Gone with the wind (Chapter 35)
It was raining when she came out of the building and the sky was a dull putty color. The soldiers on the square had taken shelter in their huts and the streets were deserted. There was no vehicle in sight and she knew she would have to walk the long way home.
The brandy glow faded as she trudged along. The cold wind made her shiver and the chilly needle-like drops drove hard into her face. The rain quickly penetrated Aunt Pitty’s thin cloak until it hung in clammy folds about her. She knew the velvet dress was being ruined and as for the tail feathers on the bonnet, they were as drooping and draggled as when their former owner had worn them about the wet barn yard of Tara. The bricks of the sidewalk were broken and, for long stretches, completely gone. In these spots the mud was ankle deep and her slippers stuck in it as if it were glue, even coming completely off her feet. Every time she bent over to retrieve them, the hem of the dress fell in the mud. She did not even try to avoid puddles but stepped dully into them, dragging her heavy skirts after her. She could feel her wet petticoat and pantalets cold about her ankles, but she was beyond caring about the wreck of the costume on which she had gambled so much. She was chilled and disheartened and desperate.
How could she ever go back to Tara and face them after her brave words? How could she tell them they must all go — somewhere? How could she leave it all, the red fields, the tall pines, the dark swampy bottom lands, the quiet burying ground where Ellen lay in the cedars’ deep shade?
Hatred of Rhett burned in her heart as she plodded along the slippery way. What a blackguard he was! She hoped they did hang him, so she would never have to face him again with his knowledge of her disgrace and her humiliation. Of course, he could have gotten the money for her if he’d wanted to get it. Oh, hanging was too good for him! Thank God, he couldn’t see her now, with her clothes soaking wet and her hair straggling and her teeth chattering. How hideous she must look and how he would laugh!
The negroes she passed turned insolent grins at her and laughed among themselves as she hurried by, slipping and sliding in the mud, stopping, panting to replace her slippers. How dared they laugh, the black apes! How dared they grin at her, Scarlett O’Hara of Tara! She’d like to have them all whipped until the blood ran down their backs. What devils the Yankees were to set them free, free to jeer at white people!
As she walked down Washington Street, the landscape was as dreary as her own heart. Here there was none of the bustle and cheerfulness which she had noted on Peachtree Street. Here many handsome homes had once stood, but few of them had been rebuilt. Smoked foundations and the lonesone blackened chimneys, now known as “Sherman’s Sentinels,” appeared with disheartening frequency. Overgrown paths led to what had been houses — old lawns thick with dead weeds, carriage blocks bearing names she knew so well, hitching posts which would never again know the knot of reins. Cold wind and rain, mud and bare trees, silence and desolation. How wet her feet were and how long the journey home!
She heard the splash of hooves behind her and moved farther over on the narrow sidewalk to avoid more mud splotches on Aunt Pittypat’s cloak. A horse and buggy came slowly up the road and she turned to watch it, determined to beg a ride if the driver was a white person. The rain obscured her vision as the buggy came abreast, but she saw the driver peer over the tarpaulin that stretched from the dashboard to his chin. There was something familiar about his face and as she stepped out into the road to get a closer view, there was an embarrassed little cough from the man and a well-known voice cried in accents of pleasure and astonishment: “Surely, it can’t be Miss Scarlett!”
“Oh, Mr. Kennedy!” she cried, splashing across the road and leaning on the muddy wheel, heedless of further damage to the cloak. “I was never so glad to see anybody in my life!”
He colored with pleasure at the obvious sincerity of her words, hastily squirted a stream of tobacco juice from the opposite side of the buggy and leaped spryly to the ground. He shook her hand enthusiastically and holding up the tarpaulin, assisted her into the buggy.
“Miss Scarlett, what are you doing over in this section by yourself? Don’t you know it’s dangerous these days? And you are soaking wet. Here, wrap the robe around your feet.”
As he fussed over her, clucking like a hen, she gave herself up to the luxury of being taken care of. It was nice to have a man fussing and clucking and scolding, even if it was only that old maid in pants, Frank Kennedy. It was especially soothing after Rhett’s brutal treatment. And oh, how good to see a County face when she was so far from home! He was well dressed, she noticed, and the buggy was new too. The horse looked young and well fed, but Frank looked far older than his years, older than on that Christmas eve when he had been at Tara with his men. He was thin and sallow faced and his yellow eyes were watery and sunken in creases of loose flesh. His ginger-colored beard was scantier than ever, streaked with tobacco juice and as ragged as if he clawed at it incessantly. But he looked bright and cheerful, in contrast with the lines of sorrow and worry and weariness which Scarlett saw in faces everywhere.
“It’s a pleasure to see you,” said Frank warmly. “I didn’t know you were in town. I saw Miss Pittypat only last week and she didn’t tell me you were coming. Did — er — ahem — did anyone else come up from Tara with you?”
He was thinking of Suellen, the silly old fool.
“No,” she said, wrapping the warm lap robe about her and trying to pull it up around her neck. “I came alone. I didn’t give Aunt Pitty any warning.”
He chirruped to the horse and it plodded off, picking its way carefully down the slick road.
“All the folks at Tara well?”
“Oh, yes, so-so.”
She must think of something to talk about, yet it was so hard to talk. Her mind was leaden with defeat and all she wanted was to lie back in this warm blanket and say to herself: “I won’t think of Tara now. I’ll think of it later, when it won’t hurt so much.” If she could just get him started talking on some subject which would hold him all the way home, so she would have nothing to do but murmur “How nice” and “You certainly are smart” at intervals.
“Mr. Kennedy, I’m so surprised to see you. I know I’ve been a bad girl, not keeping up with old friends, but I didn’t know you were here in Atlanta. I thought somebody told me you were in Marietta.”
“I do business in Marietta, a lot of business,” he said. “Didn’t Miss Suellen tell you I had settled in Atlanta? Didn’t she tell you about my store?”
Vaguely she had a memory of Suellen chattering about Frank and a store but she never paid much heed to anything Suellen said. It had been sufficient to know that Frank was alive and would some day take Suellen off her hands.
“No, not a word,” she lied. “Have you a store? How smart you must be!”
