Gone with the wind (Chapter 36)
She married Frank Kennedy two weeks later after a whirlwind courtship which she blushingly told him left her too breathless to oppose his ardor any longer.
He did not know that during those two weeks she had walked the floor at night, gritting her teeth at the slowness with which he took hints and encouragements, praying that no untimely letter from Suellen would reach him and ruin her plans. She thanked God that her sister was the poorest of correspondents, delighting to receive letters and disliking to write them. But there was always a chance, always a chance, she thought in the long night hours as she padded back and forth across the cold floor of her bedroom, with Ellen’s faded shawl clutched about her nightdress. Frank did not know she had received a laconic letter from Will, relating that Jonas Wilkerson had paid another call at Tara and, finding her gone to Atlanta, had stormed about until Will and Ashley threw him bodily off the place. Will’s letter hammered into her mind the fact she knew only too well — that time was getting shorter and shorter before the extra taxes must be paid. A fierce desperation drove her as she saw the days slipping by and she wished she might grasp the hourglass in her hands and keep the sands from running.
But so well did she conceal her feelings, so well did she enact her role, Frank suspected nothing, saw no more than what lay on the surface — the pretty and helpless young widow of Charles Hamilton who greeted him every night in Miss Pittypat’s parlor and listened, breathless with admiration, as he told of future plans for his store and how much money he expected to make when he was able to buy the sawmill. Her sweet sympathy and her bright-eyed interest in every word he uttered were balm upon the wound left by Suellen’s supposed defection. His heart was sore and bewildered at Suellen’s conduct and his vanity, the shy, touchy vanity of a middle-aged bachelor who knows himself to be unattractive to women, was deeply wounded. He could not write Suellen, upbraiding her for her faithlessness; he shrank from the very idea. But he could ease his heart by talking about her to Scarlett. Without saying a disloyal word about Suellen, she could tell him she understood how badly her sister had treated him and what good treatment he merited from a woman who really appreciated him.
Little Mrs. Hamilton was such a pretty pink-cheeked person, alternating between melancholy sighs when she thought of her sad plight, and laughter as gay and sweet as the tinkling of tiny silver bells when he made small jokes to cheer her. Her green gown, now neatly cleaned by Mammy, showed off her slender figure with its tiny waist to perfection, and how bewitching was the faint fragrance which always clung about her handkerchief and her hair! It was a shame that such a fine little woman should be alone and helpless in a world so rough that she didn’t even understand its harshness. No husband nor brother nor even a father now to protect her. Frank thought the world too rude a place for a lone woman and, in that idea, Scarlett silently and heartily concurred.
He came to call every night, for the atmosphere of Pitty’s house was pleasant and soothing. Mammy’s smile at the front door was the smile reserved for quality folks, Pitty served him coffee laced with brandy and fluttered about him and Scarlett hung on his every utterance. Sometimes in the afternoons he took Scarlett riding with him in his buggy when he went out on business. These rides were merry affairs because she asked so many foolish questions — “just like a woman,” he told himself approvingly. He couldn’t help laughing at her ignorance about business matters and she laughed too, saying: “Well, of course, you can’t expect a silly little woman like me to understand men’s affairs.”
She made him feel, for the first time in his old-maidish life, that he was a strong upstanding man fashioned by God in a nobler mold than other men, fashioned to protect silly helpless women.
When, at last, they stood together to be married, her confiding little hand in his and her downcast lashes throwing thick black crescents on her pink cheeks, he still did not know how it all came about. He only knew he had done something romantic and exciting for the first time in his life. He, Frank Kennedy, had swept this lovely creature off her feet and into his strong arms. That was a heady feeling.
No friend or relative stood up with them at their marriage. The witnesses were strangers called in from the street. Scarlett had insisted on that and he had given in, though reluctantly, for he would have liked his sister and his brother-inlaw from Jonesboro to be with him. And a reception with toasts drunk to the bride in Miss Pitty’s parlor amid happy friends would have been a joy to him. But Scarlett would not hear of even Miss Pitty being present.
“Just us two, Frank,” she begged, squeezing his arm. “Like an elopement. I always did want to run away and be married! Please, sweetheart, just for me!”
