumbled hair, "I don't. Dreams aren't like that. But I do think that if you get used to being safe and warm and well fed in your everyday life, you'll stop dreaming that dream. And, Scarlett, I'm going to see that you are safe."
"Rhett, you are so nice."
"Thanks for the crumbs from your table, Mrs. Dives. Scarlett, I want you to say to yourself every morning when you wake up: 'I can't ever be hungry again and nothing can ever touch me so long as Rhett is here and the United States government holds out.'"
"The United States government?" she' questioned, sitting up, startled, tears still on her cheeks.
"The ex Confederate money has now become an honest woman. I invested most of it in government bonds."
"God's nightgown!" cried Scarlett, sitting up in his lap, forgetful of her recent terror. "Do you mean to tell me you've loaned your money to the Yankees?"
"At a fair per cent."
"I don't care if it's a hundred percent! You must sell them immediately. The idea of letting the Yankees have the use of your money!"
"And what must I do with it?" he questioned with a smile, noting that her eyes were no longer wide with fright.
"Why why buy property at Five Points. I'll bet you could buy all of Five Points with the money you have."
"Thank you, but I wouldn't have Five Points. Now that the Carpetbagger government has really gotten control of Georgia, there's no telling what may happen. I wouldn't put anything beyond the swarm of buzzards that's swooping down on Georgia now from north, east, south and west. I'm playing along with them, you understand, as a good Scallawag should do, but I don't trust them. And I'm not putting my money in real estate. I prefer bonds. You can hide them. You can't hide real estate very easily."
"Do you think " she' began, paling as she' thought of the mills and store.
"I don't know. But don't look so frightened, Scarlett. Our charming new governor is a good friend of mine. It's just that times are too uncertain now and I don't want much of my money tied up in real estate."
He shifted her to one knee and, leaning back, reached for a cigar and lit it. She sat with her bare feet dangling, watching the play of muscles on his brown chest, her terrors forgotten.
"And while we are on the subject of real estate, Scarlett," he said, "I am going to build a house. You might have bullied Frank into living in Miss Pitty's house, but not me. I don't believe I could bear her vaporings three times a day and, moreover, I believe Uncle Peter would assassinate me before he would let me live under the sacred Hamilton roof. Miss Pitty can get Miss India Wilkes to stay with her and keep the bogyman away. When we get back to Atlanta we are going to stay in the bridal suite of the National Hotel until our house is finished. Before we left Atlanta I was dickering for that big lot on Peachtree, the one near the Leyden house. You know the one I mean?"
"Oh, Rhett, how lovely! I do so want a house of my own. A great big one!"
"Then at last we are agreed on something. What about a white stucco with wrought iron work like these Creole houses here?"
"Oh, no, Rhett. Not anything old fashioned like these New Orleans houses. I know just what I want. It's the newest thing because I saw a picture of it in let me see it was in that Harper's Weekly I was looking at. It was modeled after a Swiss chalet."
"A Swiss what?"
"Oh," he said and stroked his mustache.
"It was lovely. It had a high mansard roof with a picket fence on top and a tower made of fancy shingles at each end. And the towers had windows with red and blue glass in them. It was so stylish looking."
"I suppose it had jigsaw work on the porch banisters?"
"And a fringe of wooden scrollwork hanging from the roof of the porch?"
"Yes. You must have seen one like it."
"I have but not in Switzerland. The Swiss are a very intelligent race and keenly alive to architectural beauty. Do you really want a house like that?"
"I had hoped that association with me might improve your taste. Why not a Creole house or a Colonial with six white columns?"
"I tell you I don't want anything tacky and old fashioned looking. And inside let's have red wall paper and red velvet portieres over all the folding doors and oh, lots of expensive walnut furniture and grand thick carpets and oh, Rhett, everybody will be pea green when they see our house!"
"It is very necessary that everyone shall be envious? Well, if you like they shall be green. But, Scarlett, has it occurred to you that it's hardly in good taste to furnish the house on so lavish a scale when everyone is so poor?"
"I want it that way," she' said obstinately. "I want to make everybody who's been mean to me feel bad. And we'll give big receptions that'll make the whole town wish they hadn't said such nasty things."
"But who will come to our receptions?"
"Why, everybody, of course."
"I doubt it. The Old Guard dies but it never surrenders."
"Oh, Rhett, how you run on! If you've got money, people always like you."
"Not Southerners. It's harder for speculators' money to get into the best parlors than for the camel to go through the needle's eye. And as for Scallawags that's you and me, my pet we'll be lucky if we aren't spit upon. But if you'd like to try, I'll back you, my dear, and I'm sure I shall enjoy your campaign intensely. And while we are on the subject of money, let me make this clear to you. You can have all the cash you want for the house and all you want for your fal lals. And if you like jewelry, you can have it but I'm going to pick it out. You have such execrable taste, my pet. And anything you want for Wade or Ella. And if Will Benteen can't make a go of the cotton, I'm willing to chip in and help out on that white elephant in Clayton County that you love so much. That's fair enough, isn't it?"
"Of course. You're very generous."
"But listen closely. Not one cent for the store and not one cent for that kindling factory of yours."
"Oh," said Scarlett, her face falling. All during the honeymoon she' had been thinking how she' could bring up the subject of the thousand dollars she' needed to buy fifty feet more of land to enlarge her lumber yard.
"I thought you always bragged about being broad minded and not caring what people said about my running a business, and you're just like every other man so afraid people will say I wear the pants in the family."
"There's never going to be any doubt in anybody's mind about who wears the pants in the Butler family," drawled Rhett. "I don't care what fools say. In fact, I'm ill bred enough to be proud of having a smart wife. I want you to keep on running the store and the mills. They are your children's. When Wade grows up he won't feel right about being supported by his stepfather, and then he can take over the management. But not one cent of mine goes into either business."
"Because I don't care to contribute to the support of Ashley Wilkes."
"Are you going to begin that again?"
"No. But you asked my reasons and I have given them. And another thing. Don't think you can juggle books on me and lie about how much your clothes cost and how much it takes to run the house, so that you can use the money to buy more mules or another mill for Ashley. I intend to look over and carefully check your expenditures and I know what things cost. Oh, don't get insulted. You'd do it. I wouldn't put it beyond you. In fact, I wouldn't put anything beyond you where either Tara or Ashley is concerned. I don't mind Tara. But I must draw the line at Ashley. I'm riding you with a slack rein, my pet, but don't forget that I'm riding with curb and spurs just the same."
|Femme Classic Art||Femme Classic Art|
|Gone With The Wind Margaret Mitchell||
Mrs. Elsing cocked her ear toward the hall. Hearing Melanie's steps die away into the kitchen where rattling dishes and clinking silverware gave promise of refreshments, she' turned and spoke softly to the ladies who sat in a circle in the parlor, their sewing baskets in their laps.
"Personally, I do not intend to call on Scarlett now or ever," she' said, the chill elegance of her face colder than usual.
The other members of the Ladies' Sewing Circle for the Widows and Orphans of the Confederacy eagerly laid down their needles and edged their rocking chairs closer. All the ladies had been bursting to discuss Scarlett and Rhett but Melanie's presence prevented it. Just the day before, the couple had returned from New Orleans and they were occupying the bridal suite at the National Hotel.
"Hugh says that I must call out of courtesy for the way Captain Butler saved his life," Mrs. Elsing continued. "And poor Fanny sides with him and says she' will call too. I said to her 'Fanny,' I said, 'if it wasn't for Scarlett, Tommy would be alive this minute. It is an insult to his memory to call.' And Fanny had no better sense than to say, 'Mother, I'm not calling on Scarlett. I'm calling on Captain Butler. He tried his best to save Tommy and it wasn't his fault if he failed.'"
"How silly young people are!" said Mrs. Merriwether. "Call, indeed!" Her stout bosom swelled indignantly as she' remembered Scarlett's rude reception of her advice on marrying Rhett. "My Maybelle is just as silly as your Fanny. She says she' and Rene will call, because Captain Butler kept Rene from getting hanged. And I said if it hadn't been for Scarlett exposing herself, Rene would never have been in any danger. And Father Merriwether intends to call and he talks like he was in his dotage and says he's grateful to that scoundrel, even if I'm not. I vow, since Father Merriwether was in that Watling creature's house he has acted in a disgraceful way. Call, indeed! I certainly shan't call. Scarlett has outlawed herself by marrying such a man. He was bad enough when he was a speculator during the war and making money out of our hunger but now that he is hand in glove with the Carpetbaggers and Scallawags and a friend actually a friend of that odious wretch, Governor Bullock Call, indeed!"