He looked a little hurt at hearing that Suellen had not published the news but brightened at the flattery.
“Yes, I’ve got a store, and a pretty good one I think. Folks tell me I’m a born merchant.”
He laughed pleasedly, the tittery cackling laugh which she always found so annoying.
Conceited old fool, she thought.
“Oh, you could be a success at anything you turned your hand to, Mr. Kennedy. But how on earth did you ever get started with the store? When I saw you Christmas before last you said you didn’t have a cent in the world.”
He cleared his throat raspingly, clawed at his whiskers and smiled his nervous timid smile.
“Well, it’s a long story, Miss Scarlett.”
Thank the Lord! she thought. Perhaps it will hold him till we get home. And aloud: “Do tell!”
“You recall when we came to Tara last, hunting for supplies? Well, not long after that I went into active service. I mean real fighting. No more commissary for me. There wasn’t much need for a commissary, Miss Scarlett, because we couldn’t hardly pick up a thing for the army, and I thought the place for an able-bodied man was in the fighting line. Well, I fought along with the cavalry for a spell till I got a minie ball through the shoulder.”
He looked very proud and Scarlett said: “How dreadful!”
“Oh, it wasn’t so bad, just a flesh wound,” he said deprecatingly. “I was sent down south to a hospital and when I was just about well, the Yankee raiders came through. My, my, but that was a hot time! We didn’t have much warning and all of us who could walk helped haul out the army stores and the hospital equipment to the train tracks to move it. We’d gotten one train about loaded when the Yankees rode in one end of town and out we went the other end as fast as we could go. My, my, that was a mighty sad sight, sitting on top of that train and seeing the Yankees burn those supplies we had to leave at the depot. Miss Scarlett, they burned about a half-mile of stuff we had piled up there along the tracks. We just did get away ourselves.”
“Yes, that’s the word. Dreadful. Our men had come back into Atlanta then and so our train was sent here. Well, Miss Scarlett, it wasn’t long before the war was over and — well, there was a lot of china and cots and mattresses and blankets and nobody claiming them. I suppose rightfully they belonged to the Yankees. I think those were the terms of the surrender, weren’t they?”
“Um,” said Scarlett absently. She was getting warmer now and a little drowsy.
“I don’t know till now if I did right,” he said, a little querulously. “But the way I figured it, all that stuff wouldn’t do the Yankees a bit of good. They’d probably burn it. And our folks had paid good solid money for it, and I thought it still ought to belong to the Confederacy or to the Confederates. Do you see what I mean?”
“I’m glad you agree with me, Miss Scarlett. In a way, it’s been on my conscience. Lots of folks have told me: ‘Oh, forget about it, Frank,’ but I can’t. I couldn’t hold up my head if I thought I’d done what wasn’t right. Do you think I did right?”
“Of course,” she said, wondering what the old fool had been talking about. Some struggle with his conscience. When a man got as old as Frank Kennedy he ought to have learned not to bother about things that didn’t matter. But he always was so nervous and fussy and old maidish.
“I’m glad to hear you say it. After the surrender I had about ten dollars in silver and nothing else in the world. You know what they did to Jonesboro and my house and store there. I just didn’t know what to do. But I used the ten dollars to put a roof on an old store down by Five Points and I moved the hospital equipment in and started selling it. Everybody needed beds and china and mattresses and I sold them cheap, because I figured it was about as much other folks’ stuff as it was mine. But I cleared money on it and bought some more stuff and the store just went along fine. I think I’ll make a lot of money on it if things pick up.”
At the word “money,” her mind came back to him, crystal clear.
“You say you’ve made money?”
He visibly expanded under her interest. Few women except Suellen had ever given him more than perfunctory courtesy and it was very flattering to have a former belle like Scarlett hanging on his words. He slowed the horse so they would not reach home before he had finished his story.
“I’m not a millionaire, Miss Scarlett, and considering the money I used to have, what I’ve got now sounds small. But I made a thousand dollars this year. Of course, five hundred of it went to paying for new stock and repairing the store and paying the rent. But I’ve made five hundred clear and as things are certainly picking up, I ought to clear two thousand next year. I can sure use it, too, for you see, I’ve got another iron in the fire.”
Interest had sprung up sharply in her at the talk of money. She veiled her eyes with thick bristly lashes and moved a little closer to him.
“What does that mean, Mr. Kennedy?”
He laughed and slapped the reins against the horse’s back.
“I guess I’m boring you, talking about business, Miss Scarlett. A pretty little woman like you doesn’t need to know anything about business.”
The old fool.
“Oh, I know I’m a goose about business but I’m so interested! Please tell me all about it and you can explain what I don’t understand.”
“Well, my other iron is a sawmill.”
“A mill to cut up lumber and plane it. I haven’t bought it yet but I’m going to. There’s a man named Johnson who has one, way out Peachtree road, and he’s anxious to sell it. He needs some cash right away, so he wants to sell and stay and run it for me at a weekly wage. It’s one of the few mills in this section, Miss Scarlett. The Yankees destroyed most of them. And anyone who owns a sawmill owns a gold mine, for nowadays you can ask your own price for lumber. The Yankees burned so many houses here and there aren’t enough for people to live in and it looks like folks have gone crazy about rebuilding. They can t get enough lumber and they can’t get it fast enough. People are just pouring into Atlanta now, all the folks from the country districts who can’t make a go of farming without darkies and the Yankees and Carpetbaggers who are swarming in trying to pick our bones a little barer than they already are. I tell you Atlanta’s going to be a big town soon. They’ve got to have lumber for their houses, so I’m going to buy this mill just as soon as — well, as soon as some of the bills owing me are paid. By this time next year, I ought to be breathing easier about money. I— I guess you know why I’m so anxious to make money quickly, don’t you?”
He blushed and cackled again. He’s thinking of Suellen, Scarlett thought in disgust.
For a moment she considered asking him to lend her three hundred dollars, but wearily she rejected the idea. He would be embarrassed; he would stammer; he would offer excuses, but he wouldn’t lend it to her. He had worked hard for it, so he could marry Suellen in the spring and if he parted with it, his wedding would be postponed indefinitely. Even if she worked on his sympathies and his duty toward his future family and gained his promise of a loan, she knew Suellen would never permit it. Suellen was getting more and more worried over the fact that she was practically an old maid and she would move heaven and earth to prevent anything from delaying her marriage.