It was that endearing term, still so new to his ears, and the bright teardrops which edged her pale green eyes as she looked up pleadingly at him that won him over. After all, a man had to make some concessions to his bride, especially about the wedding, for women set such a store by sentimental things.
And before he knew it, he was married.
Frank gave her the three hundred dollars, bewildered by her sweet urgency, reluctant at first, because it meant the end of his hope of buying the sawmill immediately. But he could not see her family evicted, and his disappointment soon faded at the sight of her radiant happiness, disappeared entirely at the loving way she “took on” over his generosity. Frank had never before had a woman “take on” over him and he came to feel that the money had been well spent, after all.
Scarlett dispatched Mammy to Tara immediately for the triple purpose of giving Will the money, announcing her marriage and bringing Wade to Atlanta. In two days she had a brief note from Will which she carried about with her and read and reread with mounting joy. Will wrote that the taxes had been paid and Jonas Wilkerson “acted up pretty bad” at the news but had made no other threats so far. Will closed by wishing her happiness, a laconic formal statement which he qualified in no way. She knew Will understood what she had done and why she had done it and neither blamed nor praised. But what must Ashley think? she wondered feverishly. What must he think of me now, after what I said to him so short a while ago in the orchard at Tara?
She also had a letter from Suellen, poorly spelled, violent, abusive, tear splotched, a letter so full of venom and truthful observations upon her character that she was never to forget it nor forgive the writer. But even Suellen’s words could not dim her happiness that Tara was safe, at least from immediate danger.
It was hard to realize that Atlanta and not Tara was her permanent home now. In her desperation to obtain the tax money, no thought save Tara and the fate which threatened it had any place in her mind. Even at the moment of marriage, she had not given a thought to the fact that the price she was paying for the safety of home was permanent exile from it. Now that the deed was done, she realized this with a wave of homesickness hard to dispel. But there it was. She had made her bargain and she intended to stand by it. And she was so grateful to Frank for saving Tara she felt a warm affection for him and an equally warm determination that he should never regret marrying her.
The ladies of Atlanta knew their neighbors’ business only slightly less completely than they knew their own and were far more interested in it. They all knew that for years Frank Kennedy had had an “understanding” with Suellen O’Hara. In fact, he had said, sheepishly, that he expected to get married in the spring. So the tumult of gossip, surmise and deep suspicion which followed the announcement of his quiet wedding to Scarlett was not surprising. Mrs. Merriwether, who never let her curiosity go long unsatisfied if she could help it, asked him point-blank just what he meant by marrying one sister when he was betrothed to the other. She reported to Mrs. Elsing that all the answer she got for her pains was a silly look. Not even Mrs. Merriwether, doughty soul that she was, dared to approach Scarlett on the subject. Scarlett seemed demure and sweet enough these days, but there was a pleased complacency in her eyes which annoyed people and she carried a chip on her shoulder which no one cared to disturb.
She knew Atlanta was talking but she did not care. Alter all, there wasn’t anything immoral in marrying a man. Tara was safe. Let people talk. She had too many other matters to occupy her mind. The most important was how to make Frank realize, in a tactful manner, that his store should bring in more money. After the fright Jonas Wilkerson had given her, she would never rest easy until she and Frank had some money ahead. And even if no emergency developed, Frank would need to make more money, if she was going to save enough for next year’s taxes. Moreover, what Frank had said about the sawmill stuck in her mind. Frank could make lots of money out of a mill. Anybody could, with lumber selling at such outrageous prices. She fretted silently because Frank’s money had not been enough to pay the taxes on Tara and buy the mill as well. And she made up her mind that he had to make more money on the store somehow, and do it quickly, so he could buy that mill before some one else snapped it up. She could see it was a bargain.
If she were a man she would have that mill, if she had to mortgage the store to raise the money. But, when she intimated this delicately to Frank, the day after they married, he smiled and told her not to bother her sweet pretty little head about business matters. It had come as a surprise to him that she even knew what a mortgage was and, at first, he was amused. But this amusement quickly passed and a sense of shock took its place in the early days of their marriage. Once, incautiously, he had told her that “people” (he was careful not to mention names) owed him money but could not pay just now and he was, of course, unwilling to press old friends and gentlefolk. Frank regretted ever mentioning it for, thereafter, she had questioned him about it again and again. She had the most charmingly childlike air but she was just curious, she said, to know who owed him and how much they owed. Frank was very evasive about the matter. He coughed nervously and waved his hands and repeated his annoying remark about her sweet pretty little head.
