Gone with the wind (Chapter 2)
When the twins left Scarlett standing on the porch of Tara and the last sound of flying hooves had died away, she went back to her chair like a sleepwalker. Her face felt stiff as from pain and her mouth actually hurt from having stretched it, unwillingly, in smiles to prevent the twins from learning her secret. She sat down wearily, tucking one foot under her, and her heart swelled up with misery, until it felt too large for her bosom. It beat with odd little jerks; her hands were cold, and a feeling of disaster oppressed her. There were pain and bewilderment in her face, the bewilderment of a pampered child who has always had her own way for the asking and who now, for the first time, was in contact with the unpleasantness of life.
Ashley to marry Melanie Hamilton!
Oh, it couldn’t be true! The twins were mistaken. They were playing one of their jokes on her. Ashley couldn’t, couldn’t be in love with her. Nobody could, not with a mousy little person like Melanie. Scarlett recalled with contempt Melanie’s thin childish figure, her serious heart-shaped face that was plain almost to homeliness. And Ashley couldn’t have seen her in months. He hadn’t been in Atlanta more than twice since the house party he gave last year at Twelve Oaks. No, Ashley couldn’t be in love with Melanie, because — oh, she couldn’t be mistaken!— because he was in love with her! She, Scarlett, was the one he loved — she knew it!
Scarlett heard Mammy’s lumbering tread shaking the floor of the hall and she hastily untucked her foot and tried to rearrange her face in more placid lines. It would never do for Mammy to suspect that anything was wrong. Mammy felt that she owned the O’Haras, body and soul, that their secrets were her secrets; and even a hint of a mystery was enough to set her upon the trail as relentlessly as a bloodhound. Scarlett knew from experience that, if Mammy’s curiosity were not immediately satisfied, she would take up the matter with Ellen, and then Scarlett would be forced to reveal everything to her mother, or think up some plausible lie.
Mammy emerged from the hall, a huge old woman with the small, shrewd eyes of an elephant. She was shining black, pure African, devoted to her last drop of blood to the O’Haras, Ellen’s mainstay, the despair of her three daughters, the terror of the other house servants. Mammy was black, but her code of conduct and her sense of pride were as high as or higher than those of her owners. She had been raised in the bedroom of Solange Robillard, Ellen O’Hara’s mother, a dainty, cold, high-nosed French-woman, who spared neither her children nor her servants their just punishment for any infringement of decorum. She had been Ellen’s mammy and had come with her from Savannah to the up-country when she married. Whom Mammy loved, she chastened. And, as her love for Scarlett and her pride in her were enormous, the chastening process was practically continuous.
“Is de gempmum gone? Huccome you din’ ast dem ter stay fer supper, Miss Scarlett? Ah done tole Poke ter lay two extry plates fer dem. Whar’s yo’ manners?”
“Oh, I was so tired of hearing them talk about the war that I couldn’t have endured it through supper, especially with Pa joining in and shouting about Mr. Lincoln.”
“You ain’ got no mo’ manners dan a fe’el han’, an’ after Miss Ellen an’ me done labored wid you. An’ hyah you is widout yo’ shawl! An’ de night air fixin’ ter set in! Ah done tole you an’ tole you ‘bout gittin’ fever frum settin’ in de night air wid nuthin’ on yo’ shoulders. Come on in de house, Miss Scarlett.”
Scarlett turned away from Mammy with studied nonchalance, thankful that her face had been unnoticed in Mammy’s preoccupation with the matter of the shawl.
“No, I want to sit here and watch the sunset. It’s so pretty. You run get my shawl. Please, Mammy, and I’ll sit here till Pa comes home.”
“Yo’ voice soun’ lak you catchin’ a cole,” said Mammy suspiciously.
“Well, I’m not,” said Scarlett impatiently. “You fetch me my shawl.”
Mammy waddled back into the hall and Scarlett heard her call softly up the stairwell to the upstairs maid.
“You, Rosa! Drap me Miss Scarlett’s shawl.” Then, more loudly: “Wuthless nigger! She ain’ never whar she does nobody no good. Now, Ah got ter climb up an’ git it mahseff.”
