Gone with the wind (Chapter 24)
The bright glare of morning sunlight streaming through the trees overhead awakened Scarlett. For a moment, stiffened by the cramped position in which she had slept, she could not remember where she was. The sun blinded her, the hard boards of the wagon under her were harsh against her body, and a heavy weight lay across her legs. She tried to sit up and discovered that the weight was Wade who lay sleeping with his head pillowed on her knees. Melanie’s bare feet were almost in her face and, under the wagon seat, Prissy was curled up like a black cat with the small baby wedged in between her and Wade.
Then she remembered everything. She popped up to a sitting position and looked hastily all around. Thank God, no Yankees in sight! Their hiding place had not been discovered in the night. It all came back to her now, the nightmare journey after Rhett’s footsteps died away, the endless night, the black road full of ruts and boulders along which they jolted, the deep gullies on either side into which the wagon slipped, the fear-crazed strength with which she and Prissy had pushed the wheels out of the gullies. She recalled with a shudder how often she had driven the unwilling horse into fields and woods when she heard soldiers approaching, not knowing if they were friends or foes — recalled, too, her anguish lest a cough, a sneeze or Wade’s hiccoughing might betray them to the marching men.
Oh, that dark road where men went by like ghosts, voices stilled, only the muffled tramping of feet on soft dirt, the faint clicking of bridles and the straining creak of leather! And, oh, that dreadful moment when the sick horse balked and cavalry and light cannon rumbled past in the darkness, past where they sat breathless, so close she could almost reach out and touch them, so close she could smell the stale sweat on the soldiers’ bodies!
When, at last, they had neared Rough and Ready, a few camp fires were gleaming where the last of Steve Lee’s rear guard was awaiting orders to fall back. She had circled through a plowed field for a mile until the light of the fires died out behind her. And then she had lost her way in the darkness and sobbed when she could not find the little wagon path she knew so well. Then finally having found it, the horse sank in the traces and refused to move, refused to rise even when she and Prissy tugged at the bridle.
So she had unharnessed him and crawled, sodden with fatigue, into the back of the wagon and stretched her aching legs. She had a faint memory of Melanie’s voice before sleep clamped down her eyelids, a weak voice that apologized even as it begged: “Scarlett, can I have some water, please?”
She had said: “There isn’t any,” and gone to sleep before the words were out of her mouth.
Now it was morning and the world was still and serene and green and gold with dappled sunshine. And no soldiers in sight anywhere. She was hungry and dry with thirst, aching and cramped and filled with wonder that she, Scarlett O’Hara, who could never rest well except between linen sheets and on the softest of feather beds, had slept like a field hand on hard planks.
Blinking in the sunlight, her eyes fell on Melanie and she gasped, horrified. Melanie lay so still and white Scarlett thought she must be dead. She looked dead. She looked like a dead, old woman with her ravaged face and her dark hair snarled and tangled across it. Then Scarlett saw with relief the faint rise and fall of her shallow breathing and knew that Melanie had survived the night.
Scarlett shaded her eyes with her hand and looked about her. They had evidently spent the night under the trees in someone’s front yard, for a sand and gravel driveway stretched out before her, winding away under an avenue of cedars.
“Why, it’s the Mallory place!” she thought, her heart leaping with gladness at the thought of friends and help.
But a stillness as of death hung over the plantation. The shrubs and grass of the lawn were cut to pieces where hooves and wheels and feet had torn frantically back and forth until the soil was churned up. She looked toward the house and instead of the old white clapboard place she knew so well, she saw there only a long rectangle of blackened granite foundation stones and two tall chimneys rearing smoke-stained bricks into the charred leaves of still trees.
She drew a deep shuddering breath. Would she find Tara like this, level with the ground, silent as the dead?
“I mustn’t think about that now,” she told herself hurriedly. “I mustn’t let myself think about it. I’ll get scared again if I think about it.” But, in spite of herself, her heart quickened and each beat seemed to thunder: “Home! Hurry! Home! Hurry!”
They must be starting on toward home again. But first they must find some food and water, especially water. She prodded Prissy awake. Prissy rolled her eyes as she looked about her.
“Fo’ Gawd, Miss Scarlett, Ah din’ spec ter wake up agin ‘cept in de Promise Lan’.”
“You’re a long way from there,” said Scarlett, trying to smooth back her untidy hair. Her face was damp and her body was already wet with sweat. She felt dirty and messy and sticky, almost as if she smelled bad. Her clothes were crushed and wrinkled from sleeping in them and she had never felt more acutely tired and sore in all her life. Muscles she did not know she possessed ached from her unaccustomed exertions of the night before and every movement brought sharp pain.
She looked down at Melanie and saw that her dark eyes were opened. They were sick eyes, fever bright, and dark baggy circles were beneath them. She opened cracking lips and whispered appealingly: “Water.”
“Get up, Prissy,” ordered Scarlett. “We’ll go to the well and get some water.”
“But, Miss Scarlett! Dey mout be hants up dar. Sposin’ somebody daid up dar?”
“I’ll make a hant out of you if you don’t get out of this wagon,” said Scarlett, who was in no mood for argument, as she climbed lamely down to the ground.
And then she thought of the horse. Name of God! Suppose the horse had died in the night! He had seemed ready to die when she unharnessed him. She ran around the wagon and saw him lying on his side. If he were dead, she would curse God and die too. Somebody in the Bible had done just that thing. Cursed God and died. She knew just how that person felt. But the horse was alive — breathing heavily, sick eyes half closed, but alive. Well, some water would help him too.
Prissy climbed reluctantly from the wagon with many groans and timorously followed Scarlett up the avenue. Behind the ruins the row of whitewashed slave quarters stood silent and deserted under the overhanging trees. Between the quarters and the smoked stone foundations, they found the well, and the roof of it still stood with the bucket far down the well. Between them, they wound up the rope, and when the bucket of cool sparkling water appeared out of the dark depths, Scarlett tilted it to her lips and drank with loud sucking noises, spilling the water all over herself.
She drank until Prissy’s petulant: “Well, Ah’s thusty, too, Miss Scarlett,” made her recall the needs of the others.
“Untie the knot and take the bucket to the wagon and give them some. And give the rest to the horse. Don’t you think Miss Melanie ought to nurse the baby? He’ll starve.”
“Law, Miss Scarlett, Miss Melly ain’ got no milk — ain’ gwine have none.”
“How do you know?”
“Ah’s seed too many lak her.”
“Don’t go putting on any airs with me. A precious little you knew about babies yesterday. Hurry now. I’m going to try to find something to eat.”
Scarlett’s search was futile until in the orchard she found a few apples. Soldiers had been there before her and there was none on the trees. Those she found on the ground were mostly rotten. She filled her skirt with the best of them and came back across the soft earth, collecting small pebbles in her slippers. Why hadn’t she thought of putting on stouter shoes last night? Why hadn’t she brought her sun hat? Why hadn’t she brought something to eat? She’d acted like a fool. But, of course, she’d thought Rhett would take care of them.
Rhett! She spat on the ground, for the very name tasted bad. How she hated him! How contemptible he had been! And she had stood there in the road and let him kiss her — and almost liked it. She had been crazy last night. How despicable he was!