It had begun to dawn on him that this same sweet pretty little head was a “good head for figures.” In fact, a much better one than his own and the knowledge was disquieting. He was thunderstruck to discover that she could swiftly add a long column of figures in her head when he needed a pencil and paper for more than three figures. And fractions presented no difficulties to her at all. He felt there was something unbecoming about a woman understanding fractions and business matters and he believed that, should a woman be so unfortunate as to have such unladylike comprehension, she should pretend not to. Now he disliked talking business with her as much as he had enjoyed it before they were married. Then he had thought it all beyond her mental grasp and it had been pleasant to explain things to her. Now he saw that she understood entirely too well and he felt the usual masculine indignation at the duplicity of women. Added to it was the usual masculine disillusionment in discovering that a woman has a brain.
Just how early in his married life Frank learned of the deception Scarlett had used in marrying him, no one ever knew. Perhaps the truth dawned on him when Tony Fontaine, obviously fancy free, came to Atlanta on business. Perhaps it was told him more directly in letters from his sister in Jonesboro who was astounded at his marriage. Certainly he never learned from Suellen herself. She never wrote him and naturally he could not write her and explain. What good would explanations do anyway, now that he was married? He writhed inwardly at the thought that Suellen would never know the truth and would always think he had senselessly jilted her. Probably everyone else was thinking this too and criticizing him. It certainly put him in an awkward position. And he had no way of clearing himself, for a man couldn’t go about saying he had lost his head about a woman — and a gentleman couldn’t advertise the fact that his wife had entrapped him with a lie.
Scarlett was his wife and a wife was entitled to the loyalty of her husband. Furthermore, he could not bring himself to believe she had married him coldly and with no affection for him at all. His masculine vanity would not permit such a thought to stay long in his mind. It was more pleasant to think she had fallen so suddenly in love with him she had been willing to lie to get him. But it was all very puzzling. He knew he was no great catch for a woman half his age and pretty and smart to boot, but Frank was a gentleman and he kept his bewilderment to himself. Scarlett was his wife and he could not insult her by asking awkward questions which, after all, would not remedy matters.
Not that Frank especially wanted to remedy matters, for it appeared that his marriage would be a happy one. Scarlett was the most charming and exciting of women and he thought her perfect in all things — except that she was so headstrong. Frank learned early in his marriage that so long as she had her own way, life could be very pleasant, but when she was opposed — Given her own way, she was as gay as a child, laughed a good deal, made foolish little jokes, sat on his knee and tweaked his beard until he vowed he felt twenty years younger. She could be unexpectedly sweet and thoughtful, having his slippers toasting at the fire when he came home at night, fussing affectionately about his wet feet and interminable head colds, remembering that he always liked the gizzard of the chicken and three spoonfuls of sugar in his coffee. Yes, life was very sweet and cozy with Scarlett — as long as she had her own way.
When the marriage was two weeks old, Frank contracted the grippe and Dr. Meade put him to bed. In the first year of the war, Frank had spent two months in the hospital with pneumonia and he had lived in dread of another attack since that time, so he was only too glad to lie sweating under three blankets and drink the hot concoctions Mammy and Aunt Pitty brought him every hour.
The illness dragged on and Frank worried more and more about the store as each day passed. The place was in charge of the counter boy, who came to the house every night to report on the day’s transactions, but Frank was not satisfied. He fretted until Scarlett who had only been waiting for such an opportunity laid a cool hand on his forehead and said: “Now, sweetheart, I shall be vexed if you take on so. I’ll go to town and see how things are.”
And she went, smiling as she smothered his feeble protests. During the three weeks of her new marriage, she had been in a fever to see his account books and find out just how money matters stood. What luck that he was bedridden!