What was there in that whining complaining girl to make this old fool so anxious to give her a soft nest? Suellen didn’t deserve a loving husband and the profits of a store and a sawmill. The minute Sue got her hands on a little money she’d give herself unendurable airs and never contribute one cent toward the upkeep of Tara. Not Suellen! She’d think herself well out of it and not care if Tara went for taxes or burned to the ground, so long as she had pretty clothes and a “Mrs.” in front of her name.
As Scarlett thought of Suellen’s secure future and the precarious one of herself and Tara, anger flamed in her at the unfairness of life. Hastily she looked out of the buggy into the muddy street, lest Frank should see her expression. She was going to lose everything she had, while Sue — Suddenly a determination was born in her.
Suellen should not have Frank and his store and his mill!
Suellen didn’t deserve them. She was going to have them herself. She thought of Tara and remembered Jonas Wilkerson, venomous as a rattler, at the foot of the front steps, and she grasped at the last straw floating above the shipwreck of her life. Rhett had failed her but the Lord had provided Frank.
But can I get him? Her fingers clenched as she looked unseeingly into the rain. Can I make him forget Sue and propose to me real quick? If I could make Rhett almost propose, I know I could get Frank! Her eyes went over him, her lids flickering. Certainly, he’s no beauty, she thought coolly, and he’s got very bad teeth and his breath smells bad and he’s old enough to be my father. Moreover, he’s nervous and timid and well meaning, and I don’t know of any more damning qualities a man can have. But at least, he’s a gentleman and I believe I could stand living with him better than with Rhett. Certainly I could manage him easier. At any rate, beggars can’t be choosers.
That he was Suellen’s fiance caused her no qualm of conscience. After the complete moral collapse which had sent her to Atlanta and to Rhett, the appropriation of her sister’s betrothed seemed a minor affair and one not to be bothered with at this time.
With the rousing of fresh hope, her spine stiffened and she forgot that her feet were wet and cold. She looked at Frank so steadily, her eyes narrowing, that he became somewhat alarmed and she dropped her gaze swiftly, remembering Rhett’s words: “I’ve seen eyes like yours above a dueling pistol. . . . They evoke no ardor in the male breast.”
“What’s the matter, Miss Scarlett? You got a chill?”
“Yes,” she answered helplessly. “Would you mind —” She hesitated timidly. “Would you mind if I put my hand in your coat pocket? It’s so cold and my muff is soaked through.”
“Why — why — of course not! And you haven’t any gloves! My, my, what a brute I’ve been idling along like this, talking my head off when you must be freezing and wanting to get to a fire. Giddap, Sally! By the way, Miss Scarlett, I’ve been so busy talking about myself I haven’t even asked you what you were doing in this section in this weather?”
“I was at the Yankee headquarters,” she answered before she thought. His sandy brows went up in astonishment.
“But Miss Scarlett! The soldiers — Why —”
“Mary, Mother of God, let me think of a real good lie,” she prayed hastily. It would never do for Frank to suspect she had seen Rhett. Frank thought Rhett the blackest of blackguards and unsafe for decent women to speak to.
“I went there — I went there to see if — if any of the officers would buy fancy work from me to send home to their wives. I embroider very nicely.”
He sank back against the seat aghast, indignation struggling with bewilderment.
“You went to the Yankees — But Miss Scarlett! You shouldn’t. Why — why . . . Surely your father doesn’t know! Surely, Miss Pittypat —”
“Oh, I shall die if you tell Aunt Pittypat!” she cried in real anxiety and burst into tears. It was easy to cry, because she was so cold and miserable, but the effect was startling. Frank could not have been more embarrassed or helpless if she had suddenly begun disrobing. He clicked his tongue against his teeth several times, muttering “My! My!” and made futile gestures at her. A daring thought went through his mind that he should draw her head onto his shoulder and pat her but he had never done this to any woman and hardly knew how to go about it. Scarlett O’Hara, so high spirited and pretty, crying here in his buggy. Scarlett O’Hara, the proudest of the proud, trying to sell needlework to the Yankees. His heart burned.
She sobbed on, saying a few words now and then, and he gathered that all was not well at Tara. Mr. O’Hara was still “not himself at all,” and there wasn’t enough food to go around for so many. So she had to come to Atlanta to try to make a little money for herself and her boy. Frank clicked his tongue again and suddenly he found that her head was on his shoulder. He did not quite know how it got there. Surely he had not placed it there, but there her head was and there was Scarlett helplessly sobbing against his thin chest, an exciting and novel sensation for him. He patted her shoulder timidly, gingerly at first, and when she did not rebuff him he became bolder and patted her firmly. What a helpless, sweet, womanly little thing she was. And how brave and silly to try her hand at making money by her needle. But dealing with the Yankees — that was too much.
“I won’t tell Miss Pittypat, but you must promise me, Miss Scarlett, that you won’t do anything like this again. The idea of your father’s daughter —”
Her wet green eyes sought his helplessly.
“But, Mr. Kennedy, I must do something. I must take care of my poor little boy and there is no one to look after us now.”
“You are a brave little woman,” he pronounced, “but I won’t have you do this sort of thing. Your family would die of shame.”
“Then what will I do?” The swimming eyes looked up to him as if she knew he knew everything and was hanging on his words.
“Well, I don’t know right now. But I’ll think of something.”
“Oh, I know you will! You are so smart — Frank.”
She had never called him by his first name before and the sound came to him as a pleasant shock and surprise. The poor girl was probably so upset she didn’t even notice her slip. He felt very kindly toward her and very protecting. If there was anything he could do for Suellen O’Hara’s sister, he would certainly do it. He pulled out a red bandanna handkerchief and handed it to her and she wiped her eyes and began to smile tremulously.
“I’m such a silly little goose,” she said apologetically. “Please forgive me.”