When she came back, she divided up the apples and threw the rest into the back of the wagon. The horse was on his feet now but the water did not seem to have refreshed him much. He looked far worse in the daylight than he had the night before. His hip bones stood out like an old cow’s, his ribs showed like a washboard and his back was a mass of sores. She shrank from touching him as she harnessed him. When she slipped the bit into his mouth, she saw that he was practically toothless. As old as the hills! While Rhett was stealing a horse, why couldn’t he have stolen a good one?
She mounted the seat and brought down the hickory limb on his back. He wheezed and started, but he walked so slowly as she turned him into the road she knew she could walk faster herself with no effort whatever. Oh, if only she didn’t have Melanie and Wade and the baby and Prissy to bother with! How swiftly she could walk home! Why, she would run home, run every step of the way that would bring her closer to Tara and to Mother.
They couldn’t be more than fifteen miles from home, but at the rate this old nag traveled it would take all day, for she would have to stop frequently to rest him. All day! She looked down the glaring red road, cut in deep ruts where cannon wheels and ambulances had gone over it. It would be hours before she knew if Tara still stood and if Ellen were there. It would be hours before she finished her journey under the broiling September sun.
She looked back at Melanie who lay with sick eyes closed against the sun and jerked loose the strings of her bonnet and tossed it to Prissy.
“Put that over her face. It’ll keep the sun out of her eyes.” Then as the heat beat down upon her unprotected head, she thought: “I’ll be as freckled as a guinea egg before this day is over.”
She had never in her life been out in the sunshine without a hat or veils, never handled reins without gloves to protect the white skin of her dimpled hands. Yet here she was exposed to the sun in a broken-down wagon with a broken-down horse, dirty, sweaty, hungry, helpless to do anything but plod along at a snail’s pace through a deserted land. What a few short weeks it had been since she was safe and secure! What a little while since she and everyone else had thought that Atlanta could never fall, that Georgia could never be invaded. But the small cloud which appeared in the northwest four months ago had blown up into a mighty storm and then into a screaming tornado, sweeping away her world, whirling her out of her sheltered life, and dropping her down in the midst of this still, haunted desolation.
Was Tara still standing? Or was Tara also gone with the wind which had swept through Georgia?
She laid the whip on the tired horse’s back and tried to urge him on while the waggling wheels rocked them drunkenly from side to side.
There was death in the air. In the rays of the late afternoon sun, every well-remembered field and forest grove was green and still, with an unearthly quiet that struck terror to Scarlett’s heart. Every empty, shell-pitted house they had passed that day, every gaunt chimney standing sentinel over smoke-blackened ruins, had frightened her more. They had not seen a living human being or animal since the night before. Dead men and dead horses, yes, and dead mules, lying by the road, swollen, covered with flies, but nothing alive. No far-off cattle lowed, no birds sang, no wind waved the trees. Only the tired plop-plop of the horse’s feet and the weak wailing of Melanie’s baby broke the stillness.
The countryside lay as under some dread enchantment. Or worse still, thought Scarlett with a chill, like the familiar and dear face of a mother, beautiful and quiet at last, after death agonies. She felt that the once-familiar woods were full of ghosts. Thousands had died in the fighting near Jonesboro. They were here in these haunted woods where the slanting afternoon sun gleamed eerily through unmoving leaves, friends and foes, peering at her in her rickety wagon, through eyes blinded with blood and red dust — glazed, horrible eyes.
“Mother! Mother!” she whispered. If she could only win to Ellen! If only, by a miracle of God, Tara were still standing and she could drive up the long avenue of trees and go into the house and see her mother’s kind, tender face, could feel once more the soft capable hands that drove out fear, could clutch Ellen’s skirts and bury her face in them. Mother would know what to do. She wouldn’t let Melanie and her baby die. She would drive away all ghosts and fears with her quiet “Hush, hush.” But Mother was ill, perhaps dying.
Scarlett laid the whip across the weary rump of the horse. They must go faster! They had crept along this never-ending road all the long hot day. Soon it would be night and they would be alone in this desolation that was death. She gripped the reins tighter with hands that were blistered and slapped them fiercely on the horse’s back, her aching arms burning at the movement.
If she could only reach the kind arms of Tara and Ellen and lay down her burdens, far too heavy for her young shoulders — the dying woman, the fading baby, her own hungry little boy, the frightened negro, all looking to her for strength, for guidance, all reading in her straight back courage she did not possess and strength which had long since failed.
The exhausted horse did not respond to the whip or reins but shambled on, dragging his feet, stumbling on small rocks and swaying as if ready to fall to his knees. But, as twilight came, they at last entered the final lap of the long journey. They rounded the bend of the wagon path and turned into the main road. Tara was only a mile away!
Here loomed up the dark bulk of the mock-orange hedge that marked the beginning of the MacIntosh property. A little farther on, Scarlett drew rein in front of the avenue of oaks that led from the road to old Angus MacIntosh’s house. She peered through the gathering dusk down the two lines of ancient trees. All was dark. Not a single light showed in the house or in the quarters. Straining her eyes in the darkness she dimly discerned a sight which had grown familiar through that terrible day — two tall chimneys, like gigantic tombstones towering above the ruined second floor, and broken unlit windows blotching the walls like still, blind eyes.
“Hello!” she shouted, summoning all her strength. “Hello!”
Prissy clawed at her in a frenzy of fright and Scarlett, turning, saw that her eyes were rolling in her head.
“Doan holler, Miss Scarlett! Please, doan holler agin!” she whispered, her voice shaking. “Dey ain’ no tellin’ WHUT mout answer!”
“Dear God!” thought Scarlett, a shiver running through her. “Dear God! She’s right. Anything might come out of there!”
She flapped the reins and urged the horse forward. The sight of the MacIntosh house had pricked the last bubble of hope remaining to her. It was burned, in ruins, deserted, as were all the plantations she had passed that day. Tara lay only half a mile away, on the same road, right in the path of the army. Tara was leveled, too! She would find only the blackened bricks, starlight shining through the roofless walls, Ellen and Gerald gone, the girls gone, Mammy gone, the negroes gone, God knows where, and this hideous stillness over everything.
Why had she come on this fool’s errand, against all common sense, dragging Melanie and her child? Better that they had died in Atlanta than, tortured by this day of burning sun and jolting wagon, to die in the silent ruins of Tara.
But Ashley had left Melanie in her care. “Take care of her.” Oh, that beautiful, heartbreaking day when he had kissed her good-by before he went away forever! “You’ll take care of her, won’t you? Promise!” And she had promised. Why had she ever bound herself with such a promise, doubly binding now that Ashley was gone? Even in her exhaustion she hated Melanie, hated the tiny mewing voice of her child which, fainter and fainter, pierced the stillness. But she had promised and now they belonged to her, even as Wade and Prissy belonged to her, and she must struggle and fight for them as long as she had strength or breath. She could have left them in Atlanta, dumped Melanie into the hospital and deserted her. But had she done that, she could never face Ashley, either on this earth or in the hereafter and tell him she had left his wife and child to die among strangers.
Oh, Ashley! Where was he tonight while she toiled down this haunted road with his wife and baby? Was he alive and did he think of her as he lay behind the bars at Rock Island? Or was he dead of smallpox months ago, rotting in some long ditch with hundreds of other Confederates?