The store stood near Five Points, its new roof glaring against the smoked bricks of the old walls. Wooden awnings covered the sidewalk to the edge of the street, and at the long iron bars connecting the uprights horses and mules were hitched, their heads bowed against the cold misty rain, their backs covered with torn blankets and quilts. The inside of the store was almost like Bullard’s store in Jonesboro, except that there were no loungers about the roaring red-hot stove, whittling and spitting streams of tobacco juice at the sand boxes. It was bigger than Bullard’s store and much darker. The wooden awnings cut off most of the winter daylight and the interior was dim and dingy, only a trickle of light coming in through the small fly-specked windows high up on the side walls. The floor was covered with muddy sawdust and everywhere was dust and dirt. There was a semblance of order in the front of the store, where tall shelves rose into the gloom stacked with bright bolts of cloth, china, cooking utensils and notions. But in the back, behind the partition, chaos reigned.
Here there was no flooring and the assorted jumble of stock was piled helter-skelter on the hard-packed earth. In the semi-darkness she saw boxes and bales of goods, plows and harness and saddles and cheap pine coffins. Secondhand furniture, ranging from cheap gum to mahogany and rosewood, reared up in the gloom, and the rich but worn brocade and horsehair upholstery gleamed incongruously in the dingy surroundings. China chambers and bowl and pitcher sets littered the floor and all around the four walls were deep bins, so dark she had to hold the lamp directly over them to discover they contained seeds, nails, bolts and carpenters’ tools.
“I’d think a man as fussy and old maidish as Frank would keep things tidier,” she thought, scrubbing her grimy hands with her handkerchief. “This place is a pig pen. What a way to run a store! If he’d only dust up this stuff and put it out in front where folks could see it, he could sell things much quicker.”
And if his stock was in such condition, what mustn’t his accounts be!
I’ll look at his account book now, she thought and, picking up the lamp, she went into the front of the store. Willie, the counter boy, was reluctant to give her the large dirty-backed ledger. It was obvious that, young as he was, he shared Frank’s opinion that women had no place in business. But Scarlett silenced him with a sharp word and sent him out to get his dinner. She felt better when he was gone, for his disapproval annoyed her, and she settled herself in a split-bottomed chair by the roaring stove, tucked one foot under her and spread the book across her lap. It was dinner time and the streets were deserted. No customers called and she had the store to herself.
She turned the pages slowly, narrowly scanning the rows of names and figures written in Frank’s cramped copperplate hand. It was just as she had expected, and she frowned as she saw this newest evidence of Frank’s lack of business sense. At least five hundred dollars in debts, some of them months old, were set down against the names of people she knew well, the Merriwethers and the Elsings among other familiar names. From Frank’s deprecatory remarks about the money “people” owed him, she had imagined the sums to be small. But this!
“If they can’t pay, why do they keep on buying?” she thought irritably. “And if he knows they can’t pay, why does he keep on selling them stuff? Lots of them could pay if he’d just make them do it. The Elsings certainly could if they could give Fanny a new satin dress and an expensive wedding. Frank’s just too soft hearted, and people take advantage of him. Why, if he’d collected half this money, he could have bought the sawmill and easily spared me the tax money, too.”
Then she thought: “Just imagine Frank trying to operate a sawmill! God’s nightgown! If he runs this store like a charitable institution, how could he expect to make money on a mill? The sheriff would have it in a month. Why, I could run this store better than he does! And I could run a mill better than he could, even if I don’t know anything about the lumber business!”
A startling thought this, that a woman could handle business matters as well as or better than a man, a revolutionary thought to Scarlett who had been reared in the tradition that men were omniscient and women none too bright. Of course, she had discovered that this was not altogether true but the pleasant fiction still stuck in her mind. Never before had she put this remarkable idea into words. She sat quite still, with the heavy book across her lap, her mouth a little open with surprise, thinking that during the lean months at Tara she had done a man’s work and done it well. She had been brought up to believe that a woman alone could accomplish nothing, yet she had managed the plantation without men to help her until Will came. Why, why, her mind stuttered, I believe women could manage everything in the world without men’s help — except having babies, and God knows, no woman in her right mind would have babies if she could help it.