“You aren’t a silly little goose. You’re a very brave little woman and you are trying to carry to heavy a load. I’m afraid Miss Pittypat isn’t going to be much help to you. I hear she lost most of her property and Mr. Henry Hamilton’s in bad shape himself. I only wish I had a home to offer you shelter in. But, Miss Scarlett, you just remember this, when Miss Suellen and I are married, there’ll always be a place for you under our roof and for Wade Hampton too.”
Now was the time! Surely the saints and angels watched over her to give her such a Heaven-sent opportunity. She managed to look very startled and embarrassed and opened her mouth as if to speak quickly and then shut it with a pop.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know I was to be your brother-inlaw this spring,” he said with nervous jocularity.
And then, seeing her eyes fill up with tears, he questioned in alarm: “What’s the matter? Miss Sue’s not ill, is she?”
“Oh, no! No!”
“There is something wrong. You must tell me.”
“Oh, I can’t! I didn’t know! I thought surely she must have written you — Oh, how mean!”
“Miss Scarlett, what is it?”
“Oh, Frank, I didn’t mean to let it out but I thought, of course, you knew — that she had written you —”
“Written me what?” He was trembling.
“Oh, to do this to a fine man like you!”
“What’s she done?”
“She didn’t write you? Oh, I guess she was too ashamed to write you. She should be ashamed! Oh, to have such a mean sister!”
By this time, Frank could not even get questions to his lips. He sat staring at her, gray faced, the reins slack in his hands.
“She’s going to marry Tony Fontaine next month. Oh, I’m so sorry, Frank. So sorry to be the one to tell you. She just got tired of waiting and she was afraid she’d be an old maid.”
Mammy was standing on the front porch when Frank helped Scarlett out of the buggy. She had evidently been standing there for some time, for her head rag was damp and the old shawl clutched tightly about her showed rain spots. Her wrinkled black face was a study in anger and apprehension and her lip was pushed out farther than Scarlett could ever remember. She peered quickly at Frank and, when she saw who it was, her face changed — pleasure, bewilderment and something akin to guilt spreading over it. She waddled forward to Frank with pleased greetings and grinned and curtsied when he shook her hand.
“It sho is good ter see home folks,” she said. “How is you, Mist’ Frank? My, ain’ you lookin’ fine an’ gran’! Effen Ah’d knowed Miss Scarlett wuz out wid you, Ah wouldn’ worrit so. Ah’d knowed she wuz tekken keer of. Ah come back hyah an’ fine she gone an’ Ah been as ‘stracted as a chicken wid its haid off, thinkin’ she runnin’ roun’ dis town by herseff wid all dese trashy free issue niggers on de street. Huccome you din’ tell me you gwine out, honey? An’ you wid a cole!”
Scarlett winked slyly at Frank and, for all his distress at the bad news he had just heard, he smiled, knowing she was enjoining silence and making him one in a pleasant conspiracy.
“You run up and fix me some dry clothes, Mammy,” she said. “And some hot tea.”
“Lawd, yo’ new dress is plum ruint,” grumbled Mammy. “Ah gwine have a time dryin’ it an’ brushin’ it, so it’ll be fit ter be wo’ ter de weddin’ ternight.”
She went into the house and Scarlett leaned close to Frank and whispered: “Do come to supper tonight. We are so lonesome. And we’re going to the wedding afterward. Do be our escort! And, please don’t say anything to Aunt Pitty about — about Suellen. It would distress her so much and I can’t bear for her to know that my sister —”
“Oh, I won’t! I won’t!” Frank said hastily, wincing from the very thought.
“You’ve been so sweet to me today and done me so much good. I feel right brave again.” She squeezed his hand in parting and turned the full battery of her eyes upon him.
Mammy, who was waiting just inside the door, gave her an inscrutable look and followed her, puffing, up the stairs to the bedroom. She was silent while she stripped off the wet clothes and hung them over chairs and tucked Scarlett into bed. When she had brought up a cup of hot tea and a hot brick, rolled in flannel, she looked down at Scarlett and said, with the nearest approach to an apology in her voice Scarlett had ever heard: “Lamb, huccome you din’ tell yo’ own Mammy whut you wuz upter? Den Ah wouldn’ had ter traipse all dis way up hyah ter ‘Lanta. Ah is too ole an’ too fat fer sech runnin’ roun’.”
“What do you mean?”
“Honey, you kain fool me. Ah knows you. An’ Ah seed Mist’ Frank’s face jes’ now an’ Ah seed yo’ face, an’ Ah kin read yo’ mine lak a pahson read a Bible. An’ Ah heerd dat whisperin’ you wuz givin’ him ‘bout Miss Suellen. Effen Ah’d had a notion ‘twuz Mist’ Frank you wuz affer, Ah’d stayed home whar Ah b’longs.”
“Well,” said Scarlett shortly, snuggling under the blankets and realizing it was useless to try to throw Mammy off the scent, “who did you think it was?”
“Chile, Ah din’ know but Ah din’ lak de look on yo’ face yestiddy. An’ Ah ‘membered Miss Pittypat writin’ Miss Melly dat dat rapscallion Butler man had lots of money an’ Ah doan fergit whut Ah hears. But Mist’ Frank, he a gempmum even ef he ain’ so pretty.”
Scarlett gave her a sharp look and Mammy returned the gaze with calm omniscience.
“Well, what are you going to do about it? Tattle to Suellen?”
“Ah is gwine ter he’p you pleasure Mist’ Frank eve’y way Ah knows how,” said Mammy, tucking the covers about Scarlett’s neck.
Scarlett lay quietly for a while, as Mammy fussed about the room, relief flooding her that there was no need for words between them. No explanations were asked, no reproaches made. Mammy understood and was silent. In Mammy, Scarlett had found a realist more uncompromising than herself. The mottled wise old eyes saw deeply, saw clearly, with the directness of the savage and the child, undeterred by conscience when danger threatened her pet. Scarlett was her baby and what her baby wanted, even though it belonged to another, Mammy was willing to help her obtain. The rights of Suellen and Frank Kennedy did not even enter her mind, save to cause a grim inward chuckle. Scarlett was in trouble and doing the best she could, and Scarlett was Miss Ellen’s child. Mammy rallied to her with never a moment’s hesitation.