Scarlett’s taut nerves almost cracked as a sudden noise sounded in the underbrush near them. Prissy screamed loudly, throwing herself to the floor of the wagon, the baby beneath her. Melanie stirred feebly, her hands seeking the baby, and Wade covered his eyes and cowered, too frightened to cry. Then the bushes beside them crashed apart under heavy hooves and a low moaning bawl assaulted their ears.
“It’s only a cow,” said Scarlett, her voice rough with fright. “Don’t be a fool, Prissy. You’ve mashed the baby and frightened Miss Melly and Wade.”
“It’s a ghos’,” moaned Prissy, writhing face down on the wagon boards.
Turning deliberately, Scarlett raised the tree limb she had been using as a whip and brought it down across Prissy’s back. She was too exhausted and weak from fright to tolerate weakness in anyone else.
“Sit up, you fool,” she said, “before I wear this out on you.”
Yelping, Prissy raised her head and peering over the side of the wagon saw it was, indeed, a cow, a red and white animal which stood looking at them appealingly with large frightened eyes. Opening its mouth, it lowed again as if in pain.
“Is it hurt? That doesn’t sound like an ordinary moo.”
“Soun’ ter me lak her bag full an’ she need milkin’ bad,” said Prissy, regaining some measure of control. “Spec it one of Mist’ MacIntosh’s dat de niggers driv in de woods an’ de Yankees din’ git.”
“We’ll take it with us,” Scarlett decided swiftly. “Then we can have some milk for the baby.”
“How all we gwine tek a cow wid us, Miss Scarlett? We kain tek no cow wid us. Cow ain’ no good nohow effen she ain’ been milked lately. Dey bags swells up and busts. Dat’s why she hollerin’.”
“Since you know so much about it, take off your petticoat and tear it up and tie her to the back of the wagon.”
“Miss Scarlett, you knows Ah ain’ had no petticoat fer a month an’ did Ah have one, Ah wouldn’ put it on her fer nuthin’. Ah nebber had no truck wid cows. Ah’s sceered of cows.”
Scarlett laid down the reins and pulled up her skirt. The lace-trimmed petticoat beneath was the last garment she possessed that was pretty — and whole. She untied the waist tape and slipped it down over her feet, crushing the soft linen folds between her hands. Rhett had brought her that linen and lace from Nassau on the last boat he slipped through the blockade and she had worked a week to make the garment. Resolutely she took it by the hem and jerked, put it in her mouth and gnawed, until finally the material gave with a rip and tore the length. She gnawed furiously, tore with both hands and the petticoat lay in strips in her hands. She knotted the ends with fingers that bled from blisters and shook from fatigue.
“Slip this over her horns,” she directed. But Prissy balked.
“Ah’s sceered of cows, Miss Scarlett. Ah ain’ nebber had nuthin’ ter do wid cows. Ah ain’ no yard nigger. Ah’s a house nigger.”
“You’re a fool nigger, and the worst day’s work Pa ever did was to buy you,” said Scarlett slowly, too tired for anger. “And if I ever get the use of my arm again, I’ll wear this whip out on you.”
There, she thought, I’ve said “nigger” and Mother wouldn’t like that at all.
Prissy rolled her eyes wildly, peeping first at the set face of her mistress and then at the cow which bawled plaintively. Scarlett seemed the less dangerous of the two, so Prissy clutched at the sides of the wagon and remained where she was.
Stiffly, Scarlett climbed down from the seat, each movement of agony of aching muscles. Prissy was not the only one who was “sceered” of cows. Scarlett had always feared them, even the mildest cow seemed sinister to her, but this was no time to truckle to small fears when great ones crowded so thick upon her. Fortunately the cow was gentle. In its pain it had sought human companionship and help and it made no threatening gesture as she looped one end of the torn petticoat about its horns. She tied the other end to the back of the wagon, as securely as her awkward fingers would permit. Then, as she started back toward the driver’s seat, a vast weariness assailed her and she swayed dizzily. She clutched the side of the wagon to keep from falling.
Melanie opened her eyes and, seeing Scarlett standing beside her, whispered: “Dear — are we home?”
Home! Hot tears came to Scarlett’s eyes at the word. Home. Melanie did not know there was no home and that they were alone in a mad and desolate world.
“Not yet,” she said, as gently as the constriction of her throat would permit, “but we will be, soon. I’ve just found a cow and soon we’ll have some milk for you and the baby.”
“Poor baby,” whispered Melanie, her hand creeping feebly toward the child and falling short.
Climbing back into the wagon required all the strength Scarlett could muster, but at last it was done and she picked up the lines. The horse stood with head drooping dejectedly and refused to start. Scarlett laid on the whip mercilessly. She hoped God would forgive her for hurting a tired animal. If He didn’t she was sorry. After all, Tara lay just ahead, and after the next quarter of a mile, the horse could drop in the shafts if he liked.
Finally he started slowly, the wagon creaking and the cow lowing mournfully at every step. The pained animal’s voice rasped on Scarlett’s nerves until she was tempted to stop and untie the beast. What good would the cow do them anyway if there should be no one at Tara? She couldn’t milk her and, even if she could, the animal would probably kick anyone who touched her sore udder. But she had the cow and she might as well keep her. There was little else she had in this world now.
Scarlett’s eyes grew misty when, at last, they reached the bottom of a gentle incline, for just over the rise lay Tara! Then her heart sank. The decrepit animal would never pull the hill. The slope had always seemed so slight, so gradual, in days when she galloped up it on her fleet-footed mare. It did not seem possible it could have grown so steep since she saw it last. The horse would never make it with the heavy load.
Wearily she dismounted and took the animal by the bridle.
“Get out, Prissy,” she commanded, “and take Wade. Either carry him or make him walk. Lay the baby by Miss Melanie.”
Wade broke into sobs and whimperings from which Scarlett could only distinguish: “Dark — dark — Wade fwightened!”
“Miss Scarlett, Ah kain walk. Mah feets done blistered an’ dey’s thoo mah shoes, an’ Wade an’ me doan weigh so much an’—”
“Get out! Get out before I pull you out! And if I do, I’m going to leave you right here, in the dark by yourself. Quick, now!”
Prissy moaned, peering at the dark trees that closed about them on both sides of the road — trees which might reach out and clutch her if she left the shelter of the wagon. But she laid the baby beside Melanie, scrambled to the ground and, reaching up, lifted Wade out. The little boy sobbed, shrinking close to his nurse.
“Make him hush. I can’t stand it,” said Scarlett, taking the horse by the bridle and pulling him to a reluctant start. “Be a little man, Wade, and stop crying or I will come over there and slap you.”
Why had God invented children, she thought savagely as she turned her ankle cruelly on the dark road — useless, crying nuisances they were, always demanding care, always in the way. In her exhaustion, there was no room for compassion for the frightened child, trotting by Prissy’s side, dragging at her hand and sniffling — only a weariness that she had borne him, only a tired wonder that she had ever married Charles Hamilton.
“Miss Scarlett,” whispered Prissy, clutching her mistress’ arm, “doan le’s go ter Tara. Dey’s not dar. Dey’s all done gone. Maybe dey daid — Maw an’ all’m.”
The echo of her own thoughts infuriated her and Scarlett shook off the pinching fingers.
“Then give me Wade’s hand. You can sit right down here and stay.”