With the idea that she was as capable as a man came a sudden rush of pride and a violent longing to prove it, to make money for herself as men made money. Money which would be her own, which she would neither have to ask for nor account for to any man.
“I wish I had money enough to buy that mill myself,” she said aloud and sighed. “I’d sure make it hum. And I wouldn’t let even one splinter go out on credit.”
She sighed again. There was nowhere she could get any money, so the idea was out of the question. Frank would simply have to collect this money owing him and buy the mill. It was a sure way to make money, and when he got the mill, she would certainly find some way to make him be more businesslike in its operation than he had been with the store.
She pulled a back page out of the ledger and began copying the list of debtors who had made no payments in several months. She’d take the matter up with Frank just as soon as she reached home. She’d make him realize that these people had to pay their bills even if they were old friends, even if it did embarrass him to press them for money. That would probably upset Frank, for he was timid and fond of the approbation of his friends. He was so thin skinned he’d rather lose the money than be businesslike about collecting it.
And he’d probably tell her that no one had any money with which to pay him. Well, perhaps that was true. Poverty was certainly no news to her. But nearly everybody had saved some silver or jewelry or was hanging on to a little real estate. Frank could take them in lieu of cash.
She could imagine how Frank would moan when she broached such an idea to him. Take the jewelry and property of his friends! Well, she shrugged, he can moan all he likes. I’m going to tell him that he may be willing to stay poor for friendship’s sake but I’m not. Frank will never get anywhere if he doesn’t get up some gumption. And he’s got to get somewhere! He’s got to make money, even if I’ve got to wear the pants in the family to make him do.
She was writing busily, her face screwed up with the effort, her tongue clamped between her teeth, when the front door opened and a great draft of cold wind swept the store. A tall man came into the dingy room walking with a light Indian-like tread, and looking up she saw Rhett Butler.
He was resplendent in new clothes and a greatcoat with a dashing cape thrown back from his heavy shoulders. His tall hat was off in a deep bow when her eyes met his and his hand went to the bosom of a spotless pleated shirt. His white teeth gleamed startlingly against his brown face and his bold eyes raked her.
“My dear Mrs. Kennedy,” he said, walking toward her. “My very dear Mrs. Kennedy!” and he broke into a loud merry laugh.
At first she was as startled as if a ghost had invaded the store and then, hastily removing her foot from beneath her, she stiffened her spine and gave him a cold stare.
“What are you doing here?”
“I called on Miss Pittypat and learned of your marriage and so I hastened here to congratulate you.”
The memory of her humiliation at his hands made her go crimson with shame.
“I don’t see how you have the gall to face me!” she cried.
“On the contrary! How have you the gall to face me?”
“Oh, you are the most —”
“Shall we let the bugles sing truce?” he smiled down at her, a wide flashing smile that had impudence in it but no shame for his own actions or condemnation for hers. In spite of herself, she had to smile too, but it was a wry, uncomfortable smile.
“What a pity they didn’t hang you!”
“Others share your feeling, I fear. Come, Scarlett, relax. You look like you’d swallowed a ramrod and it isn’t becoming. Surely, you’ve had time to recover from my — er — my little joke.”
“Joke? Ha! I’ll never get over it!”
“Oh, yes, you will. You are just putting on this indignant front because you think it’s proper and respectable. May I sit down?”
He sank into a chair beside her and grinned.
“I hear you couldn’t even wait two weeks for me,” he said and gave a mock sigh. “How fickle is woman!”
When she did not reply he continued.
“Tell me, Scarlett, just between friends — between very old and very intimate friends — wouldn’t it have been wiser to wait until I got out of jail? Or are the charms of wedlock with old Frank Kennedy more alluring than illicit relations with me?”
As always when his mockery aroused wrath within her, wrath fought with laughter at his impudence.
“Don’t be absurd.”
“And would you mind satisfying my curiosity on one point which has bothered me for some time? Did you have no womanly repugnance, no delicate shrinking from marrying not just one man but two for whom you had no love or even affection? Or have I been misinformed about the delicacy of our Southern womanhood?”