Scarlett felt the silent reinforcement and, as the hot brick at her feet warmed her, the hope which had flickered faintly on the cold ride home grew into a flame. It swept through her, making her heart pump the blood through her veins in pounding surges. Strength was coming back and a reckless excitement which made her want to laugh aloud. Not beaten yet, she thought exultantly.
“Hand me the mirror, Mammy,” she said.
“Keep yo’ shoulders unner dat kivver,” ordered Mammy, passing the hand mirror to her, a smile on her thick lips.
Scarlett looked at herself.
“I look white as a hant,” she said, “and my hair is as wild as a horse’s tail.”
“You doan look peart as you mout.”
“Hum. . . . Is it raining very hard?”
“You know it’s po’in’.”
“Well, just the same, you’ve got to go downtown for me.”
“Not in dis rain, Ah ain’.”
“Yes, you are or I’ll go myself.”
“Whut you got ter do dat woan wait? Look ter me lak you done nuff fer one day.”
“I want,” said Scarlett, surveying herself carefully in the mirror, “a bottle of cologne water. You can wash my hair and rinse it with cologne. And buy me a jar of quince-seed jelly to make it lie down flat.”
“Ah ain’ gwine wash yo’ ha’r in dis wedder an’ you ain’ gwine put no cologne on yo’ haid lak a fas’ woman needer. Not w’ile Ah got breaf in mah body.”
“Oh, yes, I am. Look in my purse and get that five-dollar gold piece out and go to town. And — er, Mammy, while you are downtown, you might get me a — a pot of rouge.”
“Whut dat?” asked Mammy suspiciously.
Scarlett met her eyes with a coldness she was far from feeling. There was never any way of knowing just how far Mammy could be bullied.
“Never you mind. Just ask for it.”
“Ah ain’ buyin nuthin’ dat Ah doan know whut ’tis.”
“Well, it’s paint, if you’re so curious! Face paint. Don’t stand there and swell up like a toad. Go on.”
“Paint!” ejaculated Mammy. “Face paint! Well, you ain’ so big dat Ah kain whup you! Ah ain’ never been so scan’lized! You is los’ yo’ mine! Miss Ellen be tuhnin’ in her grabe dis minute! Paintin’ yo face lak a —”
“You know very well Grandma Robillard painted her face and —”
“Yas’m, an’ wo’ only one petticoat an’ it wrang out wid water ter mek it stick an’ show de shape of her laigs, but dat ain’ sayin’ you is gwine do sumpin’ lak dat! Times wuz scan’lous w’en Ole Miss wuz young but times changes, dey do an’—”
“Name of God!” cried Scarlett, losing her temper and throwing back the covers. “You can go straight back to Tara!”
“You kain sen’ me ter Tara ness Ah wants ter go. Ah is free,” said Mammy heatedly. “An’ Ah is gwine ter stay right hyah. Git back in dat baid. Does you want ter ketch pneumony jes’ now? Put down dem stays! Put dem down, honey. Now, Miss Scarlett, you ain’ gwine nowhars in dis wedder. Lawd God! But you sho look lak yo’ pa! Git back in baid — Ah kain go buyin’ no paint! Ah die of shame, eve’ybody knowin ‘it wud fer mah chile! Miss Scarlett, you is so sweet an’ pretty lookin’ you doan need no paint. Honey, doan nobody but bad womens use dat stuff.”
“Well, they get results, don’t they?”
“Jesus, hear her! Lamb, doan say bad things lak dat! Put down dem wet stockin’s, honey. Ah kain have you buy dat stuff yo’seff. Miss Ellen would hant me. Git back in baid. Ah’ll go. Maybe Ah fine me a sto’ whar dey doan know us.”
That night at Mrs. Elsing’s, when Fanny had been duly married and old Levi and the other musicians were tuning up for the dance, Scarlett looked about her with gladness. It was so exciting to be actually at a party again. She was pleased also with the warm reception she had received. When she entered the house on Frank’s arm, everyone had rushed to her with cries of pleasure and welcome, kissed her, shaken her hand, told her they had missed her dreadfully and that she must never go back to Tara. The men seemed gallantly to have forgotten she had tried her best to break their hearts in other days and the girls that she had done everything in her power to entice their beaux away from them. Even Mrs. Merriwether, Mrs. Whiting, Mrs. Meade and the other dowagers who had been so cool to her during the last days of the war, forgot her flighty conduct and their disapproval of it and recalled only that she had suffered in their common defeat and that she was Pitty’s niece and Charles’ widow. They kissed her and spoke gently with tears in their eyes of her dear mother’s passing and asked at length about her father and her sisters. Everyone asked about Melanie and Ashley, demanding the reason why they, too, had not come back to Atlanta.
In spite of her pleasure at the welcome, Scarlett felt a slight uneasiness which she tried to conceal, an uneasiness about the appearance of her velvet dress. It was still damp to the knees and still spotted about the hem, despite the frantic efforts of Mammy and Cookie with a steaming kettle, a clean hair brush and frantic wavings in front of an open fire. Scarlett was afraid someone would notice her bedraggled state and realize that this was her only nice dress. She was a little cheered by the fact that many of the dresses of the other guests looked far worse than hers. They were so old and had such carefully mended and pressed looks. At least, her dress was whole and new, damp though it was — in fact, the only new dress at the gathering with the exception of Fanny’s white-satin wedding gown.
Remembering what Aunt Pitty had told her about the Elsing finances, she wondered where the money for the satin dress had been obtained and for the refreshments and decorations and musicians too. It must have cost a pretty penny. Borrowed money probably or else the whole Elsing clan had contributed to give Fanny this expensive wedding. Such a wedding in these hard times seemed to Scarlett an extravagance on a par with the tombstones of the Tarleton boys and she felt the same irritation and lack of sympathy she had felt as she stood in the Tarleton burying ground. The days when money could be thrown away carelessly had passed. Why did these people persist in making the gestures of the old days when the old days were gone?
But she shrugged off her momentary annoyance. It wasn’t her money and she didn’t want her evening’s pleasure spoiled by irritation at other people’s foolishness.