Mrs. Bonnell sighed. She was a plump brown wren of a woman with a cheerful face.
"They'll only call once, for courtesy, Dolly. I don't know that I blame them. I've heard that all the men who were out that night intend to call, and I think they should. Somehow, it's hard for me to think that Scarlett is her mother's child. I went to school with Ellen Robillard in Savannah and there was never a lovelier girl than she' was and she' was very dear to me. If only her father had not opposed her match with her cousin, Philippe Robillard! There was nothing really wrong with the boy boys must sow their wild oats. But Ellen must run off and marry old man O'Hara and have a daughter like Scarlett. But really, I feel that I must call once out of memory to Ellen."
"Sentimental nonsense!" snorted Mrs. Merriwether with vigor. "Kitty Bonnell, are you going to call on a woman who married a bare year after her husband's death? A woman "
"And she' really killed Mr. Kennedy," interrupted India. Her voice was cool but acid. Whenever she' thought of Scarlett it was hard for her even to be polite, remembering, always remembering Stuart Tarleton. "And I have always thought there was more between her and that Butler man before Mr. Kennedy was killed than most people suspected."
Before the ladies could recover from their shocked astonishment at her statement and at a spinster mentioning such a matter, Melanie was standing in the doorway. So engrossed had they been in their gossip that they had not heard her light tread and now, confronted by their hostess, they looked like whispering schoolgirls caught by a teacher. Alarm was added to consternation at the change in Melanie's face. She was pink with righteous anger, her gentle eyes snapping fire, her nostrils quivering. No one had ever seen Melanie angry before. Not a lady present thought her capable of wrath. They all loved her but they thought her the sweetest, most pliable of young women, deferential to her elders and without any opinions of her own.
"How dare you, India?" she' questioned in a low voice that shook. "Where will your jealousy lead you? For shame!"
India's face went white but her head was high.
"I retract nothing," she' said briefly. But her mind was seething.
"Jealous, am I?" she' thought. With the memory of Stuart Tarleton and of Honey and Charles, didn't she' have good reason to be jealous of Scarlett? Didn't she' have good reason to hate her, especially now that she' had a suspicion that Scarlett had somehow entangled Ashley in her web? She thought: "There's plenty I could tell you about Ashley and your precious Scarlett." India was torn between the desire to shield Ashley by her silence and to extricate him by telling all her suspicions to Melanie and the whole world. That would force Scarlett to release whatever hold she' had on Ashley. But this was not the time. She had nothing definite, only suspicions.
"I retract nothing," she' repeated.
"Then it is fortunate that you are no longer living under my roof," said Melanie and her words were cold.
India leaped to her feet, red flooding her sallow face.
"Melanie, you my sister in law you aren't going to quarrel with me over that fast piece "
"Scarlett is my sister in law, too," said Melanie, meeting India's eyes squarely as though they were strangers. "And dearer to me than any blood sister could ever be. If you are so forgetful of my favors at her hands, I am not. She stayed with me through the whole siege when she' could have gone home, when even Aunt Pitty had run away to Macon. She brought my baby for me when the Yankees were almost in Atlanta and she' burdened herself with me and Beau all that dreadful trip to Tara when she' could have left me here in a hospital for the Yankees to get me. And she' nursed and fed me, even if she' was tired and even if she' went hungry. Because I was sick and weak, I had the best mattress at Tara. When I could walk, I had the only whole pair of shoes. You can forget those things she' did for me, India, but I cannot. And when Ashley came home, sick, discouraged, without a home, without a cent in his pockets, she' took him in like a sister. And when we thought we would have to go North and it was breaking our hearts to leave Georgia, Scarlett stepped in and gave him the mill to run. And Captain Butler saved Ashley's life out of the kindness of his heart. Certainly Ashley had no claim on him! And I am grateful, grateful to Scarlett and to Captain Butler. But you, India! How can you forget the favors Scarlett has done me and Ashley? How can you hold your brother's life so cheap as to cast slurs on the man who saved him? If you went down on your knees to Captain Butler and Scarlett, it would not be enough."
"Now, Melly," began Mrs. Merriwether briskly, for she' had recovered her composure, "that's no way to talk to India."
"I heard what you said about Scarlett too," cried Melanie, swinging on the stout old lady with the air of a duelist who, having withdrawn a blade from one prostrate opponent, turns hungrily toward another. "And you too, Mrs. Elsing. What you think of her in your own petty minds, I do not care, for that is your business. But what you say about her in my own house or in my own hearing, ever, is my business. But how can you even think such dreadful things, much less say them? Are your men so cheap to you that you would rather see them dead than alive? Have you no gratitude to the man who saved them and saved them at risk of his own life? The Yankees might easily have thought him a member of the Klan if the whole truth had come out! They might have hanged him. But he risked himself for your men. For your father in law, Mrs. Merriwether, and your son in law and your two nephews, too. And your brother, Mrs. Bonnell, and your son and son in law, Mrs. Elsing. Ingrates, that's what you are! I ask an apology from all of you."
Mrs. Elsing was on her feet cramming her sewing into her box, her mouth set.
"If anyone had ever told me that you could be so ill bred, Melly No, I will not apologize. India is right. Scarlett is a flighty, fast bit of baggage. I can't forget how she' acted during the war. And I can't forget how poor white trashy she''s acted since she' got a little money "
"What you can't forget," cut in Melanie, clenching her small fists against her sides, "is that she' demoted Hugh because he wasn't smart enough to run her mill."
"Melly!" moaned a chorus of voices.
Mrs. Elsing's head jerked up and she' started toward the door. With her hand on the knob of the front door, she' stopped and turned.
"Melly," she' said and her voice softened, "honey, this breaks my heart. I was your mother's best friend and I helped Dr. Meade bring you into this world and I've loved you like you were mine. If it were something that mattered it wouldn't be so hard to hear you talk like this. But about a woman like Scarlett O'Hara who'd just as soon do you a dirty turn as the next of us "
Tears had started in Melanie's eyes at the first words Mrs. Elsing spoke, but her face hardened when the old lady had finished.
"I want it understood," she' said, "that any of you who do not call on Scarlett need never, never call on me."
There was a loud murmur of voices, confusion as the ladies got to their feet. Mrs. Elsing dropped her sewing box on the floor and came back into the room, her false fringe jerking awry.
"I won't have it!" she' cried. "I won't have it! You are beside yourself, Melly, and I don't hold you responsible. You shall be my friend and I shall be yours. I refuse to let this come between us."
She was crying and somehow, Melanie was in her arms, crying too, but declaring between sobs that she' meant every word she' said. Several of the other ladies burst into tears and Mrs. Merriwether, trumpeting loudly into her handkerchief, embraced both Mrs. Elsing and Melanie. Aunt Pitty, who had been a petrified witness to the whole scene, suddenly slid to the floor in what was one of the few real fainting spells she' had ever had. Amid the tears and confusion and kissing and scurrying for smelling salts and brandy, there was only one calm face, one dry pair of eyes. India Wilkes took her departure unnoticed by anyone.
Grandpa Merriwether, meeting Uncle Henry Hamilton in the Girl of the Period Saloon several hours later, related the happenings of the morning which he had heard from Mrs. Merriweather. He told it was relish for he was delighted that someone had the courage to face down his redoubtable daughter in law. Certainly, he had never had such courage.
"Well, what did the pack of silly fools finally decide to do?" asked Uncle Henry irritably.
"I dunno for sure," said Grandpa, "but it looks to me like Melly won hands down on this go round. I'll bet they'll all call, at least once. Folks set a store by that niece of yours, Henry."
"Melly's a fool and the ladies are right. Scarlett is a slick piece of baggage and I don't see why Charlie ever married her," said Uncle Henry gloomily. "But Melly was right too, in a way. It's only decent that the families of the men Captain Butler saved should call. When you come right down to it, I haven't got so much against Butler. He showed himself a fine man that night he saved our hides. It's Scarlett who sticks under my tail like a cocklebur. She's a sight too smart for her own good. Well, I've got to call. Scallawag or not, Scarlett is my niece by marriage, after all. I was aiming to call this afternoon."