“I have my answer. I always felt that women had a hardness and endurance unknown to men, despite the pretty idea taught me in childhood that women are frail, tender, sensitive creatures. But after all, according to the Continental code of etiquette, it’s very bad form for husband and wife to love each other. Very bad taste, indeed. I always felt that the Europeans had the right idea in that matter. Marry for convenience and love for pleasure. A sensible system, don’t you think? You are closer to the old country than I thought.”
How pleasant it would be to shout at him: “I did not marry for convenience!” But unfortunately, Rhett had her there and any protest of injured innocence would only bring more barbed remarks from him.
“How you do run on,” she said coolly. Anxious to change the subject, she asked: “How did you ever get out of jail?”
“Oh, that!” he answered, making an airy gesture. “Not much trouble. They let me out this morning. I employed a delicate system of blackmail on a friend in Washington who is quite high in the councils of the Federal government. A splendid fellow — one of the staunch Union patriots from whom I used to buy muskets and hoop skirts for the Confederacy. When my distressing predicament was brought to his attention in the right way, he hastened to use his influence, and so I was released. Influence is everything, and guilt or innocence merely an academic question.”
“I’ll take oath you weren’t innocent.”
“No, now that I am free of the toils, I’ll frankly admit that I’m as guilty as Cain. I did kill the nigger. He was uppity to a lady, and what else could a Southern gentleman do? And while I’m confessing, I must admit that I shot a Yankee cavalryman after some words in a barroom. I was not charged with that peccadillo, so perhaps some other poor devil has been hanged for it, long since.”
He was so blithe about his murders her blood chilled. Words of moral indignation rose to her lips but suddenly she remembered the Yankee who lay under the tangle of scuppernong vines at Tara. He had not been on her conscience any more than a roach upon which she might have stepped. She could not sit in judgment on Rhett when she was as guilty as he.
“And, as I seem to be making a clean breast of it, I must tell you, in strictest confidence (that means, don’t tell Miss Pittypat!) that I did have the money, safe in a bank in Liverpool.”
“Yes, the money the Yankees were so curious about. Scarlett, it wasn’t altogether meanness that kept me from giving you the money you wanted. If I’d drawn a draft they could have traced it somehow and I doubt if you’d have gotten a cent. My only hope lay in doing nothing. I knew the money was pretty safe, for if worst came to worst, if they had located it and tried to take it away from me, I would have named every Yankee patriot who sold me bullets and machinery during the war. Then there would have been a stink, for some of them are high up in Washington now. In fact, it was my threat to unbosom my conscience about them that got me out of jail. I—”
“Do you mean you — you actually have the Confederate gold?”
“Not all of it. Good Heavens, no! There must be fifty or more ex-blockaders who have plenty salted away in Nassau and England and Canada. We will be pretty unpopular with the Confederates who weren’t as slick as we were. I have got close to half a million. Just think, Scarlett, a half-million dollars, if you’d only restrained your fiery nature and not rushed into wedlock again!”
A half-million dollars. She felt a pang of almost physical sickness at the thought of so much money. His jeering words passed over her head and she did not even hear them. It was hard to believe there was so much money in all this bitter and poverty-stricken world. So much money, so very much money, and someone else had it, someone who took it lightly and didn’t need it. And she had only a sick elderly husband and this dirty, piddling, little store between her and a hostile world. It wasn’t fair that a reprobate like Rhett Butler should have so much and she, who carried so heavy a load, should have so little. She hated him, sitting there in his dandified attire, taunting her. Well, she wouldn’t swell his conceit by complimenting him on his cleverness. She longed viciously for sharp words with which to cut him.
“I suppose you think it’s honest to keep the Confederate money. Well, it isn’t. It’s plain out and out stealing and you know it. I wouldn’t have that on my conscience.”
“My! How sour the grapes are today!” he exclaimed, screwing up his face. “And just whom am I stealing from?”
She was silent, trying to think just whom indeed. After all, he had only done what Frank had done on a small scale.