She discovered she knew the groom quite well, for he was Tommy Wellburn from Sparta and she had nursed him in 1863 when he had a wound in his shoulder. He had been a handsome young six-footer then and had given up his medical studies to go in the cavalry. Now he looked like a little old man, so bent was he by the wound in his hip. He walked with some difficulty and, as Aunt Pitty had remarked, spraddled in a very vulgar way. But he seemed totally unaware of his appearance, or unconcerned about it, and had the manner of one who asks no odds from any man. He had given up all hope of continuing his medical studies and was now a contractor, working a labor crew of Irishmen who were building the new hotel. Scarlett wondered how he managed so onerous a job in his condition but asked no questions, realizing wryly that almost anything was possible when necessity drove.
Tommy and Hugh Elsing and the little monkey-like Rene Picard stood talking with her while the chairs and furniture were pushed back to the wall in preparation for the dancing. Hugh had not changed since Scarlett last saw him in 1862. He was still the thin sensitive boy with the same lock of pale brown hair hanging over his forehead and the same delicate useless-looking hands she remembered so well. But Rene had changed since that furlough when he married Maybelle Merriwether. He still had the Gallic twinkle in his black eyes and the Creole zest for living but, for all his easy laughter, there was something hard about his face which had not been there in the early days of the war. And the air of supercilious elegance which had clung about him in his striking Zouave uniform was completely gone.
“Cheeks lak ze rose, eyes lak ze emerald!” he said, kissing Scarlett’s hand and paying tribute to the rouge upon her face. “Pretty lak w’en I first see you at ze bazaar. You remembaire? Nevaire have I forgot how you toss your wedding ring in my basket. Ha, but zat was brave! But I should nevaire have zink you wait so long to get anothaire ring!”
His eyes sparkled wickedly and he dug his elbow into Hugh’s ribs.
“And I never thought you’d be driving a pie wagon, Renny Picard,” she said. Instead of being ashamed at having his degrading occupation thrown in his face, he seemed pleased and laughed uproariously, slapping Hugh on the back.
“Touche!” he cried. “Belle Mere, Madame Merriwether, she mek me do eet, ze first work I do en all my life, Rene Picard, who was to grow old breeding ze race horse, playing ze feedle! Now, I drive ze pie wagon and I lak eet! Madame Belle Mere, she can mek a man do annyzing. She should have been ze general and we win ze war, eh, Tommy?”
Well! thought Scarlett. The idea of liking to drive a pie wagon when his people used to own ten miles along the Mississippi River and a big house in New Orleans, too!
“If we’d had our mothers-inlaw in the ranks, we’d have beat the Yankees in a week,” agreed Tommy, his eyes straying to the slender, indomitable form of his new mother-inlaw. “The only reason we lasted as long as we did was because of the ladies behind us who wouldn’t give up.”
“Who’ll NEVER give up,” amended Hugh, and his smile was proud but a little wry. “There’s not a lady here tonight who has surrendered, no matter what her men folks did at Appomattox. It’s a lot worse on them than it ever was on us. At least, we took it out in fighting.”
“And they in hating,” finished Tommy. “Eh, Scarlett? It bothers the ladies to see what their men folks have come down to lots more than it bothers us. Hugh was to be a judge, Rene was to play the fiddle before the crowned heads of Europe —” He ducked as Rene aimed a blow at him. “And I was to be a doctor and now —”
“Geeve us ze time!” cried Rene. “Zen I become ze Pie Prince of ze South! And my good Hugh ze King of ze Kindling and you, my Tommy, you weel own ze Irish slaves instead of ze darky slaves. What changes — what fun! And what eet do for you, Mees Scarlett, and Mees Melly? You meelk ze cow, peek ze cotton?”
“Indeed, no!” said Scarlett coolly, unable to understand Rene’s gay acceptance of hardships. “Our darkies do that.”
“Mees Melly, I hear she call her boy ‘Beauregard.’ You tell her I, Rene, approve and say that except for ‘Jesus’ there is no bettaire name.”
And though he smiled, his eyes glowed proudly at the name of Louisiana’s dashing hero.
“Well, there’s ‘Robert Edward Lee,’” observed Tommy. “And while I’m not trying to lessen Old Beau’s reputation, my first son is going to be named ‘Bob Lee Wellburn.’”
Rend laughed and shrugged.
“I recount to you a joke but eet eez a true story. And you see how Creoles zink of our brave Beauregard and of your General Lee. On ze train near New Orleans a man of Virginia, a man of General Lee, he meet wiz a Creole of ze troops of Beauregard. And ze man of Virginia, he talk, talk, talk how General Lee do zis, General Lee say zat. And ze Creole, he look polite and he wreenkle hees forehead lak he try to remembaire, and zen he smile and say: ‘General Lee! Ah, oui! Now I know! General Lee! Ze man General Beauregard speak well of!’”
Scarlett tried to join politely in the laughter but she did not see any point to the story except that Creoles were just as stuck up as Charleston and Savannah people. Moreover, she had always thought Ashley’s son should have been named after him.
The musicians after preliminary tunings and whangings broke into “Old Dan Tucker” and Tommy turned to her.
“Will you dance, Scarlett? I can’t favor you but Hugh or Rene —”
“No, thank you. I’m still mourning my mother,” said Scarlett hastily. “I will sit them out.”
Her eyes singled out Frank Kennedy and beckoned him from the side of Mrs. Elsing.
“I’ll sit in that alcove yonder if you’ll bring me some refreshments and then we can have a nice chat,” she told Frank as the other three men moved off.
When he had hurried away to bring her a glass of wine and a paper thin slice of cake, Scarlett sat down in the alcove at the end of the drawing room and carefully arranged her skirts so that the worst spots would not show. The humiliating events of the morning with Rhett were pushed from her mind by the excitement of seeing so many people and hearing music again. Tomorrow she would think of Rhett’s conduct and her shame and they would make her writhe again. Tomorrow she would wonder if she had made any impression on Frank’s hurt and bewildered heart. But not tonight. Tonight she was alive to her finger tips, every sense alert with hope, her eyes sparkling.