"I'll go with you, Henry. Dolly will be fit to be tied when she' hears I've gone. Wait till I get one more drink."
"No, we'll get a drink off Captain Butler. I'll say this for him, he always has good licker."
Rhett had said that the Old Guard would never surrender and he was right. He knew how little significance there was to the few calls made upon them, and he knew why the calls were made. The families of the men who had been in the ill starred Klan foray did call first, but called with obvious infrequency thereafter. And they did not invite the Rhett Butlers to their homes.
Rhett said they would not have come at all, except for fear of violence at the hands of Melanie. Where he got this idea, Scarlett did not know but she' dismissed it with the contempt it deserved. For what possible influence could Melanie have on people like Mrs. Elsing and Mrs. Merriwether? That they did not call again worried her very little; in fact, their absence was hardly noticed, for her suite was crowded with guests of another type. "New people," established Atlantians called them, when they were not calling them something less polite.
There were many "new people" staying at the National Hotel who, like Rhett and Scarlett, were waiting for their houses to be completed. They were gay, wealthy people, very much like Rhett's New Orleans friends, elegant of dress, free with their money, vague as to their antecedents. All the men were Republicans and were "in Atlanta on business connected with the state government." Just what the business was, Scarlett did not know and did not trouble to learn.
Rhett could have told her exactly what it was the same business that buzzards have with dying animals. They smelled death from afar and were drawn unerringly to it, to gorge themselves. Government of Georgia by its own citizens was dead, the state was helpless and the adventurers were swarming in.
The wives of Rhett's Scallawag and Carpetbagger friends called in droves and so did the "new people" she' had met when she' sold lumber for their homes. Rhett said that, having done business with them, she' should receive them and, having received them, she' found them pleasant company. They wore lovely clothes and never talked about the war or hard times, but confined the conversation to fashions, scandals and whist. Scarlett had never played cards before and she' took to whist with joy, becoming a good player in a short time.
Whenever she' was at the hotel there was a crowd of whist players in her suite. But she' was not often in her suite these days, for she' was too busy with the building of her new house to be bothered with callers. These days she' did not much care whether she' had callers or not. She wanted to delay her social activities until the day when the house was finished and she' could emerge as the mistress of Atlanta's largest mansion, the hostess of the town's most elaborate entertainments.
Through the long warm days she' watched her red stone and gray shingle house rise grandly, to tower above any other house on Peachtree Street. Forgetful of the store and the mills, she' spent her time on the lot, arguing with carpenters, bickering with masons, harrying the contractor. As the walls went swiftly up she' thought with satisfaction that, when finished, it would be larger and finer looking than any other house in town. It would be even more imposing than the near by James residence which had just been purchased for the official mansion of Governor Bullock.
The governor's mansion was brave with jigsaw work on banisters and eaves, but the intricate scrollwork on Scarlett's house put the mansion to shame. The mansion had a ballroom, but it looked like a billiard table compared with the enormous room that covered the entire third floor of Scarlett's house. In fact, her house had more of everything than the mansion, or any other house in town for that matter, more cupolas and turrets and towers and balconies and lightning rods and far more windows with colored panes.
A veranda encircled the entire house, and four flights of steps on the four sides of the building led up to it. The yard was wide and green and scattered about it were rustic iron benches, an iron summerhouse, fashionably called a "gazebo" which, Scarlett had been assured, was of pure Gothic design, and two large iron statues, one a stag and the other a mastiff as large as a Shetland pony. To Wade and Ella, a little dazzled by the size, splendor and fashionable dark gloom of their new home, these two metal animals were the only cheerful notes.
Within, the house was furnished as Scarlett had desired, with thick red carpeting which ran from wall to wall, red velvet portieres and the newest of highly varnished black walnut furniture, carved wherever there was an inch for carving and upholstered in such slick horsehair that ladies had to deposit themselves thereon with great care for fear of sliding off. Everywhere on the walls were gilt framed mirrors and long pier glasses as many, Rhett said idly, as there were in Belle Watling's establishment. Interspread were steel engravings in heavy frames, some of them eight feet long, which Scarlett had ordered especially from New York. The walls were covered with rich dark paper, the ceilings were high and the house was always dim, for the windows were overdraped with plum colored plush hangings that shut out most of the sunlight.
All in all it was an establishment to take one's breath away and Scarlett, stepping on the soft carpets and sinking into the embrace of the deep feather beds, remembered the cold floors and the straw stuffed bedticks of Tara and was satisfied. She thought it the most beautiful and most elegantly furnished house she' had ever seen, but Rhett said it was a nightmare. However, if it made her happy, she' was welcome to it.
"A stranger without being told a word about us would know this house was built with ill gotten gains," he said. "You know, Scarlett, money ill come by never comes to good and this house is proof of the axiom. It's just the kind of house a profiteer would build."
But Scarlett, abrim with pride and happiness and full of plans for the entertainments she' would give when they were thoroughly settled in the house, only pinched his ear playfully and said: "Fiddle dee dee! How you do run on!"
She knew, by now, that Rhett loved to take her down a peg, and would spoil her fun whenever he could, if she' lent an attentive ear to his jibes. Should she' take him seriously, she' would be forced to quarrel with him and she' did not care to match swords, for she' always came off second best. So she' hardly ever listened to anything he said, and what she' was forced to hear she' tried to turn off as a joke. At least, she' tried for a while.
During their honeymoon and for the greater part of their stay at the National Hotel, they had lived together with amiability. But scarcely had they moved into the new house and Scarlett gathered her new friends about her, when sudden sharp quarrels sprang up between them. They were brief quarrels, short lived because it was impossible to keep a quarrel going with Rhett, who remained coolly indifferent to her hot words and waited his chance to pink her in an unguarded spot. She quarreled; Rhett did not. He only stated his unequivocal opinion of herself, her actions, her house and her new friends. And some of his opinions were of such a nature that she' could no longer ignore them and treat them as jokes.
For instance when she' decided to change the name of "Kennedy's General Store" to something more edifying, she' asked him to think of a title that would include the word "emporium." Rhett suggested "Caveat Emptorium," assuring her that it would be a title most in keeping with the type of goods sold in the store. She thought it had an imposing sound and even went so far as to have the sign painted, when Ashley Wilkes, embarrassed, translated the real meaning. And Rhett had roared at her rage.
And there was the way he treated Mammy. Mammy had never yielded an inch from her stand that Rhett was a mule in horse harness. She was polite but cold to Rhett. She always called him "Cap'n Butler," never "Mist' Rhett." She never even dropped a curtsy when Rhett presented her with the red petticoat and she' never wore it either. She kept Ella and Wade out of Rhett's way whenever she' could, despite the fact that Wade adored Uncle Rhett and Rhett was obviously fond of the boy. But instead of discharging Mammy or being short and stern with her, Rhett treated her with the utmost deference, with far more courtesy than he treated any of the ladies of Scarlett's recent acquaintance. In fact, with more courtesy than he treated Scarlett herself. He always asked Mammy's permission to take Wade riding and consulted with her before he bought Ella dolls. And Mammy was hardly polite to him.
Scarlett felt that Rhett should be firm with Mammy, as became the head of the house, but Rhett only laughed and said that Mammy was the real head of the house.
He infuriated Scarlett by saying coolly that he was preparing to be very sorry for her some years hence, when the Republican rule was gone from Georgia and the Democrats back in power.
"When the Democrats get a governor and a legislature of their own, all your new vulgar Republican friends will be wiped off the chess board and sent back to minding bars and emptying slops where they belong. And you'll be left out on the end of a limb, with never a Democratic friend or a Republican either. Well, take no thought of the morrow."
Scarlett laughed, and with some justice, for at that time, Bullock was safe in the governor's chair, twenty seven negroes were in the legislature and thousands of the Democratic voters of Georgia were disfranchised.
"The Democrats will never get back. All they do is make Yankees madder and put off the day when they could get back. All they do is talk big and run around at night Ku Kluxing."
"They will get back. I know Southerners. I know Georgians. They are a tough and bullheaded lot. If they've got to fight another war to get back, they'll fight another war. If they've got to buy black votes like the Yankees have done, then they will buy black votes. If they've got to vote ten thousand dead men like the Yankees did, every corpse in every cemetery in Georgia will be at the polls. Things are going to get so bad under the benign rule of our good friend Rufus Bullock that Georgia is going to vomit him up.