Scarlett heard the stairs groan and she got softly to her feet. When Mammy returned she would resume her lecture on Scarlett’s breach of hospitality, and Scarlett felt that she could not endure prating about such a trivial matter when her heart was breaking. As she stood, hesitant, wondering where she could hide until the ache in her breast subsided a little, a thought came to her, bringing a small ray of hope. Her father had ridden over to Twelve Oaks, the Wilkes plantation, that afternoon to offer to buy Dilcey, the broad wife of his valet, Pork. Dilcey was head woman and midwife at Twelve Oaks, and, since the marriage six months ago, Pork had deviled his master night and day to buy Dilcey, so the two could live on the same plantation. That afternoon, Gerald, his resistance worn thin, had set out to make an offer for Dilcey.
Surely, thought Scarlett, Pa will know whether this awful story is true. Even if he hasn’t actually heard anything this afternoon, perhaps he’s noticed something, sensed some excitement in the Wilkes family. If I can just see him privately before supper, perhaps I’ll find out the truth — that it’s just one of the twins’ nasty practical jokes.
It was time for Gerald’s return and, if she expected to see him alone, there was nothing for her to do except meet him where the driveway entered the road. She went quietly down the front steps, looking carefully over her shoulder to make sure Mammy was not observing her from the upstairs windows. Seeing no broad black face, turbaned in snowy white, peering disapprovingly from between fluttering curtains, she boldly snatched up her green flowered skirts and sped down the path toward the driveway as fast as her small ribbon-laced slippers would carry her.
The dark cedars on either side of the graveled drive met in an arch overhead, turning the long avenue into a dim tunnel. As soon as she was beneath the gnarled arms of the cedars, she knew she was safe from observation from the house and she slowed her swift pace. She was panting, for her stays were laced too tightly to permit much running, but she walked on as rapidly as she could. Soon she was at the end of the driveway and out on the main road, but she did not stop until she had rounded a curve that put a large clump of trees between her and the house.
Flushed and breathing hard, she sat down on a stump to wait for her father. It was past time for him to come home, but she was glad that he was late. The delay would give her time to quiet her breathing and calm her face so that his suspicions would not be aroused. Every moment she expected to hear the pounding of his horse’s hooves and see him come charging up the hill at his usual breakneck speed. But the minutes slipped by and Gerald did not come. She looked down the road for him, the pain in her heart swelling up again.
“Oh, it can’t be true!” she thought. “Why doesn’t he come?”
Her eyes followed the winding road, blood-red now after the morning rain. In her thought she traced its course as it ran down the hill to the sluggish Flint River, through the tangled swampy bottoms and up the next hill to Twelve Oaks where Ashley lived. That was all the road meant now — a road to Ashley and the beautiful white-columned house that crowned the hill like a Greek Temple.
“Oh, Ashley! Ashley!” she thought, and her heart beat faster.
Some of the cold sense of bewilderment and disaster that had weighted her down since the Tarleton boys told her their gossip was pushed into the background of her mind, and in its place crept the fever that had possessed her for two years.
It seemed strange now that when she was growing up Ashley had never seemed so very attractive to her. In childhood days, she had seen him come and go and never given him a thought. But since that day two years ago when Ashley, newly home from his three years’ Grand Tour in Europe, had called to pay his respects, she had loved him. It was as simple as that.
She had been on the front porch and he had ridden up the long avenue, dressed in gray broadcloth with a wide black cravat setting off his frilled shirt to perfection. Even now, she could recall each detail of his dress, how brightly his boots shone, the head of a Medusa in cameo on his cravat pin, the wide Panama hat that was instantly in his hand when he saw her. He had alighted and tossed his bridle reins to a pickaninny and stood looking up at her, his drowsy gray eyes wide with a smile and the sun so bright on his blond hair that it seemed like a cap of shining silver. And he said, “So you’ve grown up, Scarlett.” And, coming lightly up the steps, he had kissed her hand. And his voice! She would never forget the leap of her heart as she heard it, as if for the first time, drawling, resonant, musical.
She had wanted him, in that first instant, wanted him as simply and unreasoningly as she wanted food to eat, horses to ride and a soft bed on which to lay herself.
For two years he had squired her about the County, to balls, fish fries, picnics and court days, never so often as the Tarleton twins or Cade Calvert, never so importunate as the younger Fontaine boys, but, still, never the week went by that Ashley did not come calling at Tara.
True, he never made love to her, nor did the clear gray eyes ever glow with that hot light Scarlett knew so well in other men. And yet — and yet — she knew he loved her. She could not be mistaken about it. Instinct stronger than reason and knowledge born of experience told her that he loved her. Too often she had surprised him when his eyes were neither drowsy nor remote, when he looked at her with a yearning and a sadness which puzzled her. She KNEW he loved her. Why did he not tell her so? That she could not understand. But there were so many things about him that she did not understand.