She looked from the alcove into the huge drawing room and watched the dancers, remembering how beautiful this room had been when first she came to Atlanta during the war. Then the hardwood floors had shone like glass, and overhead the chandelier with its hundreds of tiny prisms had caught and reflected every ray of the dozens of candles it bore, flinging them, like gleams from diamonds, flame and sapphire about the room. The old portraits on the walls had been dignified and gracious and had looked down upon guests with an air of mellowed hospitality. The rosewood sofas had been soft and inviting and one of them, the largest, had stood in the place of honor in this same alcove where she now sat. It had been Scarlett’s favorite seat at parties. From this point stretched the pleasant vista of drawing room and dining room beyond, the oval mahogany table which seated twenty and the twenty slim-legged chairs demurely against the walls, the massive sideboard and buffet weighted with heavy silver, with seven-branched candlesticks, goblets, cruets, decanters and shining little glasses. Scarlett had sat on that sofa so often in the first years of the war, always with some handsome officer beside her, and listened to violin and bull fiddle, accordion and banjo, and heard the exciting swishing noises which dancing feet made on the waxed and polished floor.
Now the chandelier hung dark. It was twisted askew and most of the prisms were broken, as if the Yankee occupants had made their beauty a target for their boots. Now an oil lamp and a few candles lighted the room and the roaring fire in the wide hearth gave most of the illumination. Its flickering light showed how irreparably scarred and splintered the dull old floor was. Squares on the faded paper on the wall gave evidence that once the portraits had hung there, and wide cracks in the plaster recalled the day during the siege when a shell had exploded on the house and torn off parts of the roof and second floor. The heavy old mahogany table, spread with cake and decanters, still presided in the empty-looking dining room but it was scratched and the broken legs showed signs of clumsy repair. The sideboard, the silver and the spindly chairs were gone. The dull-gold damask draperies which had covered the arching French windows at the back of the room were missing, and only the remnants of the lace curtains remained, clean but obviously mended.
In place of the curved sofa she had liked so much was a hard bench that was none too comfortable. She sat upon it with as good grace as possible, wishing her skirts were in such condition that she could dance. It would be so good to dance again. But, of course, she could do more with Frank in this sequestered alcove than in a breathless reel and she could listen fascinated to his talk and encourage him to greater flights of foolishness.
But the music certainly was inviting. Her slipper patted longingly in time with old Levi’s large splayed foot as he twanged a strident banjo and called the figures of the reel. Feet swished and scraped and patted as the twin lines danced toward each other, retreated, whirled and made arches of their arms.
“‘Ole Dan Tucker he got drunk —’
(Swing yo’ padners!)
‘Fell in de fiah’ an’ he kick up a chunk!’
(Skip light, ladies!)”
After the dull and exhausting months at Tara it was good to hear music again and the sound of dancing feet, good to see familiar friendly faces laughing in the feeble light, calling old jokes and catchwords, bantering, rallying, coquetting. It was like coming to life again after being dead. It almost seemed that the bright days of five years ago had come back again. If she could close her eyes and not see the worn made-over dresses and the patched boots and mended slippers, if her mind did not call up the faces of boys missing from the reel, she might almost think that nothing had changed. But as she looked, watching the old men grouped about the decanter in the dining room, the matrons lining the walls, talking behind fanless hands, and the swaying, skipping young dancers, it came to her suddenly, coldly, frighteningly that it was all as greatly changed as if these familiar figures were ghosts.
They looked the same but they were different. What was it? Was it only that they were five years older? No, it was something more than the passing of time. Something had gone out of them, out of their world. Five years ago, a feeling of security had wrapped them all around so gently they were not even aware of it. In its shelter they had flowered. Now it was gone and with it had gone the old thrill, the old sense of something delightful and exciting just around the corner, the old glamor of their way of living.
She knew she had changed too, but not as they had changed, and it puzzled her. She sat and watched them and she felt herself an alien among them, as alien and lonely as if she had come from another world, speaking a language they did not understand and she not understanding theirs. Then she knew that this feeling was the same one she felt with Ashley. With him and with people of his kind — and they made up most of her world — she felt outside of something she could not understand.
Their faces were little changed and their manners not at all but it seemed to her that these two things were all that remained of her old friends. An ageless dignity, a timeless gallantry still clung about them and would cling until they died but they would carry undying bitterness to their graves, a bitterness too deep for words. They were a soft-spoken, fierce, tired people who were defeated and would not know defeat, broken yet standing determinedly erect. They were crushed and helpless, citizens of conquered provinces. They were looking on the state they loved, seeing it trampled by the enemy, rascals making a mock of the law, their former slaves a menace, their men disfranchised, their women insulted. And they were remembering graves.
Everything in their old world had changed but the old forms. The old usages went on, must go on, for the forms were all that were left to them. They were holding tightly to the things they knew best and loved best in the old days, the leisured manners, the courtesy, the pleasant casualness in human contacts and, most of all, the protecting attitude of the men toward their women. True to the tradition in which they had been reared, the men were courteous and tender and they almost succeeded in creating an atmosphere of sheltering their women from all that was harsh and unfit for feminine eyes. That, thought Scarlett, was the height of absurdity, for there was little, now, which even the most cloistered women had not seen and known in the last five years. They had nursed the wounded, closed dying eyes, suffered war and fire and devastation, known terror and flight and starvation.
But, no matter what sights they had seen, what menial tasks they had done and would have to do, they remained ladies and gentlemen, royalty in exile — bitter, aloof, incurious, kind to one another, diamond hard, as bright and brittle as the crystals of the broken chandelier over their heads. The old days had gone but these people would go their ways as if the old days still existed, charming, leisurely, determined not to rush and scramble for pennies as the Yankees did, determined to part with none of the old ways.
Scarlett knew that she, too, was greatly changed. Otherwise she could not have done the things she had done since she was last in Atlanta; otherwise she would not now be contemplating doing what she desperately hoped to do. But there was a difference in their hardness and hers and just what the difference was, she could not, for the moment, tell. Perhaps it was that there was nothing she would not do, and there were so many things these people would rather die than do. Perhaps it was that they were without hope but still smiling at life, bowing gracefully and passing it by. And this Scarlett could not do.