How slowly the horse moved! The moisture from his slobbering mouth dripped down upon her hand. Through her mind ran a few words of the song she had once sung with Rhett — she could not recall the rest:
“Just a few more days for to tote the weary load —”
“Just a few more steps,” hummed her brain, over and over, “just a few more steps for to tote the weary load.”
Then they topped the rise and before them lay the oaks of Tara, a towering dark mass against the darkening sky. Scarlett looked hastily to see if there was a light anywhere. There was none.
“They are gone!” said her heart, like cold lead in her breast. “Gone!”
She turned the horse’s head into the driveway, and the cedars, meeting over their heads cast them into midnight blackness. Peering up the long tunnel of darkness, straining her eyes she saw ahead — or did she see? Were her tired eyes playing her tricks? — the white bricks of Tara blurred and indistinct. Home! Home! The dear white walls, the windows with the fluttering curtains, the wide verandas — were they all there ahead of her, in the gloom? Or did the darkness mercifully conceal such a horror as the MacIntosh house?
The avenue seemed miles long and the horse, pulling stubbornly at her hand, plopped slower and slower. Eagerly her eyes searched the darkness. The roof seemed to be intact. Could it be — could it be —? No, it wasn’t possible. War stopped for nothing, not even Tara, built to last five hundred years. It could not have passed over Tara.
Then the shadowy outline did take form. She pulled the horse forward faster. The white walls did show there through the darkness. And untarnished by smoke. Tara had escaped! Home! She dropped the bridle and ran the last few steps, leaped forward with an urge to clutch the walls themselves in her arms. Then she saw a form, shadowy in the dimness, emerging from the blackness of the front veranda and standing at the top of the steps. Tara was not deserted. Someone was home!
A cry of joy rose to her throat and died there. The house was so dark and still and the figure did not move or call to her. What was wrong? What was wrong? Tara stood intact, yet shrouded with the same eerie quiet that hung over the whole stricken countryside. Then the figure moved. Stiffly and slowly, it came down the steps.
“Pa?” she whispered huskily, doubting almost that it was he. “It’s me — Katie Scarlett. I’ve come home.”
Gerald moved toward her, silent as a sleepwalker, his stiff leg dragging. He came close to her, looking at her in a dazed way as if he believed she was part of a dream. Putting out his hand, he laid it on her shoulder. Scarlett felt it tremble, tremble as if he had been awakened from a nightmare into a half-sense of reality.
“Daughter,” he said with an effort. “Daughter.”
Then he was silent.
Why — he’s an old man! thought Scarlett.
Gerald’s shoulders sagged. In the face which she could only see dimly, there was none of the virility, the restless vitality of Gerald, and the eyes that looked into hers had almost the same fear-stunned look that lay in little Wade’s eyes. He was only a little old man and broken.
And now, fear of unknown things seized her, leaped swiftly out of the darkness at her and she could only stand and stare at him, all the flood of questioning dammed up at her lips.
From the wagon the faint wailing sounded again and Gerald seemed to rouse himself with an effort.
“It’s Melanie and her baby,” whispered Scarlett rapidly. “She’s very ill — I brought her home.”
Gerald dropped his hand from her arm and straightened his shoulders. As he moved slowly to the side of the wagon, there was a ghostly semblance of the old host of Tara welcoming guests, as if Gerald spoke words from out of shadowy memory.
Melanie’s voice murmured indistinctly.
“Cousin Melanie, this is your home. Twelve Oaks is burned. You must stay with us.”
Thoughts of Melanie’s prolonged suffering spurred Scarlett to action. The present was with her again, the necessity of laying Melanie and her child on a soft bed and doing those small things for her that could be done.
“She must be carried. She can’t walk.”
There was a scuffle of feet and a dark figure emerged from the cave of the front hall. Pork ran down the steps.
“Miss Scarlett! Miss Scarlett!” he cried.
Scarlett caught him by the arms. Pork, part and parcel of Tara, as dear as the bricks and the cool corridors! She felt his tears stream down on her hands as he patted her clumsily, crying: “Sho is glad you back! Sho is —”
Prissy burst into tears and incoherent mumblings: “Poke! Poke, honey!” And little Wade, encouraged by the weakness of his elders, began sniffling: “Wade thirsty!”
Scarlett caught them all in hand.
“Miss Melanie is in the wagon and her baby too. Pork, you must carry her upstairs very carefully and put her in the back company room. Prissy, take the baby and Wade inside and give Wade a drink of water. Is Mammy here, Pork? Tell her I want her.”
Galvanized by the authority in her voice, Pork approached the wagon and fumbled at the backboard. A moan was wrenched from Melanie as he half-lifted, half-dragged her from the feather tick on which she had lain so many hours. And then she was in Pork’s strong arms, her head drooping like a child’s across his shoulder. Prissy, holding the baby and dragging Wade by the hand, followed them up the wide steps and disappeared into the blackness of the hall.
Scarlett’s bleeding fingers sought her father’s hand urgently.
“Did they get well, Pa?”
“The girls are recovering.”
Silence fell and in the silence an idea too monstrous for words took form. She could not, could not force it to her lips. She swallowed and swallowed but a sudden dryness seemed to have stuck the sides of her throat together. Was this the answer to the frightening riddle of Tara’s silence? As if answering the question in her mind Gerald spoke.
“Your mother —” he said and stopped.
“And — Mother?”
“Your mother died yesterday.”
Her father’s arm held tightly in her own, Scarlett felt her way down the wide dark hall which, even in its blackness, was as familiar as her own mind. She avoided the high-backed chairs, the empty gun rack, the old sideboard with its protruding claw feet, and she felt herself drawn by instinct to the tiny office at the back of the house where Ellen always sat, keeping her endless accounts. Surely, when she entered that room, Mother would again be sitting there before the secretary and would look up, quill poised, and rise with sweet fragrance and rustling hoops to meet her tired daughter. Ellen could not be dead, not even though Pa had said it, said it over and over like a parrot that knows only one phrase: “She died yesterday — she died yesterday — she died yesterday.”
Queer that she should feel nothing now, nothing except a weariness that shackled her limbs with heavy iron chains and a hunger that made her knees tremble. She would think of Mother later. She must put her mother out of her mind now, else she would stumble stupidly like Gerald or sob monotonously like Wade.
Pork came down the wide dark steps toward them, hurrying to press close to Scarlett like a cold animal toward a fire.
“Lights?” she questioned. “Why is the house so dark, Pork? Bring candles.”
“Dey tuck all de candles, Miss Scarlett, all ‘cept one we been usin’ ter fine things in de dahk wid, an’ it’s ‘bout gone. Mammy been usin’ a rag in a dish of hawg fat fer a light fer nussin’ Miss Careen an’ Miss Suellen.”
“Bring what’s left of the candle,” she ordered. “Bring it into Mother’s — into the office.”
Pork pattered into the dining room and Scarlett groped her way into the inky small room and sank down on the sofa. Her father’s arm still lay in the crook of hers, helpless, appealing, trusting, as only the hands of the very young and the very old can be.
“He’s an old man, an old tired man,” she thought again and vaguely wondered why she could not care.