“Half the money is honestly mine,” he continued, “honestly made with the aid of honest Union patriots who were willing to sell out the Union behind its back — for one-hundred-per-cent profit on their goods. Part I made out of my little investment in cotton at the beginning of the war, the cotton I bought cheap and sold for a dollar a pound when the British mills were crying for it. Part I got from food speculation. Why should I let the Yankees have the fruits of my labor? But the rest did belong to the Confederacy. It came from Confederate cotton which I managed to run through the blockade and sell in Liverpool at sky-high prices. The cotton was given me in good faith to buy leather and rifles and machinery with. And it was taken by me in good faith to buy the same. My orders were to leave the gold in English banks, under my own name, in order that my credit would be good. You remember when the blockade tightened, I couldn’t get a boat out of any Confederate port or into one, so there the money stayed in England. What should I have done? Drawn out all that gold from English banks, like a simpleton, and tried to run it into Wilmington? And let the Yankees capture it? Was it my fault that the blockade got too tight? Was it my fault that our Cause failed? The money belonged to the Confederacy. Well, there is no Confederacy now — though you’d never know it, to hear some people talk. Whom shall I give the money to? The Yankee government? I should so hate for people to think me a thief.”
He removed a leather case from his pocket, extracted a long cigar and smelled it approvingly, meanwhile watching her with pseudo anxiety as if he hung on her words.
Plague take him, she thought, he’s always one jump ahead of me. There is always something wrong with his arguments but I never can put my finger on just what it is.
“You might,” she said with dignity, “distribute it to those who are in need. The Confederacy is gone but there are plenty of Confederates and their families who are starving.”
He threw back his bead and laughed rudely.
“You are never so charming or so absurd as when you are airing some hypocrisy like that,” he cried in frank enjoyment. “Always tell the truth, Scarlett. You can’t lie. The Irish are the poorest liars in the world. Come now, be frank. You never gave a damn about the late lamented Confederacy and you care less about the starving Confederates. You’d scream in protest if I even suggested giving away all the money unless I started off by giving you the lion’s share.”
“I don’t want your money,” she began, trying to be coldly dignified.
“Oh, don’t you! Your palm is itching to beat the band this minute. If I showed you a quarter, you’d leap on it.”
“If you have come here to insult me and laugh at my poverty, I will wish you good day,” she retorted, trying to rid her lap of the heavy ledger so she might rise and make her words more impressive. Instantly, he was on his feet bending over her, laughing as he pushed her back into her chair.
“When will you ever get over losing your temper when you hear the truth? You never mind speaking the truth about other people, so why should you mind hearing it about yourself? I’m not insulting you. I think acquisitiveness is a very fine quality.”
She was not sure what acquisitiveness meant but as he praised it she felt slightly mollified.
“I didn’t come to gloat over your poverty but to wish you long life and happiness in your marriage. By the way, what did sister Sue think of your larceny?”
“Your stealing Frank from under her nose.”
“I did not —”
“Well, we won’t quibble about the word. What did she say?”
“She said nothing,” said Scarlett. His eyes danced as they gave her the lie.
“How unselfish of her. Now, let’s hear about your poverty. Surely I have the right to know, after your little trip out to the jail not long ago. Hasn’t Frank as much money as you hoped?”
There was no evading his impudence. Either she would have to put up with it or ask him to leave. And now she did not want him to leave. His words were barbed but they were the barbs of truth. He knew what she had done and why she had done it and he did not seem to think the less of her for it. And though his questions were unpleasantly blunt, they seemed actuated by a friendly interest. He was one person to whom she could tell the truth. That would be a relief, for it had been so long since she had told anyone the truth about herself and her motives. Whenever she spoke her mind everyone seemed to be shocked. Talking to Rhett was comparable only to one thing, the feeling of ease and comfort afforded by a pair of old slippers after dancing in a pair too tight.
Didn’t you get the money for the taxes? Don’t tell me the wolf is still at the door of Tara.” There was a different tone in his voice.
She looked up to meet his dark eyes and caught an expression which startled and puzzled her at first, and then made her suddenly smile, a sweet and charming smile which was seldom on her face these days. What a perverse wretch he was, but how nice he could be at times! She knew now that the real reason for his call was not to tease her but to make sure she had gotten the money for which she had been so desperate. She knew now that he had hurried to her as soon as he was released, without the slightest appearance of hurry, to lend her the money if she still needed it. And yet he would torment and insult her and deny that such was his intent, should she accuse him. He was quite beyond all comprehension. Did he really care about her, more than he was willing to admit? Or did he have some other motive? Probably the latter, she thought. But who could tell? He did such strange things sometimes.