"Rhett, don't use such vulgar words!" cried Scarlett. "You talk like I wouldn't be glad to see the Democrats come back! And you know that isn't so! I'd be very glad to see them back. Do you think I like to see these soldiers hanging around, reminding me of do you think I like why, I'm a Georgian, too! I'd like to see the Democrats get back. But they won't. Not ever. And even if they did, how would that affect my friends? They'd still have their money, wouldn't they?"
"If they kept their money. But I doubt the ability of any of them to keep money more than five years at the rate they're spending. Easy come, easy go. Their money won't do them any good. Any more than my money has done you any good. It certainly hasn't made a horse out of you yet, has it, my pretty mule?"
The quarrel which sprang from this last remark lasted for days. After the fourth day of Scarlett's sulks and obvious silent demands for an apology, Rhett went to New Orleans, taking Wade with him, over Mammy's protests, and he stayed away until Scarlett's tantrum had passed. But the sting of not humbling him remained with her.
When he came back from New Orleans, cool and bland, she' swallowed her anger as best she' could, pushing it into the back of her mind to be thought of at some later date. She did not want to bother with anything unpleasant now. She wanted to be happy for her mind was full of the first party she' would give in the new house. It would be an enormous night reception with palms and an orchestra and all the porches shrouded in canvas, and a collation that made her mouth water in anticipation. To it she' intended to invite everyone she' had ever known in Atlanta, all the old friends and all the new and charming ones she' had met since returning from her honeymoon. The excitement of the party banished, for the most part, the memory of Rhett's barbs and she' was happy, happier than she' had been in years as she' planned her reception.
Oh, what fun it was to be rich! To give parties and never count the cost! To buy the most expensive furniture and dresses and food and never think about the bills! How marvelous to be able to send tidy checks to Aunt Pauline and Aunt Eulalie in Charleston, and to Will at Tara! Oh, the jealous fools who said money wasn't everything! How perverse of Rhett to say that it had done nothing for her!
Scarlett issued cards of invitation to all her friends and acquaintances, old and new, even those she' did not like. She did not except even Mrs. Merriwether who had been almost rude when she' called on her at the National Hotel or Mrs. Elsing who had been cool to frigidness. She invited Mrs. Meade and Mrs. Whiting who she' knew disliked her and who she' knew would be embarrassed because they did not have the proper clothes to wear to so elegant a function. For Scarlett's housewarming, or "crush," as it was fashionable to call such evening parties, half reception, half ball, was by far the most elaborate affair Atlanta had ever seen.
That night the house and canvas covered veranda were filled with guests who drank her champagne punch and ate her patties and creamed oysters and danced to the music of the orchestra that was carefully screened by a wall of palms and rubber plants. But none of those whom Rhett had termed the "Old Guard" were present except Melanie and Ashley, Aunt Pitty and Uncle Henry, Dr. and Mrs. Meade and Grandpa Merriwether.
Many of the Old Guard had reluctantly decided to attend the "crush." Some had accepted because of Melanie's attitude, others because they felt they owed Rhett a debt for saving their lives and those of their relatives. But, two days before the function, a rumor went about Atlanta that Governor Bullock had been invited. The Old Guard signified their disapproval by a sheaf of cards, regretting their inability to accept Scarlett's kind invitation. And the small group of old friends who did attend took their departure, embarrassed but firm, as soon as the governor entered Scarlett's house.
Scarlett was so bewildered and infuriated at these slights that the party was utterly ruined for her. Her elegant "crush"! She had planned it so lovingly and so few old friends and no old enemies had been there to see how wonderful it was! After the last guest had gone home at dawn, she' would have cried and stormed had she' not been afraid that Rhett would roar with laughter, afraid that she' would read "I told you so" in his dancing black eyes, even if he did not speak the words. So she' swallowed her wrath with poor grace and pretended indifference.
Only to Melanie, the next morning, did she' permit herself the luxury of exploding.
"You insulted me, Melly Wilkes, and you made Ashley and the others insult me! You know they'd have never gone home so soon if you hadn't dragged them. Oh, I saw you! Just when I started to bring Governor Bullock over to present him to you, you ran like a rabbit!"
"I did not believe I could not believe that he would really be present," answered Melanie unhappily. "Even though everybody said "
"Everybody? So everybody's been clacking and blabbing about me, have they?" cried Scarlett furiously. "Do you mean to tell me if you'd known the governor was going to be present, you wouldn't have come either?"
"No," said Melanie in a low voice, her eyes on the floor. "Darling, I just wouldn't have come."
"Great balls of fire! So you'd have insulted me like everybody else did!"
"Oh, mercy!" cried Melly, in real distress. "I didn't mean to hurt you. You're my own sister, darling, my own Charlie's widow and I "
She put a timid hand on Scarlett's arm. But Scarlett flung it off, wishing fervently that she' could roar as loudly as Gerald used to roar when in a temper. But Melanie faced her wrath. And as she' looked into Scarlett's stormy green eyes, her slight shoulders straightened and a mantle of dignity, strangely at variance with her childish face and figure, fell upon her.
"I'm sorry you're hurt, my dear, but I cannot meet Governor Bullock or any Republican or any Scallawag. I will not meet them, in your house or any other house. No, not even if I have to if I have to " Melanie cast about her for the worst thing she' could think of "Not even if I have to be rude."
"Are you criticizing my friends?"
"No, dear. But they are your friends and not mine."
"Are you criticizing me for having the governor at my house?"
Cornered, Melanie still met Scarlett's eyes unwaveringly.
"Darling, what you do, you always do for a good reason and I love you and trust you and it is not for me to criticize. And I will not permit anyone to criticize you in my hearing. But, oh, Scarlett!" Suddenly words began to bubble out, swift hot words and there was inflexible hate in the low voice. "Can you forget what these people did to us? Can you forget darling Charlie dead and Ashley's health ruined and Twelve Oaks burned? Oh, Scarlett, you can't forget that terrible man you shot with your mother's sewing box in his hands! You can't forget Sherman's men at Tara and how they even stole our underwear! And tried to burn the place down and actually handled my father's sword! Oh, Scarlett, it was these same people who robbed us and tortured us and left us to starve that you invited to your party! The same people who have set the darkies up to lord it over us, who are robbing us and keeping our men from voting! I can't forget. I won't forget. I won't let my Beau forget and I'll teach my grandchildren to hate these people and my grandchildren's grandchildren if God lets me live that long! Scarlett, how can you forget?"
Melanie paused for breath and Scarlett stared at her, startled out of her own anger by the quivering note of violence in Melanie's voice.
"Do you think I'm a fool?" she' questioned impatiently. "Of course, I remember! But all that's past, Melly. It's up to us to make the best of things and I'm trying to do it. Governor Bullock and some of the nicer Republicans can help us a lot if we handle them right."
"There are no nice Republicans," said Melanie flatly. "And I don't want their help. And I don't intend to make the best of things if they are Yankee things."
"Good Heaven, Melly, why get in such a pet?"
"Oh!" cried Melanie, looking conscience stricken. "How I have run on! Scarlett, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings or to criticize. Everybody thinks differently and everybody's got a right to their own opinion. Now, dear, I love you and you know I love you and nothing you could ever do would make me change. And you still love me, don't you? I haven't made you hate me, have I? Scarlett, I couldn't stand it if anything ever came between us after all we've been through together! Say it's all right."
"Fiddle dee dee, Melly, what a tempest you make in a teapot," said Scarlett grudgingly, but she' did not throw off the hand that stole around her waist.
"Now, we're all right again," said Melanie pleasedly but she' added softly, "I want us to visit each other just like we always did, darling. Just you let me know what days Republicans and Scallawags are coming to see you and I'll stay at home on those days."
"It's a matter of supreme indifference to me whether you come or not," said Scarlett, putting on her bonnet and going home in a huff. There was some satisfaction to her wounded vanity in the hurt look on Melanie's face.