Light wavered into the room as Pork entered carrying high a half-burned candle stuck in a saucer. The dark cave came to life, the sagging old sofa on which they sat, the tall secretary reaching toward the ceiling with Mother’s fragile carved chair before it, the racks of pigeonholes, still stuffed with papers written in her fine hand, the worn carpet — all, all were the same, except that Ellen was not there, Ellen with the faint scent of lemon verbena sachet and the sweet look in her up-tilted eyes. Scarlett felt a small pain in her heart as of nerves numbed by a deep wound, struggling to make themselves felt again. She must not let them come to life now; there was all the rest of her life ahead of her in which they could ache. But, not now! Please, God, not now!
She looked into Gerald’s putty-colored face and, for the first time in her life, she saw him unshaven, his once florid face covered with silvery bristles. Pork placed the candle on the candle stand and came to her side. Scarlett felt that if he had been a dog he would have laid his muzzle in her lap and whined for a kind hand upon his head.
“Pork, how many darkies are here?”
“Miss Scarlett, dem trashy niggers done runned away an’ some of dem went off wid de Yankees an’—”
“How many are left?”
“Dey’s me, Miss Scarlett, an’ Mammy. She been nussin’ de young Misses all day. An’ Dilcey, she settin’ up wid de young Misses now. Us three, Miss Scarlett.”
“Us three” where there had been a hundred. Scarlett with an effort lifted her head on her aching neck. She knew she must keep her voice steady. To her surprise, words came out as coolly and naturally as if there had never been a war and she could, by waving her hand, call ten house servants to her.
“Pork, I’m starving. Is there anything to eat?”
“No’m. Dey tuck it all.”
“But the garden?”
“Dey tuhned dey hawses loose in it.”
“Even the sweet potato hills?”
Something almost like a pleased smile broke his thick lips.
“Miss Scarlett, Ah done fergit de yams. Ah specs dey’s right dar. Dem Yankee folks ain’ never seed no yams an’ dey thinks dey’s jes’ roots an’—”
“The moon will be up soon. You go out and dig us some and roast them. There’s no corn meal? No dried peas? No chickens?”
“No’m. No’m. Whut chickens dey din’ eat right hyah dey cah’ied off ‘cross dey saddles.”
They — They — They — Was there no end to what ‘They” had done? Was it not enough to burn and kill? Must they also leave women and children and helpless negroes to starve in a country which they had desolated?
“Miss Scarlett, Ah got some apples Mammy buhied unner de house. We been eatin’ on dem today.”
“Bring them before you dig the potatoes. And, Pork — I— I feel so faint. Is there any wine in the cellar, even blackberry?”
“Oh, Miss Scarlett, de cellar wuz de fust place dey went.”
A swimming nausea compounded of hunger, sleeplessness, exhaustion and stunning blows came on suddenly and she gripped the carved roses under her hand.
“No wine,” she said dully, remembering the endless rows of bottles in the cellar. A memory stirred.
“Pork, what of the corn whisky Pa buried in the oak barrel under the scuppernong arbor?”
Another ghost of a smile lit the black face, a smile of pleasure and respect.
“Miss Scarlett, you sho is de beatenes’ chile! Ah done plum fergit dat bah’l. But, Miss Scarlett, dat whisky ain’ no good. Ain’ been dar but ‘bout a year an’ whisky ain’ no good fer ladies nohow.”
How stupid negroes were! They never thought of anything unless they were told. And the Yankees wanted to free them.
“It’ll be good enough for this lady and for Pa. Hurry, Pork, and dig it up and bring us two glasses and some mint and sugar and I’ll mix a julep.”
“Miss Scarlett, you knows dey ain’ been no sugar at Tara fer de longes’. An’ dey hawses done et up all de mint an’ dey done broke all de glasses.”
If he says “They” once more, I’ll scream. I can’t help it, she thought, and then, aloud: “Well, hurry and get the whisky, quickly. We’ll take it neat.” And, as he turned: “Wait, Pork. There’s so many things to do that I can’t seem to think. . . . Oh, yes. I brought home a horse and a cow and the cow needs milking, badly, and unharness the horse and water him. Go tell Mammy to look after the cow. Tell her she’s got to fix the cow up somehow. Miss Melanie’s baby will die if he doesn’t get something to eat and —”
“Miss Melly ain’— kain —?” Pork paused delicately.
“Miss Melanie has no milk.” Dear God, but Mother would faint at that!
“Well, Miss Scarlett, mah Dilcey ten’ ter Miss Melly’s chile. Mah Dilcey got a new chile herseff an’ she got mo’n nuff fer both.”
“You’ve got a new baby, Pork?”
Babies, babies, babies. Why did God make so many babies? But no, God didn’t make them. Stupid people made them.
“Yas’m, big fat black boy. He —”
“Go tell Dilcey to leave the girls. I’ll look after them. Tell her to nurse Miss Melanie’s baby and do what she can for Miss Melanie. Tell Mammy to look after the cow and put that poor horse in the stable.”
“Dey ain’ no stable, Miss Scarlett. Dey use it fer fiah wood.”
“Don’t tell me any more what ‘They’ did. Tell Dilcey to look after them. And you, Pork, go dig up that whisky and then some potatoes.”
“But, Miss Scarlett, Ah ain’ got no light ter dig by.”
“You can use a stick of firewood, can’t you?”
“Dey ain’ no fiah wood — Dey —”
“Do something. . . . I don’t care what. But dig those things and dig them fast. Now, hurry.”
Pork scurried from the room as her voice roughened and Scarlett was left alone with Gerald. She patted his leg gently. She noted how shrunken were the thighs that once bulged with saddle muscles. She must do something to drag him from his apathy — but she could not ask about Mother. That must come later, when she could stand it.
“Why didn’t they burn Tara?”
Gerald stared at her for a moment as if not hearing her and she repeated her question.
“Why —” he fumbled, “they used the house as a headquarters.”
“Yankees — in this house?”
A feeling that the beloved walls had been defiled rose in her. This house, sacred because Ellen had lived in it, and those — those — in it.
“So they were, Daughter. We saw the smoke from Twelve Oaks, across the river, before they came. But Miss Honey and Miss India and some of their darkies had refugeed to Macon, so we did not worry about them. But we couldn’t be going to Macon. The girls were so sick — your mother — we couldn’t be going. Our darkies ran — I’m not knowing where. They stole the wagons and the mules. Mammy and Dilcey and Pork — they didn’t run. The girls — your mother — we couldn’t be moving them.”
“Yes, yes.” He mustn’t talk about Mother. Anything else. Even that General Sherman himself had used this room, Mother’s office, for his headquarters. Anything else.
“The Yankees were moving on Jonesboro, to cut the railroad. And they came up the road from the river — thousands and thousands — and cannon and horses — thousands. I met them on the front porch.”
“Oh, gallant little Gerald!” thought Scarlett, her heart swelling, Gerald meeting the enemy on the stairs of Tara as if an army stood behind him instead of in front of him.
“They said for me to leave, that they would be burning the place. And I said that they would be burning it over my head. We could not leave — the girls — your mother were —”
“And then?” Must he revert to Ellen always?
“I told them there was sickness in the house, the typhoid, and it was death to move them. They could burn the roof over us. I did not want to leave anyway — leave Tara —”
His voice trailed off into silence as he looked absently about the walls and Scarlett understood. There were too many Irish ancestors crowding behind Gerald’s shoulders, men who had died on scant acres, fighting to the end rather than leave the homes where they had lived, plowed, loved, begotten sons.