She could not ignore life. She had to live it and it was too brutal, too hostile, for her even to try to gloss over its harshness with a smile. Of the sweetness and courage and unyielding pride of her friends, Scarlett saw nothing. She saw only a silly stiff-neckedness which observed facts but smiled and refused to look them in the face.
As she stared at the dancers, flushed from the reel, she wondered if things drove them as she was driven, dead lovers, maimed husbands, children who were hungry, acres slipping away, beloved roofs that sheltered strangers. But, of course, they were driven! She knew their circumstances only a little less thoroughly than she knew her own. Their losses had been her losses, their privations her privations, their problems her same problems. Yet they had reacted differently to them. The faces she was seeing in the room were not faces; they were masks, excellent masks which would never drop.
But if they were suffering as acutely from brutal circumstances as she was — and they were — how could they maintain this air of gaiety and lightness of heart? Why, indeed, should they even try to do it? They were beyond her comprehension and vaguely irritating. She couldn’t be like them. She couldn’t survey the wreck of the world with an air of casual unconcern. She was as hunted as a fox, running with a bursting heart, trying to reach a burrow before the hounds caught up.
Suddenly she hated them all because they were different from her, because they carried their losses with an air that she could never attain, would never wish to attain. She hated them, these smiling, light-footed strangers, these proud fools who took pride in something they had lost, seeming to be proud that they had lost it. The women bore themselves like ladies and she knew they were ladies, though menial tasks were their daily lot and they didn’t know where their next dress was coming from. Ladies all! But she could not feel herself a lady, for all her velvet dress and scented hair, for all the pride of birth that stood behind her and the pride of wealth that had once been hers. Harsh contact with the red earth of Tara had stripped gentility from her and she knew she would never feel like a lady again until her table was weighted with silver and crystal and smoking with rich food, until her own horses and carriages stood in her stables, until black hands and not white took the cotton from Tara.
“Ah!” she thought angrily, sucking in her breath. “That’s the difference! Even though they’re poor, they still feel like ladies and I don’t. The silly fools don’t seem to realize that you can’t be a lady without money!”
Even in this flash of revelation, she realized vaguely that, foolish though they seemed, theirs was the right attitude. Ellen would have thought so. This disturbed her. She knew she should feel as these people felt, but she could not. She knew she should believe devoutly, as they did, that a born lady remained a lady, even if reduced to poverty, but she could not make herself believe it now.
All her life she had heard sneers hurled at the Yankees because their pretensions to gentility were based on wealth, not breeding. But at this moment, heresy though it was, she could not help thinking the Yankees were right on this one matter, even if wrong in all others. It took money to be a lady. She knew Ellen would have fainted had she ever heard such words from her daughter. No depth of poverty could ever have made Ellen feel ashamed. Ashamed! Yes, that was how Scarlett felt. Ashamed that she was poor and reduced to galling shifts and penury and work that negroes should do.
She shrugged in irritation. Perhaps these people were right and she was wrong but, just the same, these proud fools weren’t looking forward as she was doing, straining every nerve, risking even honor and good name to get back what they had lost. It was beneath the dignity of any of them to indulge in a scramble for money. The times were rude and hard. They called for rude and hard struggle if one was to conquer them. Scarlett knew that family tradition would forcibly restrain many of these people from such a struggle — with the making of money admittedly its aim. They all thought that obvious money-making and even talk of money were vulgar in the extreme. Of course, there were exceptions. Mrs. Merriwether and her baking and Rene driving the pie wagon. And Hugh Elsing cutting and peddling firewood and Tommy contracting. And Frank having the gumption to start a store. But what of the rank and file of them? The planters would scratch a few acres and live in poverty. The lawyers and doctors would go back to their professions and wait for clients who might never come. And the rest, those who had lived in leisure on their incomes? What would happen to them?
But she wasn’t going to be poor all her life. She wasn’t going to sit down and patiently wait for a miracle to help her. She was going to rush into life and wrest from it what she could. Her father had started as a poor immigrant boy and had won the broad acres of Tara. What he had done, his daughter could do. She wasn’t like these people who had gambled everything on a Cause that was gone and were content to be proud of having lost that Cause, because it was worth any sacrifice. They drew their courage from the past. She was drawing hers from the future. Frank Kennedy, at present, was her future. At least, he had the store and he had cash money. And if she could only marry him and get her hands on that money, she could make ends meet at Tara for another year. And after that — Frank must buy the sawmill. She could see for herself how quickly the town was rebuilding and anyone who could establish a lumber business now, when there was so little competition, would have a gold mine.
There came to her, from the recesses of her mind, words Rhett had spoken in the early years of the war about the money he made in the blockade. She had not taken the trouble to understand them then, but now they seemed perfectly clear and she wondered if it had been only her youth or plain stupidity which had kept her from appreciating them.
“There’s just as much money to be made in the wreck of a civilization as in the upbuilding of one.”
“This is the wreck he foresaw,” she thought, “and he was right. There’s still plenty of money to be made by anyone who isn’t afraid to work — or to grab.”
She saw Frank coming across the floor toward her with a glass of blackberry wine in his hand and a morsel of cake on a saucer and she pulled her face into a smile. It did not occur to her to question whether Tara was worth marrying Frank. She knew it was worth it and she never gave the matter a second thought.
She smiled up at him as she sipped the wine, knowing that her cheeks were more attractively pink than any of the dancers’. She moved her skirts for him to sit by her and waved her handkerchief idly so that the faint sweet smell of the cologne could reach his nose. She was proud of the cologne, for no other woman in the room was wearing any and Frank had noticed it. In a fit of daring he had whispered to her that she was as pink and fragrant as a rose.
If only he were not so shy! He reminded her of a timid old brown field rabbit. If only he had the gallantry and ardor of the Tarleton boys or even the coarse impudence of Rhett Butler. But, if he possessed those qualities, he’d probably have sense enough to feel the desperation that lurked just beneath her demurely fluttering eyelids. As it was, he didn’t know enough about women even to suspect what she was up to. That was her good fortune but it did not increase her respect for him.