He was courteous always, but aloof, remote. No one could ever tell what he was thinking about, Scarlett least of all. In a neighborhood where everyone said exactly what he thought as soon as he thought it, Ashley’s quality of reserve was exasperating. He was as proficient as any of the other young men in the usual County diversions, hunting, gambling, dancing and politics, and was the best rider of them all; but he differed from all the rest in that these pleasant activities were not the end and aim of life to him. And he stood alone in his interest in books and music and his fondness for writing poetry.
Oh, why was he so handsomely blond, so courteously aloof, so maddeningly boring with his talk about Europe and books and music and poetry and things that interested her not at all — and yet so desirable? Night after night, when Scarlett went to bed after sitting on the front porch in the semi-darkness with him, she tossed restlessly for hours and comforted herself only with the thought that the very next time he saw her he certainly would propose. But the next time came and went, and the result was nothing — nothing except that the fever possessing her rose higher and hotter.
She loved him and she wanted him and she did not understand him. She was as forthright and simple as the winds that blew over Tara and the yellow river that wound about it, and to the end of her days she would never be able to understand a complexity. And now, for the first time in her life, she was facing a complex nature.
For Ashley was born of a line of men who used their leisure for thinking, not doing, for spinning brightly colored dreams that had in them no touch of reality. He moved in an inner world that was more beautiful than Georgia and came back to reality with reluctance. He looked on people, and he neither liked nor disliked them. He looked on life and was neither heartened nor saddened. He accepted the universe and his place in it for what they were and, shrugging, turned to his music and books and his better world.
Why he should have captivated Scarlett when his mind was a stranger to hers she did not know. The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor key. The things about him which she could not understand only made her love him more, and his odd, restrained courtship only served to increase her determination to have him for her own. That he would propose some day she had never doubted, for she was too young and too spoiled ever to have known defeat. And now, like a thunderclap, had come this horrible news. Ashley to marry Melanie! It couldn’t be true!
Why, only last week, when they were riding home at twilight from Fairhill, he had said: “Scarlett, I have something so important to tell you that I hardly know how to say it.”
She had cast down her eyes demurely, her heart beating with wild pleasure, thinking the happy moment had come. Then he had said: “Not now! We’re nearly home and there isn’t time. Oh, Scarlett, what a coward I am!” And putting spurs to his horse, he had raced her up the hill to Tara.
Scarlett, sitting on the stump, thought of those words which had made her so happy, and suddenly they took on another meaning, a hideous meaning. Suppose it was the news of his engagement he had intended to tell her!
Oh, if Pa would only come home! She could not endure the suspense another moment. She looked impatiently down the road again, and again she was disappointed.
The sun was now below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin’s egg, and the unearthly stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over the countryside. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color and became plain brown earth. Across the road, in the pasture, the horses, mules and cows stood quietly with heads over the split-rail fence, waiting to be driven to the stables and supper. They did not like the dark shade of the thickets hedging the pasture creek, and they twitched their ears at Scarlett as if appreciative of human companionship.
In the strange half-light, the tall pines of the river swamp, so warmly green in the sunshine, were black against the pastel sky, an impenetrable row of black giants hiding the slow yellow water at their feet. On the hill across the river, the tall white chimneys of the Wilkes’ home faded gradually into the darkness of the thick oaks surrounding them, and only far-off pin points of supper lamps showed that a house was here. The warm damp balminess of spring encompassed her sweetly with the moist smells of new-plowed earth and all the fresh green things pushing up to the air.
Sunset and spring and new-fledged greenery were no miracle to Scarlett. Their beauty she accepted as casually as the air she breathed and the water she drank, for she had never consciously seen beauty in anything but women’s faces, horses, silk dresses and like tangible things. Yet the serene half-light over Tara’s well-kept acres brought a measure of quiet to her disturbed mind. She loved this land so much, without even knowing she loved it, loved it as she loved her mother’s face under the lamp at prayer time.
Still there was no sign of Gerald on the quiet winding road. If she had to wait much longer, Mammy would certainly come in search of her and bully her into the house. But even as she strained her eyes down the darkening road, she heard a pounding of hooves at the bottom of the pasture hill and saw the horses and cows scatter in fright. Gerald O’Hara was coming home across country and at top speed.