“I said that they would be burning the house over the heads of three dying women. But we would not leave. The young officer was — was a gentleman.”
“A Yankee a gentleman? Why, Pa!”
“A gentleman. He galloped away and soon he was back with a captain, a surgeon, and he looked at the girls — and your mother.”
“You let a damned Yankee into their room?”
“He had opium. We had none. He saved your sisters. Suellen was hemorrhaging. He was as kind as he knew how. And when he reported that they were — ill — they did not burn the house. They moved in, some general, his staff, crowding in. They filled all the rooms except the sick room. And the soldiers —”
He paused again, as if too tired to go on. His stubbly chin sank heavily in loose folds of flesh on his chest. With an effort he spoke again.
“They camped all round the house, everywhere, in the cotton, in the corn. The pasture was blue with them. That night there were a thousand campfires. They tore down the fences and burned them to cook with and the barns and the stables and the smokehouse. They killed the cows and the hogs and the chickens — even my turkeys.” Gerald’s precious turkeys. So they were gone. “They took things, even the pictures — some of the furniture, the china —”
“Pork and Mammy did something with the silver — put it in the well — but I’m not remembering now,” Gerald’s voice was fretful. “Then they fought the battle from here — from Tara — there was so much noise, people galloping up and stamping about. And later the cannon at Jonesboro — it sounded like thunder — even the girls could hear it, sick as they were, and they kept saying over and over: ‘Papa, make it stop thundering.’”
“And — and Mother? Did she know Yankees were in the house?”
“She — never knew anything.”
“Thank God,” said Scarlett. Mother was spared that. Mother never knew, never heard the enemy in the rooms below, never heard the guns at Jonesboro, never learned that the land which was part of her heart was under Yankee feet.
“I saw few of them for I stayed upstairs with the girls and your mother. I saw the young surgeon mostly. He was kind, so kind, Scarlett. After he’d worked all day with the wounded, he came and sat with them. He even left some medicine. He told me when they moved on that the girls would recover but your mother — She was so frail, he said — too frail to stand it all. He said she had undermined her strength . . . .”
In the silence that fell, Scarlett saw her mother as she must have been in those last days, a thin power of strength in Tara, nursing, working, doing without sleep and food that the others might rest and eat.
“And then, they moved on. Then, they moved on.”
He was silent for a long time and then fumbled at her hand.
“It’s glad I am you are home,” he said simply.
There was a scraping noise on the back porch. Poor Pork, trained for forty years to clean his shoes before entering the house, did not forget, even in a time like this. He came in, carefully carrying two gourds, and the strong smell of dripping spirits entered before him.
“Ah spilt a plen’y, Miss Scarlett. It’s pow’ful hard ter po’ outer a bung hole inter a go’de.”
“That’s quite all right, Pork, and thank you.” She took the wet gourd dipper from him, her nostrils wrinkling in distaste at the reek.
“Drink this, Father,” she said, pushing the whisky in its strange receptacle into his hand and taking the second gourd of water from Pork. Gerald raised it, obedient as a child, and gulped noisily. She handed the water to him but he shook his head.
As she took the whisky from him and held it to her mouth, she saw his eyes follow her, a vague stirring of disapproval in them.
“I know no lady drinks spirits,” she said briefly. “But today I’m no lady, Pa, and there is work to do tonight.”
She tilted the dipper, drew a deep breath and drank swiftly. The hot liquid burned down her throat to her stomach, choking her and bringing tears to her eyes. She drew another breath and raised it again.
“Katie Scarlett,” said Gerald, the first note of authority she had heard in his voice since her return, “that is enough. You’re not knowing spirits and they will be making you tipsy.”
“Tipsy?” She laughed an ugly laugh. “Tipsy? I hope it makes me drunk. I would like to be drunk and forget all of this.”
She drank again, a slow train of warmth lighting in her veins and stealing through her body until even her finger tips tingled. What a blessed feeling, this kindly fire. It seemed to penetrate even her ice-locked heart and strength came coursing back into her body. Seeing Gerald’s puzzled hurt face, she patted his knee again and managed an imitation of the pert smile he used to love.
“How could it make me tipsy, Pa? I’m your daughter. Haven’t I inherited the steadiest head in Clayton County?”
He almost smiled into her tired face. The whisky was bracing him too. She handed it back to him.
“Now you’re going to take another drink and then I am going to take you upstairs and put you to bed.”
She caught herself. Why, this was the way she talked to Wade — she should not address her father like this. It was disrespectful. But he hung on her words.
“Yes, put you to bed,” she added lightly, “and give you another drink — maybe all the dipper and make you go to sleep. You need sleep and Katie Scarlett is here, so you need not worry about anything. Drink.”
He drank again obediently and, slipping her arm through his, she pulled him to his feet.
“Pork . . . .”
Pork took the gourd in one hand and Gerald’s arm in the other. Scarlett picked up the flaring candle and the three walked slowly into the dark hall and up the winding steps toward Gerald’s room.
The room where Suellen and Carreen lay mumbling and tossing on the same bed stank vilely with the smell of the twisted rag burning in a saucer of bacon fat, which provided the only light. When Scarlett first opened the door the thick atmosphere of the room, with all windows closed and the air reeking with sick-room odors, medicine smells and stinking grease, almost made her faint. Doctors might say that fresh air was fatal in a sick room but if she were to sit here, she must have air or die. She opened the three windows, bringing in the smell of oak leaves and earth, but the fresh air could do little toward dispelling the sickening odors which had accumulated for weeks in this close room.
Carreen and Suellen, emaciated and white, slept brokenly and awoke to mumble with wide, staring eyes in the tall four-poster bed where they had whispered together in better, happier days. In the corner of the room was an empty bed, a narrow French Empire bed with curling head and foot, a bed which Ellen had brought from Savannah. This was where Ellen had lain.
Scarlett sat beside the two girls, staring at them stupidly. The whisky taken on a stomach long empty was playing tricks on her. Sometimes her sisters seemed far away and tiny and their incoherent voices came to her like the buzz of insects. And again, they loomed large, rushing at her with lightning speed. She was tired, tired to the bone. She could lie down and sleep for days.
If she could only lie down and sleep and wake to feel Ellen gently shaking her arm and saying: “It is late, Scarlett. You must not be so lazy.” But she could not ever do that again. If there were only Ellen, someone older than she, wiser and unweary, to whom she could go! Someone in whose lap she could lay her head, someone on whose shoulders she could rest her burdens!
The door opened softly and Dilcey entered, Melanie’s baby held to her breast, the gourd of whisky in her hand. In the smoky, uncertain light, she seemed thinner than when Scarlett last saw her and the Indian blood was more evident in her face. The high cheek bones were more prominent, the hawk-bridged nose was sharper and her copper skin gleamed with a brighter hue. Her faded calico dress was open to the waist and her large bronze breast exposed. Held close against her, Melanie’s baby pressed his pale rosebud mouth greedily to the dark nipple, sucking, gripping tiny fists against the soft flesh like a kitten in the warm fur of its mother’s belly.
Scarlett rose unsteadily and put a hand on Dilcey’s arm.
“It was good of you to stay, Dilcey.”
“How could I go off wid them trashy niggers, Miss Scarlett, after yo’ pa been so good to buy me and my little Prissy and yo’ ma been so kine?”