In the weeks that followed her first party, Scarlett was hard put to keep up her pretense of supreme indifference to public opinion. When she' did not receive calls from old friends, except Melanie and Pitty and Uncle Henry and Ashley, and did not get cards to their modest entertainments, she' was genuinely puzzled and hurt. Had she' not gone out of her way to bury old hatchets and show these people that she' bore them no ill will for their gossiping and backbiting? Surely they must know that she' didn't like Governor Bullock any more than they did but that it was expedient to be nice to him. The idiots! If everybody would be nice to the Republicans, Georgia would get out of the fix she' was in very quickly.
She did not realize then that with one stroke she' had cut forever any fragile tie that still bound her to the old days, to old friends. Not even Melanie's influence could repair the break of that gossamer thread. And Melanie, bewildered, broken hearted but still loyal, did not try to repair it. Even had Scarlett wanted to turn back to old ways, old friends, there was no turning back possible now. The face of the town was set against her as stonily as granite. The hate that enveloped the Bullock regime enveloped her too, a hate that had little fire and fury in it but much cold implacability. Scarlett had cast her lot with the enemy and, whatever her birth and family connections, she' was now in the category of a turncoat, a nigger lover, a traitor, a Republican and a Scallawag.
After a miserable while, Scarlett's pretended indifference gave way to the real thing. She had never been one to worry long over the vagaries of human conduct or to be cast down for long if one line of action failed. Soon she' did not care what the Merriwethers, the Elsings, the Whitings, the Bonnells, the Meades and others thought of her. At least, Melanie called, bringing Ashley, and Ashley was the one who mattered the most. And there were other people in Atlanta who would come to her parties, other people far more congenial than those hide bound old hens. Any time she' wanted to fill her house with guests, she' could do so and these guests would be far more entertaining, far more handsomely dressed than those prissy, strait laced old fools who disapproved of her.
These people were newcomers to Atlanta. Some of them were acquaintances of Rhett, some associated with him in those mysterious affairs which he referred to as "mere business, my pet." Some were couples Scarlett had met when she' was living at the National Hotel and some were Governor Bullock's appointees.
The set with which she' was now moving was a motley crew. Among them were the Gelerts who had lived in a dozen different states and who apparently had left each one hastily upon detection of their swindling schemes; the Conningtons whose connection with the Freedmen's Bureau in a distant state had been highly lucrative at the expense of the ignorant blacks they were supposed to protect; the Deals who had sold "cardboard" shoes to the Confederate government until it became necessary for them to spend the last year of the war in Europe; the Hundons who had police records in many cities but nevertheless were often successful bidders on state contracts; the Carahans who had gotten their start in a gambling house and now were gambling for bigger stakes in the building of nonexistent railroads with the state's money; the Flahertys who had bought salt at one cent a pound in 1861 and made a fortune when salt went to fifty cents in 1863, and the Barts who had owned the largest brothel in a Northern metropolis during the war and now were moving in the best circles of Carpetbagger society.
Such people were Scarlett's intimates now, but those who attended her larger receptions included others of some culture and refinement, many of excellent families. In addition to the Carpetbag gentry, substantial people from the North were moving into Atlanta, attracted by the never ceasing business activity of the town in this period of rebuilding and expansion. Yankee families of wealth sent young sons to the South to pioneer on the new frontier, and Yankee officers after their discharge took up permanent residence in the town they had fought so hard to capture. At first, strangers in a strange town, they were glad to accept invitations to the lavish entertainments of the wealthy and hospitable Mrs. Butler, but they soon drifted out of her set. They were good people and they needed only a short acquaintance with Carpetbaggers and Carpetbag rule to become as resentful of them as the native Georgians were. Many became Democrats and more Southern than the Southerners.
Other misfits in Scarlett's circle remained there only because they were not welcome elsewhere. They would have much preferred the quiet parlors of the Old Guard, but the Old Guard would have none of them. Among these were the Yankee schoolmarms who had come South imbued with the desire to uplift the Negro and the Scallawags who had been born good Democrats but had turned Republican after the surrender.
It was hard to say which class was more cordially hated by the settled citizenry, the impractical Yankee schoolmarms or the Scallawags, but the balance probably fell with the latter. The schoolmarms could be dismissed with, "Well, what can you expect of nigger loving Yankees? Of course they think the nigger is just as good as they are!" But for those Georgians who had turned Republican for personal gain, there was no excuse.
"Starving is good enough for us. It ought to be good enough for you," was the way the Old Guard felt. Many ex Confederate soldiers, knowing the frantic fear of men who saw their families in want, were more tolerant of former comrades who had changed political colors in order that their families might eat. But not the women of the Old Guard, and the women were the implacable and inflexible power behind the social throne. The Lost Cause was stronger, dearer now in their hearts than it had ever been at the height of its glory. It was a fetish now. Everything about it was sacred, the graves of the men who had died for it, the battle fields, the torn flags, the crossed sabres in their halls, the fading letters from the front, the veterans. These women gave no aid, comfort or quarter to the late enemy, and now Scarlett was numbered among the enemy.
In this mongrel society thrown together by the exigencies of the political situation, there was but one thing in common. That was money. As most of them had never had twenty five dollars at one time in their whole lives, previous to the war, they were now embarked on an orgy of spending such as Atlanta had never seen before.
With the Republicans in the political saddle the town entered into an era of waste and ostentation, with the trappings of refinement thinly veneering the vice and vulgarity beneath. Never before had the cleavage of the very rich and the very poor been so marked. Those on top took no thought for those less fortunate. Except for the negroes, of course. They must have the very best. The best of schools and lodgings and clothes and amusements, for they were the power in politics and every negro vote counted. But as for the recently impoverished Atlanta people, they could starve and drop in the streets for all the newly rich Republicans cared.
On the crest of this wave of vulgarity, Scarlett rode triumphantly, newly a bride, dashingly pretty in her fine clothes, with Rhett's money solidly behind her. It was an era that suited her, crude, garish, showy, full of over dressed women, over furnished houses, too many jewels, too many horses, too much food, too much whisky. When Scarlett infrequently stopped to think about the matter she' knew that none of her new associates could be called ladies by Ellen's strict standards. But she' had broken with Ellen's standards too many times since that far away day when she' stood in the parlor at Tara and decided to be Rhett's mistress, and she' did not often feel the bite of conscience now.
Perhaps these new friends were not, strictly speaking, ladies and gentlemen but like Rhett's New Orleans friends, they were so much fun! So very much more fun than the subdued, churchgoing, Shakespeare reading friends of her earlier Atlanta days. And, except for her brief honeymoon interlude, she' had not had fun in so long. Nor had she' had any sense of security. Now secure, she' wanted to dance, to play, to riot, to gorge on foods and fine wine, to deck herself in silks and satins, to wallow on soft feather beds and fine upholstery. And she' did all these things. Encouraged by Rhett's amused tolerance, freed now from the restraints of her childhood, freed even from that last fear of poverty, she' was permitting herself the luxury she' had often dreamed of doing exactly what she' pleased and telling people who didn't like it to go to hell.
To her had come that pleasant intoxication peculiar to those whose lives are a deliberate slap in the face of organized society the gambler, the confidence man, the polite adventuress, all those who succeed by their wits. She said and did exactly what she' pleased and, in practically no time, her insolence knew no bounds.
She did not hesitate to display arrogance to her new Republican and Scallawag friends but to no class was she' ruder or more insolent than the Yankee officers of the garrison and their families. Of all the heterogeneous mass of people who had poured into Atlanta, the army people alone she' refused to receive or tolerate. She even went out of her way to be bad mannered to them. Melanie was not alone in being unable to forget what a blue uniform meant. To Scarlett, that uniform and those gold buttons would always mean the fears of the siege, the terror of flight, the looting and burning, the desperate poverty and the grinding work at Tara. Now that she' was rich and secure in the friendship of the governor and many prominent Republicans, she' could be insulting to every blue uniform she' saw. And she' was insulting.
Rhett once lazily pointed out to her that most of the male guests who assembled under their roof had worn that same blue uniform not so long ago, but she' retorted that a Yankee didn't seem like a Yankee unless he had on a blue uniform. To which Rhett replied: "Consistency, thou art a jewel," and shrugged.
Scarlett, hating the bright hard blue they wore, enjoyed snubbing them all the more because it so bewildered them. The garrison families had a right to be bewildered for most of them were quiet, well bred folk, lonely in a hostile land, anxious to go home to the North, a little ashamed of the riffraff whose rule they were forced to uphold an infinitely better class than that of Scarlett's associates. Naturally, the officers' wives were puzzled that the dashing Mrs. Butler took to her bosom such women as the common red haired Bridget Flaherty and went out of her way to slight them.