He came up the hill at a gallop on his thick-barreled, long-legged hunter, appearing in the distance like a boy on a too large horse. His long white hair standing out behind him, he urged the horse forward with crop and loud cries.
Filled with her own anxieties, she nevertheless watched him with affectionate pride, for Gerald was an excellent horseman.
“I wonder why he always wants to jump fences when he’s had a few drinks,” she thought. “And after that fall he had right here last year when he broke his knee. You’d think he’d learn. Especially when he promised Mother on oath he’d never jump again.”
Scarlett had no awe of her father and felt him more her contemporary than her sisters, for jumping fences and keeping it a secret from his wife gave him a boyish pride and guilty glee that matched her own pleasure in outwitting Mammy. She rose from her seat to watch him.
The big horse reached the fence, gathered himself and soared over as effortlessly as a bird, his rider yelling enthusiastically, his crop beating the air, his white curls jerking out behind him. Gerald did not see his daughter in the shadow of the trees, and he drew rein in the road, patting his horse’s neck with approbation.
“There’s none in the County can touch you, nor in the state,” he informed his mount, with pride, the brogue of County Meath still heavy on his tongue in spite of thirty-nine years in America. Then he hastily set about smoothing his hair and settling his ruffled shirt and his cravat which had slipped awry behind one ear. Scarlett knew these hurried preenings were being made with an eye toward meeting his wife with the appearance of a gentleman who had ridden sedately home from a call on a neighbor. She knew also that he was presenting her with just the opportunity she wanted for opening the conversation without revealing her true purpose.
She laughed aloud. As she had intended, Gerald was startled by the sound; then he recognized her, and a look both sheepish and defiant came over his florid face. He dismounted with difficulty, because his knee was stiff, and, slipping the reins over his arm, stumped toward her.
“Well, Missy,” he said, pinching her cheek, “so, you’ve been spying on me and, like your sister Suellen last week, you’ll be telling your mother on me?”
There was indignation in his hoarse bass voice but also a wheedling note, and Scarlett teasingly clicked her tongue against her teeth as she reached out to pull his cravat into place. His breath in her face was strong with Bourbon whisky mingled with a faint fragrance of mint. Accompanying him also were the smells of chewing tobacco, well-oiled leather and horses — a combination of odors that she always associated with her father and instinctively liked in other men.
“No, Pa, I’m no tattletale like Suellen,” she assured him, standing off to view his rearranged attire with a judicious air.
Gerald was a small man, little more than five feet tall, but so heavy of barrel and thick of neck that his appearance, when seated, led strangers to think him a larger man. His thickset torso was supported by short sturdy legs, always incased in the finest leather boots procurable and always planted wide apart like a swaggering small boy’s. Most small people who take themselves seriously are a little ridiculous; but the bantam cock is respected in the barnyard, and so it was with Gerald. No one would ever have the temerity to think of Gerald O’Hara as a ridiculous little figure.
He was sixty years old and his crisp curly hair was silver-white, but his shrewd face was unlined and his hard little blue eyes were young with the unworried youthfulness of one who has never taxed his brain with problems more abstract than how many cards to draw in a poker game. His was as Irish a face as could be found in the length and breadth of the homeland he had left so long ago — round, high colored, short nosed, wide mouthed and belligerent.
Beneath his choleric exterior Gerald O’Hara had the tenderest of hearts. He could not bear to see a slave pouting under a reprimand, no matter how well deserved, or hear a kitten mewing or a child crying; but he had a horror of having this weakness discovered. That everyone who met him did discover his kindly heart within five minutes was unknown to him; and his vanity would have suffered tremendously if he had found it out, for he liked to think that when he bawled orders at the top of his voice everyone trembled and obeyed. It had never occurred to him that only one voice was obeyed on the plantation — the soft voice of his wife Ellen. It was a secret he would never learn, for everyone from Ellen down to the stupidest field hand was in a tacit and kindly conspiracy to keep him believing that his word was law.
Scarlett was impressed less than anyone else by his tempers and his roarings. She was his oldest child and, now that Gerald knew there would be no more sons to follow the three who lay in the family burying ground, he had drifted into a habit of treating her in a man-to-man manner which she found most pleasant. She was more like her father than her younger sisters, for Carreen, who had been born Caroline Irene, was delicate and dreamy, and Suellen, christened Susan Elinor, prided herself on her elegance and ladylike deportment.