“Sit down, Dilcey. The baby can eat all right, then? And how is Miss Melanie?”
“Nuthin’ wrong wid this chile ‘cept he hongry, and whut it take to feed a hongry chile I got. No’m, Miss Melanie is all right. She ain’ gwine die, Miss Scarlett. Doan you fret yo’seff. I seen too many, white and black, lak her. She mighty tired and nervous like and scared fo’ this baby. But I hesh her and give her some of whut was lef’ in that go’de and she sleepin’.”
So the corn whisky had been used by the whole family! Scarlett thought hysterically that perhaps she had better give a drink to little Wade and see if it would stop his hiccoughs — And Melanie would not die. And when Ashley came home — if he did come home . . . No, she would think of that later too. So much to think of — later! So many things to unravel — to decide. If only she could put off the hour of reckoning forever! She started suddenly as a creaking noise and a rhythmic “Ker-bunk — ker-bunk —” broke the stillness of the air outside.
“That’s Mammy gettin’ the water to sponge off the young Misses. They takes a heap of bathin’,” explained Dilcey, propping the gourd on the table between medicine bottles and a glass.
Scarlett laughed suddenly. Her nerves must be shredded if the noise of the well windlass, bound up in her earliest memories, could frighten her. Dilcey looked at her steadily as she laughed, her face immobile in its dignity, but Scarlett felt that Dilcey understood. She sank back in her chair. If she could only be rid of her tight stays, the collar that choked her and the slippers still full of sand and gravel that blistered her feet.
The windlass creaked slowly as the rope wound up, each creak bringing the bucket nearer the top. Soon Mammy would be with her — Ellen’s Mammy, her Mammy. She sat silent, intent on nothing, while the baby, already glutted with milk, whimpered because he had lost the friendly nipple. Dilcey, silent too, guided the child’s mouth back, quieting him in her arms as Scarlett listened to the slow scuffing of Mammy’s feet across the back yard. How still the night air was! The slightest sounds roared in her ears.
The upstairs hall seemed to shake as Mammy’s ponderous weight came toward the door. Then Mammy was in the room, Mammy with shoulders dragged down by two heavy wooden buckets, her kind black face sad with the uncomprehending sadness of a monkey’s face.
Her eyes lighted up at the sight of Scarlett, her white teeth gleamed as she set down the buckets, and Scarlett ran to her, laying her head on the broad, sagging breasts which had held so many heads, black and white. Here was something of stability, thought Scarlett, something of the old life that was unchanging. But Mammy’s first words dispelled this illusion.
“Mammy’s chile is home! Oh, Miss Scarlett, now dat Miss Ellen’s in de grabe, whut is we gwine ter do? Oh, Miss Scarlett, effen Ah wuz jes’ daid longside Miss Ellen! Ah kain make out widout Miss Ellen. Ain’ nuthin’ lef’ now but mizry an’ trouble. Jes’ weery loads, honey, jes’ weery loads.”
As Scarlett lay with her head hugged close to Mammy’s breast, two words caught her attention, “weery loads.” Those were the words which had hummed in her brain that afternoon so monotonously they had sickened her. Now, she remembered the rest of the song, remembered with a sinking heart:
“Just a few more days for to tote the weary load! No matter, ’twill never be light! Just a few more days till we totter in the road —”
“No matter, ’twill never be light”— she took the words to her tired mind. Would her load never be light? Was coming home to Tara to mean, not blessed surcease, but only more loads to carry? She slipped from Mammy’s arms and, reaching up, patted the wrinkled black face.
“Honey, yo’ han’s!” Mammy took the small hands with their blisters and blood clots in hers and looked at them with horrified disapproval. “Miss Scarlett, Ah done tole you an’ tole you dat you kin allus tell a lady by her han’s an’— yo’ face sunbuhnt too!”
Poor Mammy, still the martinet about such unimportant things even though war and death had just passed over her head! In another moment she would be saying that young Misses with blistered hands and freckles most generally didn’t never catch husbands and Scarlett forestalled the remark.
“Mammy, I want you to tell me about Mother. I couldn’t bear to hear Pa talk about her.”
Tears started from Mammy’s eyes as she leaned down to pick up the buckets. In silence she carried them to the bedside and, turning down the sheet, began pulling up the night clothes of Suellen and Carreen. Scarlett, peering at her sisters in the dim flaring light, saw that Carreen wore a nightgown, clean but in tatters, and Suellen lay wrapped in an old negligee, a brown linen garment heavy with tagging ends of Irish lace. Mammy cried silently as she sponged the gaunt bodies, using the remnant of an old apron as a cloth.
“Miss Scarlett, it wuz dem Slatterys, dem trashy, no-good, low-down po’-w’ite Slatterys dat kilt Miss Ellen. Ah done tole her an’ tole her it doan do no good doin’ things fer trashy folks, but Miss Ellen wuz so sot in her ways an’ her heart so sof’ she couldn’ never say no ter nobody whut needed her.”
“Slatterys?” questioned Scarlett, bewildered. “How do they come in?”
“Dey wuz sick wid disyere thing,” Mammy gestured with her rag to the two naked girls, dripping with water on their damp sheet. “Ole Miss Slattery’s gal, Emmie, come down wid it an’ Miss Slattery come hotfootin’ it up hyah affer Miss Ellen, lak she allus done w’en anything wrong. Why din’ she nuss her own? Miss Ellen had mo’n she could tote anyways. But Miss Ellen she went down dar an’ she nuss Emmie. An’ Miss Ellen wuzn’ well a-tall herseff, Miss Scarlett. Yo’ ma hadn’ been well fer de longes’. Dey ain’ been too much ter eat roun’ hyah, wid de commissary stealin’ eve’y thing us growed. An’ Miss Ellen eat lak a bird anyways. An’ Ah tole her an’ tole her ter let dem w’ite trash alone, but she din’ pay me no mine. Well’m, ‘bout de time Emmie look lak she gittin’ better, Miss Carreen come down wid it. Yas’m, de typhoy fly right up de road an’ ketch Miss Carreen, an’ den down come Miss Suellen. So Miss Ellen, she tuck an’ nuss dem too.
“Wid all de fightin’ up de road an’ de Yankees ‘cross de river an’ us not knowin’ whut wuz gwine ter happen ter us an’ de fe’el han’s runnin’ off eve’y night, Ah’s ‘bout crazy. But Miss Ellen jes’ as cool as a cucumber. ‘Cept she wuz worried ter a ghos’ ‘bout de young Misses kase we couldn’ git no medicines nor nuthin’. An’ one night she say ter me affer we done sponge off de young Misses ‘bout ten times, she say, ‘Mammy, effen Ah could sell mah soul, Ah’d sell it fer some ice ter put on mah gals’ haids.’
“She wouldn’t let Mist’ Gerald come in hyah, nor Rosa nor Teena, nobody but me, kase Ah done had de typhoy. An’ den it tuck her, Miss Scarlett, an’ Ah seed right off dat ‘twarnt no use.”
Mammy straightened up and, raising her apron, dried her streaming eyes.
“She went fas’, Miss Scarlett, an’ even dat nice Yankee doctah couldn’ do nuthin’ fer her. She din’ know nuthin’ a-tall. Ah call ter her an’ talk ter her but she din’ even know her own Mammy.”