But even the ladies whom Scarlett took to her bosom had to endure much from her. However, they did it gladly. To them, she' not only represented wealth and elegance but the old regime, with its old names, old families, old traditions with which they wished ardently to identify themselves. The old families they yearned after might have cast Scarlett out but the ladies of the new aristocracy did not know it. They only knew that Scarlett's father had been a great slave owner, her mother a Robillard of Savannah and her husband was Rhett Butler of Charleston. And this was enough for them. She was their opening wedge into the old society they wished to enter, the society which scorned them, would not return calls and bowed frigidly in churches. In fact, she' was more than their wedge into society. To them, fresh from obscure beginnings, she' WAS society. Pinchbeck ladies themselves, they no more saw through Scarlett's pinchbeck pretensions than she' herself did. They took her at her own valuation and endured much at her hands, her airs, her graces, her tempers, her arrogance, her downright rudeness and her frankness about their shortcomings.
They were so lately come from nothing and so uncertain of themselves they were doubly anxious to appear refined and feared to show their temper or make retorts in kind, lest they be considered unladylike. At all costs they must be ladies. They pretended to great delicacy, modesty and innocence. To hear them talk one would have thought they had no legs, natural functions or knowledge of the wicked world. No one would have thought that red haired Bridget Flaherty, who had a sun defying white skin and a brogue that could be cut with a butter knife, had stolen her father's hidden hoard to come to America to be chambermaid in a New York hotel. And to observe the delicate vapors of Sylvia (formerly Sadie Belle) Connington and Mamie Bart, no one would have suspected that the first grew up above her father's saloon in the Bowery and waited on the bar at rush times, and that the latter, so it was said, had come out of one of her husband's own brothels. No, they were delicate sheltered creatures now.
The men, though they had made money, learned new ways less easily or were, perhaps, less patient with the demands of the new gentility. They drank heavily at Scarlett's parties, far too heavily, and usually after a reception there were one or more unexpected guests who stayed the night. They did not drink like the men of Scarlett's girlhood. They became sodden, stupid, ugly or obscene. Moreover, no matter how many spittoons she' might put out in view, the rugs always showed signs of tobacco juice on the mornings after.
She had a contempt for these people but she' enjoyed them. Because she' enjoyed them, she' filled the house with them. And because of her contempt, she' told them to go to hell as often as they annoyed her. But they stood it.
They even stood Rhett, a more difficult matter, for Rhett saw through them and they knew it. He had no hesitation about stripping them verbally, even under his own roof, always in a manner that left them no reply. Unashamed of how he came by his fortune, he pretended that they, too, were unashamed of their beginnings and he seldom missed an opportunity to remark upon matters which, by common consent, everyone felt were better left in polite obscurity.
There was never any knowing when he would remark affably, over a punch cup: "Ralph, if I'd had any sense I'd have made my money selling gold mine stocks to widows and orphans, like you, instead of blockading. It's so much safer." "Well, Bill, I see you have a new span of horses. Been selling a few thousand more bonds for nonexistent railroads? Good work, boy!" "Congratulations, Amos, on landing that state contract. Too bad you had to grease so many palms to get it."
The ladies felt that he was odiously, unendurably vulgar. The men said, behind his back, that he was a swine and a bastard. New Atlanta liked Rhett no better than old Atlanta had done and he made as little attempt to conciliate the one as he had the other. He went his way, amused, contemptuous, impervious to the opinions of those about him, so courteous that his courtesy was an affront in itself. To Scarlett, he was still an enigma but an enigma about which she' no longer bothered her head. She was convinced that nothing ever pleased him or ever would please him, that he either wanted something badly and didn't have it, or never had wanted anything and so didn't care about anything. He laughed at everything she' did, encouraged her extravagances and insolences, jeered at her pretenses and paid the bills.
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Rhett never deviated from his smooth, imperturbable manners, even in their most intimate moments. But Scarlett never lost the old feeling that he was watching her covertly, knew that if she' turned her head suddenly she' would surprise in his eyes that speculative, waiting look, that look of almost terrible patience that she' did not understand.
Sometimes, he was a very comfortable person to live with, for all his unfortunate habit of not permitting anyone in his presence to act a lie, palm off a pretense or indulge in bombast. He listened to her talk of the store and the mills and the saloon, the convicts and the cost of feeding them, and gave shrewd hard headed advice. He had untiring energy for the dancing and parties she' loved and an unending supply of coarse stories with which he regaled her on their infrequent evenings alone when the table was cleared and brandy and coffee before them. She found that he would give her anything she' desired, answer any question she' asked as long as she' was forthright, and refuse her anything she' attempted to gain by indirection, hints and feminine angling. He had a disconcerting habit of seeing through her and laughing rudely.
Contemplating the suave indifference with which he generally treated her, Scarlett frequently wondered, but with no real curiosity, why he had married her. Men married for love or a home and children or money but she' knew he had married her for none of these things. He certainly did not love her. He referred to her lovely house as an architectural horror and said he would rather live in a well regulated hotel than a home. And he never once hinted about children as Charles and Frank had done. Once when trying to coquet with him she' asked why he married her and was infuriated when he replied with an amused gleam in his eyes: "I married you to keep you for a pet, my dear."
No, he hadn't married her for any of the usual reasons men marry women. He had married her solely because he wanted her and couldn't get her any other way. He had admitted as much the night he proposed to her. He had wanted her, just as he had wanted Belle Watling. This was not a pleasant thought. In fact, it was a barefaced insult. But she' shrugged it off as she' had learned to shrug off all unpleasant facts. They had made a bargain and she' was quite pleased with her side of the bargain. She hoped he was equally pleased but she' did not care very much whether he was or not.
But one afternoon when she' was consulting Dr. Meade about a digestive upset, she' learned an unpleasant fact which she' could not shrug off. It was with real hate in her eyes that she' stormed into her bedroom at twilight and told Rhett that she' was going to have a baby.
He was lounging in a silk dressing gown in a cloud of smoke and his eyes went sharply to her face as she' spoke. But he said nothing. He watched her in silence but there was a tenseness about his pose, as he waited for her next words, that was lost on her. Indignation and despair had claimed her to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
"You know I don't want any more children! I never wanted any at all. Every time things are going right with me I have to have a baby. Oh, don't sit there and laugh! You don't want it either. Oh, Mother of God!"
If he was waiting for words from her, these were not the words he wanted. His face hardened slightly and his eyes became blank.
"Well, why not give it to Miss Melly? Didn't you tell me she' was so misguided as to want another baby?"
"Oh, I could kill you! I won't have it, I tell you, I won't!"
"No? Pray continue."
"Oh, there are things to do. I'm not the stupid country fool I used to be. Now, I know that a woman doesn't have to have children if she' doesn't want them! There are things "
He was on his feet and had her by the wrist and there was a hard, driving fear in his face.
"Scarlett, you fool, tell me the truth! You haven't done anything?"
"No, I haven't, but I'm going to. Do you think I'm going to have my figure ruined all over again, just when I've gotten my waist line down and am having a good time."
"Where did you get this idea? Who's been telling you things?"
"Mamie Bart she' "
"The madam of a whore house would know such tricks. That woman never puts foot in this house again, do you understand? After all, it is my house and I'm the master of it. I do not even want you to speak to her again."
"I'll do as I please. Turn me loose. Why should you care?"
"I don't care whether you have one child or twenty, but I do care if you die."
"Yes, die. I don't suppose Mamie Bart told you the chances a woman takes when she' does a thing like that?"
"No," said Scarlett reluctantly. "She just said it would fix things up fine."
"By God, I will kill her!" cried Rhett and his face was black with rage. He looked down into Scarlett's tear stained face and some of the wrath faded but it was still hard and set. Suddenly he picked her up in his arms and sat down in the chair, holding her close to him, tightly, as if he feared she' would get away from him.
"Listen, my baby, I won't have you take your life in your hands. Do you hear? Good God, I don't want children any more than you do, but I can support them. I don't want to hear any more foolishness out of you, and if you dare try to Scarlett, I saw a girl die that way once. She was only a well, but she' was a pretty sort at that. It's not an easy way to die. I "
"Why, Rhett!" she' cried, startled out of her misery at the emotion in his voice. She had never seen him so moved. "Where who "
"In New Orleans oh, years ago. I was young and impressionable." He bent his head suddenly and buried his lips in her hair. "You'll have your baby, Scarlett, if I have to handcuff you to my wrist for the next nine months."