Moreover, Scarlett and her father were bound together by a mutual suppression agreement. If Gerald caught her climbing a fence instead of walking half a mile to a gate, or sitting too late on the front steps with a beau, he castigated her personally and with vehemence, but he did not mention the fact to Ellen or to Mammy. And when Scarlett discovered him jumping fences after his solemn promise to his wife, or learned the exact amount of his losses at poker, as she always did from County gossip, she refrained from mentioning the fact at the supper table in the artfully artless manner Suellen had. Scarlett and her father each assured the other solemnly that to bring such matters to the ears of Ellen would only hurt her, and nothing would induce them to wound her gentleness.
Scarlett looked at her father in the fading light, and, without knowing why, she found it comforting to be in his presence. There was something vital and earthy and coarse about him that appealed to her. Being the least analytic of people, she did not realize that this was because she possessed in some degree these same qualities, despite sixteen years of effort on the part of Ellen and Mammy to obliterate them.
“You look very presentable now,” she said, “and I don’t think anyone will suspect you’ve been up to your tricks unless you brag about them. But it does seem to me that after you broke your knee last year, jumping that same fence —”
“Well, may I be damned if I’ll have me own daughter telling me what I shall jump and not jump,” he shouted, giving her cheek another pinch. “It’s me own neck, so it is. And besides, Missy, what are you doing out here without your shawl?”
Seeing that he was employing familiar maneuvers to extricate himself from unpleasant conversation, she slipped her arm through his and said: “I was waiting for you. I didn’t know you would be so late. I just wondered if you had bought Dilcey.”
“Bought her I did, and the price has ruined me. Bought her and her little wench, Prissy. John Wilkes was for almost giving them away, but never will I have it said that Gerald O’Hara used friendship in a trade. I made him take three thousand for the two of them.”
“In the name of Heaven, Pa, three thousand! And you didn’t need to buy Prissy!”
“Has the time come when me own daughters sit in judgment on me?” shouted Gerald rhetorically. “Prissy is a likely little wench and so —”
“I know her. She’s a sly, stupid creature,” Scarlett rejoined calmly, unimpressed by his uproar. “And the only reason you bought her was because Dilcey asked you to buy her.”
Gerald looked crestfallen and embarrassed, as always when caught in a kind deed, and Scarlett laughed outright at his transparency.
“Well, what if I did? Was there any use buying Dilcey if she was going to mope about the child? Well, never again will I let a darky on this place marry off it. It’s too expensive. Well, come on, Puss, let’s go in to supper.”
The shadows were falling thicker now, the last greenish tinge had left the sky and a slight chill was displacing the balminess of spring. But Scarlett loitered, wondering how to bring up the subject of Ashley without permitting Gerald to suspect her motive. This was difficult, for Scarlett had not a subtle bone in her body; and Gerald was so much like her he never failed to penetrate her weak subterfuges, even as she penetrated his. And he was seldom tactful in doing it.
“How are they all over at Twelve Oaks?”
“About as usual. Cade Calvert was there and, after I settled about Dilcey, we all set on the gallery and had several toddies. Cade has just come from Atlanta, and it’s all upset they are there and talking war and —”
Scarlett sighed. If Gerald once got on the subject of war and secession, it would be hours before he relinquished it. She broke in with another line.
“Did they say anything about the barbecue tomorrow?”
“Now that I think of it they did. Miss — what’s-her-name — the sweet little thing who was here last year, you know, Ashley’s cousin — oh, yes, Miss Melanie Hamilton, that’s the name — she and her brother Charles have already come from Atlanta and —”
“Oh, so she did come?”
“She did, and a sweet quiet thing she is, with never a word to say for herself, like a woman should be. Come now, daughter, don’t lag. Your mother will be hunting for us.”
Scarlett’s heart sank at the news. She had hoped against hope that something would keep Melanie Hamilton in Atlanta where she belonged, and the knowledge that even her father approved of her sweet quiet nature, so different from her own, forced her into the open.
“Was Ashley there, too?”
“He was.” Gerald let go of his daughter’s arm and turned, peering sharply into her face. “And if that’s why you came out here to wait for me, why didn’t you say so without beating around the bush?”
Scarlett could think of nothing to say, and she felt her face growing red with annoyance.
“Well, speak up.”
Still she said nothing, wishing that it was permissible to shake one’s father and tell him to hush his mouth.