“Did she — did she ever mention me — call for me?”
“No, honey. She think she is lil gal back in Savannah. She din’ call nobody by name.”
Dilcey stirred and laid the sleeping baby across her knees.
“Yes’m, she did. She did call somebody.”
“You hesh yo’ mouf, you Injun-nigger!” Mammy turned with threatening violence on Dilcey.
“Hush, Mammy! Who did she call, Dilcey? Pa?”
“No’m. Not yo’ pa. It wuz the night the cotton buhnt —”
“Has the cotton gone — tell me quickly!”
“Yes’m, it buhnt up. The sojers rolls it out of the shed into the back yard and hollers, ‘Here the bigges’ bonfiah in Georgia,’ and tech it off.”
Three years of stored cotton — one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, all in one blaze!
“And the fiah light up the place lak it wuz day — we wuz scared the house would buhn, too, and it wuz so bright in this hyah room that you could mos’ pick a needle offen the flo’. And w’en the light shine in the winder, it look lak it wake Miss Ellen up and she set right up in bed and cry out loud, time and again: ‘Feeleep! Feeleep!’ I ain’ never heerd no sech name but it wuz a name and she wuz callin’ him.”
Mammy stood as though turned to stone glaring at Dilcey but Scarlett dropped her head into her hands. Philippe — who was he and what had he been to Mother that she died calling him?
The long road from Atlanta to Tara had ended, ended in a blank wall, the road that was to end in Ellen’s arms. Never again could Scarlett lie down, as a child, secure beneath her father’s roof with the protection of her mother’s love wrapped about her like an eiderdown quilt. There was no security or haven to which she could turn now. No turning or twisting would avoid this dead end to which she had come. There was no one on whose shoulders she could rest her burdens. Her father was old and stunned, her sisters ill, Melanie frail and weak, the children helpless, and the negroes looking up to her with childlike faith, clinging to her skirts, knowing that Ellen’s daughter would be the refuge Ellen had always been.
Through the window, in the faint light of the rising moon, Tara stretched before her, negroes gone, acres desolate, barns ruined, like a body bleeding under her eyes, like her own body, slowly bleeding. This was the end of the road, quivering old age, sickness, hungry mouths, helpless hands plucking at her skirts. And at the end of this road, there was nothing — nothing but Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton, nineteen years old, a widow with a little child.
What would she do with all of this? Aunt Pitty and the Burrs in Macon could take Melanie and her baby. If the girls recovered, Ellen’s family would have to take them, whether they liked it or not. And she and Gerald could turn to Uncle James and Andrew.
She looked at the thin forms, tossing before her, the sheets about them moist and dark from dripping water. She did not like Suellen. She saw it now with a sudden clarity. She had never liked her. She did not especially love Carreen — she could not love anyone who was weak. But they were of her blood, part of Tara. No, she could not let them live out their lives in their aunts’ homes as poor relations. An O’Hara a poor relation, living on charity bread and sufferance! Oh, never that!
Was there no escape from this dead end? Her tired brain moved so slowly. She raised her hands to her head as wearily as if the air were water against which her arms struggled. She took the gourd from between the glass and bottle and looked in it. There was some whisky left in the bottom, how much she could not tell in the uncertain light. Strange that the sharp smell did not offend her nostrils now. She drank slowly but this time the liquid did not burn, only a dull warmth followed.
She set down the empty gourd and looked about her. This was all a dream, this smoke-filled dim room, the scrawny girls, Mammy shapeless and huge crouching beside the bed, Dilcey a still bronze image with the sleeping pink morsel against her dark breast — all a dream from which she would awake, to smell bacon frying in the kitchen, hear the throaty laughter of the negroes and the creaking of wagons fieldward bound, and Ellen’s gentle insistent hand upon her.
Then she discovered she was in her own room, on her own bed, faint moonlight pricking the darkness, and Mammy and Dilcey were undressing her. The torturing stays no longer pinched her waist and she could breathe deeply and quietly to the bottom of her lungs and her abdomen. She felt her stockings being stripped gently from her and heard Mammy murmuring indistinguishable comforting sounds as she bathed her blistered feet. How cool the water was, how good to lie here in softness, like a child. She sighed and relaxed and after a time which might have been a year or a second, she was alone and the room was brighter as the rays of the moon streamed in across the bed.
She did not know she was drunk, drunk with fatigue and whisky. She only knew she had left her tired body and floated somewhere above it where there was no pain and weariness and her brain saw things with an inhuman clarity.
She was seeing things with new eyes for, somewhere along the long road to Tara, she had left her girlhood behind her. She was no longer plastic clay, yielding imprint to each new experience. The clay had hardened, some time in this indeterminate day which had lasted a thousand years. Tonight was the last time she would ever be ministered to as a child. She was a woman now and youth was gone.
No, she could not, would not, turn to Gerald’s or Ellen’s families. The O’Haras did not take charity. The O’Haras looked after their own. Her burdens were her own and burdens were for shoulders strong enough to bear them. She thought without surprise, looking down from her height, that her shoulders were strong enough to bear anything now, having borne the worst that could ever happen to her. She could not desert Tara; she belonged to the red acres far more than they could ever belong to her. Her roots went deep into the blood-colored soil and sucked up life, as did the cotton. She would stay at Tara and keep it, somehow, keep her father and her sisters, Melanie and Ashley’s child, the negroes. Tomorrow — oh, tomorrow! Tomorrow she would fit the yoke about her neck. Tomorrow there would be so many things to do. Go to Twelve Oaks and the MacIntosh place and see if anything was left in the deserted gardens, go to the river swamps and beat them for straying hogs and chickens, go to Jonesboro and Lovejoy with Ellen’s jewelry — there must be someone left there who would sell something to eat. Tomorrow — tomorrow — her brain ticked slowly and more slowly, like a clock running down, but the clarity of vision persisted.
Of a sudden, the oft-told family tales to which she had listened since babyhood, listened half-bored, impatient and but partly comprehending, were crystal clear. Gerald, penniless, had raised Tara; Ellen had risen above some mysterious sorrow; Grandfather Robillard, surviving the wreck of Napoleon’s throne, had founded his fortunes anew on the fertile Georgia coast; Great-grandfather Prudhomme had carved a small kingdom out of the dark jungles of Haiti, lost it, and lived to see his name honored in Savannah. There were the Scarletts who had fought with the Irish Volunteers for a free Ireland and been hanged for their pains and the O’Haras who died at the Boyne, battling to the end for what was theirs.
All had suffered crushing misfortunes and had not been crushed. They had not been broken by the crash of empires, the machetes of revolting slaves, war, rebellion, proscription, confiscation. Malign fate had broken their necks, perhaps, but never their hearts. They had not whined, they had fought. And when they died, they died spent but unquenched. All of those shadowy folks whose blood flowed in her veins seemed to move quietly in the moonlit room. And Scarlett was not surprised to see them, these kinsmen who had taken the worst that fate could send and hammered it into the best. Tara was her fate, her fight, and she must conquer it.
She turned drowsily on her side, a slow creeping blackness enveloping her mind. Were they really there, whispering wordless encouragement to her, or was this part of her dream?
“Whether you are there or not,” she murmured sleepily, “good night — and thank you.”