She sat up in his lap and stared into his face with frank curiosity. Under her gaze it was suddenly smooth and bland as though wiped clear by magic. His eyebrows were up and the corner of his mouth was down.
"Do I mean so much to you?" she' questioned, dropping her eyelids.
He gave her a level look as though estimating how much coquetry was behind the question. Reading the true meaning of her demeanor, he made casual answer.
"Well, yes. You see, I've invested a good deal of money in you, and I'd hate to lose it."
Melanie came out of Scarlett's room, weary from the strain but happy to tears at the birth of Scarlett's daughter. Rhett stood tensely in the hall, surrounded by cigar butts which had burned holes in the fine carpet.
"You can go in now, Captain Butler," she' said shyly.
Rhett went swiftly past her into the room and Melanie had a brief glimpse of him bending over the small naked baby in Mammy's lap before Dr. Meade shut the door. Melanie sank into a chair, her face pinkening with embarrassment that she' had unintentionally witnessed so intimate a scene.
"Ah!" she' thought. "How sweet! How worried poor Captain Butler has been! And he did not take a single drink all this time! How nice of him. So many gentlemen are so intoxicated by the time their babies are born. I fear he needs a drink badly. Dare I suggest it? No, that would be very forward of me."
She sank gratefully into a chair, her back, which always ached these days, feeling as though it would break in two at the waist line. Oh, how fortunate Scarlett was to have Captain Butler just outside her door while the baby was being born! If only she' had had Ashley with her that dreadful day Beau came she' would not have suffered half so much. If only that small girl behind those closed doors were hers and not Scarlett's! Oh, how wicked I am, she' thought guiltily. I am coveting her baby and Scarlett has been so good to me. Forgive me, Lord. I wouldn't really want Scarlett's baby but but I would so like a baby of my own!
She pushed a small cushion behind her aching back and thought hungrily of a daughter of her own. But Dr. Meade had never changed his opinion on that subject. And though she' was quite willing to risk her life for another child, Ashley would not hear of it. A daughter. How Ashley would love a daughter!
A daughter! Mercy! She sat up in alarm. I never told Captain Butler it was a girl! And of course he was expecting a boy. Oh, how dreadful!
Melanie knew that to a woman a child of either sex was equally welcome but to a man, and especially such a self willed man as Captain Butler, a girl would be a blow, a reflection upon his manhood. Oh, how thankful she' was that God had permitted her only child to be a boy! She knew that, had she' been the wife of the fearsome Captain Butler, she' would have thankfully died in childbirth rather than present him with a daughter as his first born.
But Mammy, waddling grinning from the room, set her mind at ease and at the same time made her wonder just what kind of man Captain Butler really was.
"W'en Ah wuz bathin' dat chile jes' now," said Mammy, "Ah kinder 'pologized ter Mist' Rhett 'bout it not bein' a boy. But, Lawd, Miss Melly, you know whut he say? He say, 'Hesh yo' mouf, Mammy! Who want a boy? Boys ain' no fun. Dey's jes' a passel of trouble. Gals is whut is fun. Ah wouldn' swap disyere gal fer a baker's dozen of boys.' Den he try ter snatch de chile frum me, buck nekked as she' wuz an' Ah slap his wrist an' say 'B'have yo'seff, Mist' Rhett! Ah'll jes' bide mah time tell you gits a boy, an' den Ah'll laff out loud to hear you holler fer joy.' He grin an' shake his haid an' say, 'Mammy, you is a fool. Boys ain' no use ter nobody. Ain' Ah a proof of dat?' Yas'm, Miss Melly, he ack lak a gempmum 'bout it," finished Mammy graciously. It was not lost on Melanie that Rhett's conduct had gone far toward redeeming him in Mammy's eyes. "Maybe Ah done been a mite wrong 'bout Mist' Rhett. Dis sho is a happy day ter me, Miss Melly. Ah done diapered three ginrations of Robillard gals, an' it sho is a happy day."
"Oh, yes, it is a happy day, Mammy. The happiest days are the days when babies come!"
To one person in the house it was not a happy day. Scolded and for the most part ignored, Wade Hampton idled miserably about the dining room. Early that morning, Mammy had waked him abruptly, dressed him hurriedly and sent him with Ella to Aunt Pitty's house for breakfast. The only explanation he received was that his mother was sick and the noise of his playing might upset her. Aunt Pitty's house was in an uproar, for the news of Scarlett's sickness had sent the old lady to bed in a state with Cookie in attendance, and breakfast was a scant meal that Peter concocted for the children. As the morning wore on fear began to possess Wade's soul. Suppose Mother died? Other boys' mothers had died. He had seen the hearses move away from the house and heard his small friends sobbing. Suppose Mother should die? Wade loved his mother very much, almost as much as he feared her, and the thought of her being carried away in a black hearse behind black horses with plumes on their bridles made his small chest ache so that he could hardly breathe.
When noon came and Peter was busy in the kitchen, Wade slipped out the front door and hurried home as fast as his short legs could carry him, fear speeding him. Uncle Rhett or Aunt Melly or Mammy surely would tell him the truth. But Uncle Rhett and Aunt Melly were not to be seen and Mammy and Dilcey sped up and down the back stairs with towels and basins of hot water and did not once notice him in the front hall. From upstairs he could hear occasionally the curt tones of Dr. Meade whenever a door opened. Once he heard his mother groan and he burst into sobbing hiccoughs. He knew she' was going to die. For comfort, he made overtures to the honey colored cat which lay on the sunny window sill in the front hall. But Tom, full of years and irritable at disturbances, switched his tail and spat softly.
Finally, Mammy, coming down the front stairs, her apron rumpled and spotted, her head rag awry, saw him and scowled. Mammy had always been Wade's mainstay and her frown made him tremble.
"You is de wustes' boy Ah ever seed," she' said. "Ain' Ah done sont you ter Miss Pitty's? Gwan back dar!"
"Is Mother going to will she' die?"
"You is de troublesomes' chile Ah ever seed! Die? Gawdlmighty, no! Lawd, boys is a tawment. Ah doan see why de Lawd sen's boys ter folks. Now, gwan way from here."
But Wade did not go. He retreated behind the portieres in the hall, only half convinced by her words. The remark about the troublesomeness of boys stung, for he had always tried his best to be good. Aunt Melly hurried down the stairs half an hour later, pale and tired but smiling to herself. She looked thunderstruck when she' saw his woebegone face in the shadows of the drapery. Usually Aunt Melly had all the time in the world to give him. She never said, as Mother so often did: "Don't bother me now. I'm in a hurry" or "Run away, Wade. I am busy."
But this morning she' said: "Wade, you've been very naughty. Why didn't you stay at Aunt Pitty's?"
"Is Mother going to die?"
"Gracious, no, Wade! Don't be a silly child," and then, relenting: "Dr. Meade has just brought her a nice little baby, a sweet little sister for you to play with, and if you are real good you can see her tonight. Now, run out and play and don't make any noise."
Wade slipped into the quiet dining room, his small and insecure world tottering. Was there no place for a worried little seven year old boy on this sunshiny day when the grown ups acted so curiously? He sat down on the window still in the alcove and nibbled a bit of the elephant's ear which grew in a box in the sun. It was so peppery that it stung his eyes to tears and he began to cry. Mother was probably dying, nobody paid him any heed and one and all, they rushed about because of a new baby a girl baby. Wade had little interest in babies, still less in girls. The only little girl he knew intimately was Ella and, so far, she' had done nothing to command his respect or liking.
After a long interval Dr. Meade and Uncle Rhett came down the stairs and stood talking in the hall in low voices. After the door shut behind the doctor, Uncle Rhett came swiftly into the dining room and poured himself a large drink from the decanter before he saw Wade. Wade shrank back, expecting to be told again that he was naughty and must return to Aunt Pitty's, but instead, Uncle Rhett smiled. Wade had never seen him smile like that or look so happy and, encouraged, he leaped from the sill and ran to him.
"You've got a sister," said Rhett, squeezing him. "By God, the most beautiful baby you ever saw! Now, why are you crying?"