“He was there and he asked most kindly after you, as did his sisters, and said they hoped nothing would keep you from the barbecue tomorrow. I’ll warrant nothing will,” he said shrewdly. “And now, daughter, what’s all this about you and Ashley?”
“There is nothing,” she said shortly, tugging at his arm. “Let’s go in, Pa.”
“So now ’tis you wanting to go in,” he observed. “But here I’m going to stand till I’m understanding you. Now that I think of it, ’tis strange you’ve been recently. Has he been trifling with you? Has he asked to marry you?”
“No,” she said shortly.
“Nor will he,” said Gerald.
Fury flamed in her, but Gerald waved her quiet with a hand.
“Hold your tongue, Miss! I had it from John Wilkes this afternoon in the strictest confidence that Ashley’s to marry Miss Melanie. It’s to be announced tomorrow.”
Scarlett’s hand fell from his arm. So it was true!
A pain slashed at her heart as savagely as a wild animal’s fangs. Through it all, she felt her father’s eyes on her, a little pitying, a little annoyed at being faced with a problem for which he knew no answer. He loved Scarlett, but it made him uncomfortable to have her forcing her childish problems on him for a solution. Ellen knew all the answers. Scarlett should have taken her troubles to her.
“Is it a spectacle you’ve been making of yourself — of all of us?” he bawled, his voice rising as always in moments of excitement. “Have you been running after a man who’s not in love with you, when you could have any of the bucks in the County?”
Anger and hurt pride drove out some of the pain.
“I haven’t been running after him. It — it just surprised me.”
“It’s lying you are!” said Gerald, and then, peering at her stricken face, he added in a burst of kindliness: “I’m sorry, daughter. But after all, you are nothing but a child and there’s lots of other beaux.”
“Mother was only fifteen when she married you, and I’m sixteen,” said Scarlett, her voice muffled.
“Your mother was different,” said Gerald. “She was never flighty like you. Now come, daughter, cheer up, and I’ll take you to Charleston next week to visit your Aunt Eulalie and, what with all the hullabaloo they are having over there about Fort Sumter, you’ll be forgetting about Ashley in a week.”
“He thinks I’m a child,” thought Scarlett, grief and anger choking utterance, “and he’s only got to dangle a new toy and I’ll forget my bumps.”
“Now, don’t be jerking your chin at me,” warned Gerald. “If you had any sense you’d have married Stuart or Brent Tarleton long ago. Think it over, daughter. Marry one of the twins and then the plantations will run together and Jim Tarleton and I will build you a fine house, right where they join, in that big pine grove and —”
“Will you stop treating me like a child!” cried Scarlett. “I don’t want to go to Charleston or have a house or marry the twins. I only want —” She caught herself but not in time.
Gerald’s voice was strangely quiet and he spoke slowly as if drawing his words from a store of thought seldom used.
“It’s only Ashley you’re wanting, and you’ll not be having him. And if he wanted to marry you, ‘twould be with misgivings that I’d say Yes, for all the fine friendship that’s between me and John Wilkes.” And, seeing her startled look, he continued: “I want my girl to be happy and you wouldn’t be happy with him.”
“Oh, I would! I would!”
“That you would not, daughter. Only when like marries like can there be any happiness.”
Scarlett had a sudden treacherous desire to cry out, “But you’ve been happy, and you and Mother aren’t alike,” but she repressed it, fearing that he would box her ears for her impertinence.
“Our people and the Wilkes are different,” he went on slowly, fumbling for words. “The Wilkes are different from any of our neighbors — different from any family I ever knew. They are queer folk, and it’s best that they marry their cousins and keep their queerness to themselves.”
“Why, Pa, Ashley is not —”
“Hold your whist, Puss! I said nothing against the lad, for I like him. And when I say queer, it’s not crazy I’m meaning. He’s not queer like the Calverts who’d gamble everything they have on a horse, or the Tarletons who turn out a drunkard or two in every litter, or the Fontaines who are hot-headed little brutes and after murdering a man for a fancied slight. That kind of queerness is easy to understand, for sure, and but for the grace of God Gerald O’Hara would be having all those faults! And I don’t mean that Ashley would run off with another woman, if you were his wife, or beat you. You’d be happier if he did, for at least you’d be understanding that. But he’s queer in other ways, and there’s no understanding him at all. I like him, but it’s neither heads nor tails I can make of most he says. Now, Puss, tell me true, do you understand his folderol about books and poetry and music and oil paintings and such foolishness?”
“Oh, Pa,” cried Scarlett impatiently, “if I married him, I’d change all that!”
“Oh, you would, would you now?” said Gerald testily, shooting a sharp look at her. “Then it’s little enough you are knowing of any man living, let alone Ashley. No wife has ever changed a husband one whit, and don’t you be forgetting that. And as for changing a Wilkes — God’s nightgown, daughter! The whole family is that way, and they’ve always been that way. And probably always will. I tell you they’re born queer. Look at the way they go tearing up to New York and Boston to hear operas and see oil paintings. And ordering French and German books by the crate from the Yankees! And there they sit reading and dreaming the dear God knows what, when they’d be better spending their time hunting and playing poker as proper men should.”
“There’s nobody in the County sits a horse better than Ashley,” said Scarlett, furious at the slur of effeminacy flung on Ashley, “nobody except maybe his father. And as for poker, didn’t Ashley take two hundred dollars away from you just last week in Jonesboro?”
“The Calvert boys have been blabbing again,” Gerald said resignedly, “else you’d not be knowing the amount. Ashley can ride with the best and play poker with the best — that’s me, Puss! And I’m not denying that when he sets out to drink he can put even the Tarletons under the table. He can do all those things, but his heart’s not in it. That’s why I say he’s queer.”
Scarlett was silent and her heart sank. She could think of no defense for this last, for she knew Gerald was right. Ashley’s heart was in none of the pleasant things he did so well. He was never more than politely interested in any of the things that vitally interested every one else.
Rightly interpreting her silence, Gerald patted her arm and said triumphantly: “There now, Scarlett! You admit ’tis true. What would you be doing with a husband like Ashley? ’Tis moonstruck they all are, all the Wilkes.” And then, in a wheedling tone: “When I was mentioning the Tarletons the while ago, I wasn’t pushing them. They’re fine lads, but if it’s Cade Calvert you’re setting your cap after, why, ’tis the same with me. The Calverts are good folk, all of them, for all the old man marrying a Yankee. And when I’m gone — Whist, darlin’, listen to me! I’ll leave Tara to you and Cade —”
“I wouldn’t have Cade on a silver tray,” cried Scarlett in fury. “And I wish you’d quit pushing him at me! I don’t want Tara or any old plantation. Plantations don’t amount to anything when —”
She was going to say “when you haven’t the man you want,” but Gerald, incensed by the cavalier way in which she treated his proffered gift, the thing which, next to Ellen, he loved best in the whole world uttered a roar.
“Do you stand there, Scarlett O’Hara, and tell me that Tara — that land — doesn’t amount to anything?”
Scarlett nodded obstinately. Her heart was too sore to care whether or not she put her father in a temper.
“Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything,” he shouted, his thick, short arms making wide gestures of indignation, “for ’tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don’t you be forgetting it! ’Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for — worth dying for.”
“Oh, Pa,” she said disgustedly, “you talk like an Irishman!”
“Have I ever been ashamed of it? No, ’tis proud I am. And don’t be forgetting that you are half Irish, Miss! And to anyone with a drop of Irish blood in them the land they live on is like their mother. ’Tis ashamed of you I am this minute. I offer you the most beautiful land in the world — saving County Meath in the Old Country — and what do you do? You sniff!”
Gerald had begun to work himself up into a pleasurable shouting rage when something in Scarlett’s woebegone face stopped him.
“But there, you’re young. ’Twill come to you, this love of land. There’s no getting away from it, if you’re Irish. You’re just a child and bothered about your beaux. When you’re older, you’ll be seeing how ’tis. . . . Now, do you be making up your mind about Cade or the twins or one of Evan Munroe’s young bucks, and see how fine I turn you out!”
By this time, Gerald was thoroughly tired of the conversation and thoroughly annoyed that the problem should be upon his shoulders. He felt aggrieved, moreover, that Scarlett should still look desolate after being offered the best of the County boys and Tara, too. Gerald liked his gifts to be received with clapping of hands and kisses.
“Now, none of your pouts, Miss. It doesn’t matter who you marry, as long as he thinks like you and is a gentleman and a Southerner and prideful. For a woman, love comes after marriage.”
“Oh, Pa, that’s such an Old Country notion!”