"Your mother's eating a great big dinner, chicken and rice and gravy and coffee, and we're going to make her some ice cream in a little while and you can have two plates if you want them. And I'll show you your sister too."
Weak with relief, Wade tried to be polite about his new sister but failed. Everyone was interested in this girl. No one cared anything about him any more, not even Aunt Melly or Uncle Rhett.
"Uncle Rhett," he began, "do people like girls better than boys?"
Rhett set down his glass and looked sharply into the small face and instant comprehension came into his eyes.
"No, I can't say they do," he answered seriously, as though giving the matter due thought. "It's just that girls are more trouble than boys and people are apt to worry more about troublesome people than those who aren't."
"Mammy just said boys were troublesome."
"Well, Mammy was upset. She didn't mean it."
"Uncle Rhett, wouldn't you rather have had a little boy than a little girl?" questioned Wade hopefully.
"No," answered Rhett swiftly and, seeing the boy's face fall, he continued: "Now, why should I want a boy when I've already got one?"
"You have?" cried Wade, his mouth falling open at this information. "Where is he?"
"Right here," answered Rhett and, picking the child up, drew him to his knee. "You are boy enough for me, son."
For a moment, the security and happiness of being wanted was so great that Wade almost cried again. His throat worked and he ducked his head against Rhett's waistcoat.
"You are my boy, aren't you?"
"Can you be well, two men's boy?" questioned Wade, loyalty to the father he had never known struggling with love for the man who held him so understandingly.
"Yes," said Rhett firmly. "Just like you can be your mother's boy and Aunt Melly's, too."
Wade digested this statement. It made sense to him and he smiled and wriggled against Rhett's arm shyly.
"You understand little boys, don't you, Uncle Rhett?"
Rhett's dark face fell into its old harsh lines and his lip twisted.
"Yes," he said bitterly, "I understand little boys."
For a moment, fear came back to Wade, fear and a sudden sense of jealousy. Uncle Rhett was not thinking of him but of some one else.
"You haven't got any other little boys have you?"
Rhett set him on his feet.
"I'm going to have a drink and so are you, Wade, your first drink, a toast to your new sister."
"You haven't got any other " began Wade and then seeing Rhett reach for the decanter of claret, the excitement at being included in this grown up ceremony diverted him.
"Oh, I can't, Uncle Rhett! I promised Aunt Melly I wouldn't drink till I graduated from the university and she''s going to give me a watch, if I don't."
"And I'll give you a chain for it this one I'm wearing now, if you want it," said Rhett and he was smiling again. "Aunt Melly's quite right. But she' was talking about spirits, not wine. You must learn to drink wine like a gentleman, son, and there's no time like the present to learn."
Skillfully, he diluted the claret with water from the carafe until the liquid was barely pink and handed the glass to Wade. At that moment, Mammy entered the dining room. She had changed to her best Sunday black and her apron and head rag were fresh and crisp. As she' waddled, she' switched herself and from her skirts came the whisper and rustle of silk. The worried look had gone from her face and her almost toothless gums showed in a wide smile.
"Burfday gif', Mist' Rhett!" she' said.
Wade stopped with his glass at his lips. He knew Mammy had never liked his stepfather. He had never heard her call him anything except "Cap'n Butler," and her conduct toward him had been dignified but cold. And here she' was beaming and sidling and calling him "Mist' Rhett!" What a topsy turvy day!
"You'd rather have rum than claret, I suppose," said Rhett, reaching into the cellaret and producing a squat bottle. "She is a beautiful baby, isn't she', Mammy?"
"She sho is," answered Mammy, smacking her lips as she' took the glass.
"Did you ever see a prettier one?"
"Well, suh, Miss Scarlett wuz mout nigh as pretty w'en she' come but not quite."
"Have another glass, Mammy. And Mammy," his tone was stern but his eyes twinkled, "what's that rustling noise I hear?"
"Lawd, Mist' Rhett, dat ain' nuthin' but mah red silk petticoat!" Mammy giggled and switched till her huge bulk shook.
"Nothing but your petticoat! I don't believe it. You sound like a peck of dried leaves rubbing together. Let me see. Pull up your skirt."
"Mist' Rhett, you is bad! Yeah O, Lawd!"
Mammy gave a little shriek and retreated and from a distance of a yard, modestly elevated her dress a few inches and showed the ruffle of a red taffeta petticoat.
"You took long enough about wearing it," grumbled Rhett but his black eyes laughed and danced.
"Yassuh, too long."
Then Rhett said something that Wade did not understand.
"No more mule in horse harness?"
"Mist' Rhett, Miss Scarlett wuz bad ter tell you dat! You ain' holin' dat again' dis ole nigger?"
"No. I'm not holding it. I just wanted to know. Have another drink, Mammy. Have the whole bottle. Drink up, Wade! Give us a toast."
"To Sissy," cried Wade and gulped the liquid down. Choking he began to cough and hiccough and the other two laughed and beat him on the back.
From the moment his daughter was born, Rhett's conduct was puzzling to all observers and he upset many settled notions about himself, notions which both the town and Scarlett were loath to surrender. Whoever would have thought that he of all people would be so shamelessly, so openly proud of fatherhood? Especially in view of the embarrassing circumstance that his first born was a girl and not a boy.
The novelty of fatherhood did not wear off. This caused some secret envy among women whose husbands took offspring for granted, long before the children were christened. He buttonholed people on the street and related details of his child's miraculous progress without even prefacing his remarks with the hypocritical but polite: "I know everyone thinks their own child is smart but " He thought his daughter marvelous, not to be compared with lesser brats, and he did not care who knew it. When the new nurse permitted the baby to suck a bit of fat pork, thereby bringing on the first attack of colic, Rhett's conduct sent seasoned fathers and mothers into gales of laughter. He hurriedly summoned Dr. Meade and two other doctors, and with difficulty he was restrained from beating the unfortunate nurse with his crop. The nurse was discharged and thereafter followed a series of nurses who remained, at the most, a week. None of them was good enough to satisfy the exacting requirements Rhett laid down.
Mammy likewise viewed with displeasure the nurses that came and went, for she' was jealous of any strange negro and saw no reason why she' could not care for the baby and Wade and Ella, too. But Mammy was showing her age and rheumatism was slowing her lumbering tread. Rhett lacked the courage to cite these reasons for employing another nurse. He told her instead that a man of his position could not afford to have only one nurse. It did not look well. He would hire two others to do the drudgery and leave her as Mammy in chief. This Mammy understood very well. More servants were a credit to her position as well as Rhett's. But she' would not, she' told him firmly, have any trashy free issue niggers in her nursery. So Rhett sent to Tara for Prissy. He knew her shortcomings but, after all, she' was a family darky. And Uncle Peter produced a great niece named Lou who had belonged to one of Miss Pitty's Burr cousins.
Even before Scarlett was able to be about again, she' noticed Rhett's pre occupation with the baby and was somewhat nettled and embarrassed at his pride in her in front of callers. It was all very well for a man to love his child but she' felt there was something unmanly in the display of such love. He should be offhand and careless, as other men were.
"You are making a fool of yourself," she' said irritably, "and I don't see why."
"No? Well, you wouldn't. The reason is that she''s the first person who's ever belonged utterly to me."
"She belongs to me, too!"
"No, you have two other children. She's mine."
"Great balls of fire!" said Scarlett. "I had the baby, didn't I? Besides, honey, I belong to you."
Rhett looked at her over the black head of the child and smiled oddly.
"Do you, my dear?"
Only the entrance of Melanie stopped one of those swift hot quarrels which seemed to spring up so easily between them these days. Scarlett swallowed her wrath and watched Melanie take the baby. The name agreed upon for the child was Eugenie Victoria, but that afternoon Melanie unwittingly bestowed a name that clung, even as "Pittypat" had blotted out all memory of Sarah Jane.
Rhett leaning over the child had said: "Her eyes are going to be pea green."
"Indeed they are not," cried Melanie indignantly, forgetting that Scarlett's eyes were almost that shade. "They are going to be blue, like Mr. O'Hara's eyes, as blue as as blue as the bonnie blue flag."
"Bonnie Blue Butler," laughed Rhett, taking the child from her and peering more closely into the small eyes. And Bonnie she' became until even her parents did not recall that she' had been named for two queens.
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