“And a good notion it is! All this American business of running around marrying for love, like servants, like Yankees! The best marriages are when the parents choose for the girl. For how can a silly piece like yourself tell a good man from a scoundrel? Now, look at the Wilkes. What’s kept them prideful and strong all these generations? Why, marrying the likes of themselves, marrying the cousins their family always expects them to marry.”
“Oh,” cried Scarlett, fresh pain striking her as Gerald’s words brought home the terrible inevitability of the truth.
Gerald looked at her bowed head and shuffled his feet uneasily.
“It’s not crying you are?” he questioned, fumbling clumsily at her chin, trying to turn her face upward, his own face furrowed with pity.
“No,” she cried vehemently, jerking away.
“It’s lying you are, and I’m proud of it. I’m glad there’s pride in you, Puss. And I want to see pride in you tomorrow at the barbecue. I’ll not be having the County gossiping and laughing at you for mooning your heart out about a man who never gave you a thought beyond friendship.”
“He did give me a thought,” thought Scarlett, sorrowfully in her heart. “Oh, a lot of thoughts! I know he did. I could tell. If I’d just had a little longer, I know I could have made him say — Oh, if it only wasn’t that the Wilkes always feel that they have to marry their cousins!”
Gerald took her arm and passed it through his.
“We’ll be going in to supper now, and all this is between us. I’ll not be worrying your mother with this — nor do you do it either. Blow your nose, daughter.”
Scarlett blew her nose on her torn handkerchief, and they started up the dark drive arm in arm, the horse following slowly. Near the house, Scarlett was at the point of speaking again when she saw her mother in the dim shadows of the porch. She had on her bonnet, shawl and mittens, and behind her was Mammy, her face like a thundercloud, holding in her hand the black leather bag in which Ellen O’Hara always carried the bandages and medicines she used in doctoring the slaves. Mammy’s lips were large and pendulous and, when indignant, she could push out her lower one to twice its normal length. It was pushed out now, and Scarlett knew that Mammy was seething over something of which she did not approve.
“Mr. O’Hara,” called Ellen as she saw the two coming up the driveway — Ellen belonged to a generation that was formal even after seventeen years of wedlock and the bearing of six children — “Mr. O’Hara, there is illness at the Slattery house. Emmie’s baby has been born and is dying and must be baptized. I am going there with Mammy to see what I can do.”
Her voice was raised questioningly, as though she hung on Gerald’s assent to her plan, a mere formality but one dear to the heart of Gerald.
“In the name of God!” blustered Gerald. “Why should those white trash take you away just at your supper hour and just when I’m wanting to tell you about the war talk that’s going on in Atlanta! Go, Mrs. O’Hara. You’d not rest easy on your pillow the night if there was trouble abroad and you not there to help.”
“She doan never git no res’ on her piller fer hoppin’ up at night time nursin’ niggers an po’ w’ite trash dat could ten’ to deyseff,” grumbled Mammy in a monotone as she went down the stairs toward the carriage which was waiting in the side drive.
“Take my place at the table, dear,” said Ellen, patting Scarlett’s cheek softly with a mittened hand.
In spite of her choked-back tears, Scarlett thrilled to the never-failing magic of her mother’s touch, to the faint fragrance of lemon verbena sachet that came from her rustling silk dress. To Scarlett, there was something breath-taking about Ellen O’Hara, a miracle that lived in the house with her and awed her and charmed and soothed her.
Gerald helped his wife into the carriage and gave orders to the coachman to drive carefully. Toby, who had handled Gerald’s horses for twenty years, pushed out his lips in mute indignation at being told how to conduct his own business. Driving off, with Mammy beside him, each was a perfect picture of pouting African disapproval.
“If I didn’t do so much for those trashy Slatterys that they’d have to pay money for elsewhere,” fumed Gerald, “they’d be willing to sell me their miserable few acres of swamp bottom, and the County would be well rid of them.” Then, brightening, in anticipation of one of his practical jokes: “Come daughter, let’s go tell Pork that instead of buying Dilcey, I’ve sold him to John Wilkes.”
He tossed the reins of his horse to a small pickaninny standing near and started up the steps. He had already forgotten Scarlett’s heartbreak and his mind was only on plaguing his valet. Scarlett slowly climbed the steps after him, her feet leaden. She thought that, after all, a mating between herself and Ashley could be no queerer than that of her father and Ellen Robillard O’Hara. As always, she wondered how her loud, insensitive father had managed to marry a woman like her mother, for never were two people further apart in birth, breeding and habits of mind.