“No,” she said, “the wolf isn’t at the door any longer. I— I got the money.”
“But not without a struggle, I’ll warrant. Did you manage to restrain yourself until you got the wedding ring on your finger?”
She tried not to smile at his accurate summing up of her conduct but she could not help dimpling. He seated himself again, sprawling his long legs comfortably.
“Well, tell me about your poverty. Did Frank, the brute, mislead you about his prospects? He should be soundly thrashed for taking advantage of a helpless female. Come, Scarlett, tell me everything. You should have no secrets from me. Surely, I know the worst about you.”
“Oh, Rhett, you’re the worst — well, I don’t know what! No, he didn’t exactly fool me but —” Suddenly it became a pleasure to unburden herself. “Rhett, if Frank would just collect the money people owe him, I wouldn’t be worried about anything. But, Rhett, fifty people owe him and he won’t press them. He’s so thin skinned. He says a gentleman can’t do that to another gentleman. And it may be months and may be never before we get the money.”
“Well, what of it? Haven’t you enough to eat on until he does collect?”
“Yes, but — well, as a matter of fact, I could use a little money right now.” Her eyes brightened as she thought of the mill. “Perhaps —”
“What for? More taxes?”
“Is that any of your business?”
“Yes, because you are getting ready to touch me for a loan. Oh, I know all the approaches. And I’ll lend it to you — without, my dear Mrs. Kennedy, that charming collateral you offered me a short while ago. Unless, of course, you insist.”
“You are the coarsest —”
“Not at all. I merely wanted to set your mind at ease. I knew you’d be worried about that point. Not much worried but a little. And I’m willing to lend you the money. But I do want to know how you are going to spend it. I have that right, I believe. If it’s to buy you pretty frocks or a carriage, take it with my blessing. But if it’s to buy a new pair of breeches for Ashley Wilkes, I fear I must decline to lend it.”
She was hot with sudden rage and she stuttered until words came.
“Ashley Wilkes has never taken a cent from me! I couldn’t make him take a cent if he were starving! You don’t understand him, how honorable, how proud he is! Of course, you can’t understand him, being what you are —”
“Don’t let’s begin calling names. I could call you a few that would match any you could think of for me. You forget that I have been keeping up with you through Miss Pittypat, and the dear soul tells all she knows to any sympathetic listener. I know that Ashley has been at Tara ever since he came home from Rock Island. I know that you have even put up with having his wife around, which must have been a strain on you.”
“Ashley is —”
“Oh, yes,” he said, waving his hand negligently. “Ashley is too sublime for my earthy comprehension. But please don’t forget I was an interested witness to your tender scene with him at Twelve Oaks and something tells me he hasn’t changed since then. And neither have you. He didn’t cut so sublime a figure that day, if I remember rightly. And I don’t think the figure he cuts now is much better. Why doesn’t he take his family and get out and find work? And stop living at Tara? Of course, it’s just a whim of mine, but I don’t intend to lend you a cent for Tara to help support him. Among men, there’s a very unpleasant name for men who permit women to support them.”
“How dare you say such things? He’s been working like a field hand!” For all her rage, her heart was wrung by the memory of Ashley splitting fence rails.
“And worth his weight in gold, I dare say. What a hand he must be with the manure and —”
“Oh, yes, I know. Let’s grant that he does the best he can but I don’t imagine he’s much help. You’ll never make a farm hand out of a Wilkes — or anything else that’s useful. The breed is purely ornamental. Now, quiet your ruffled feathers and overlook my boorish remarks about the proud and honorable Ashley. Strange how these illusions will persist even in women as hard headed as you are. How much money do you want and what do you want it for?”
When she did not answer he repeated:
“What do you want it for? And see if you can manage to tell me the truth. It will do as well as a lie. In fact, better, for if you lie to me, I’ll be sure to find it out, and think how embarrassing that would be. Always remember this, Scarlett, I can stand anything from you but a lie — your dislike for me, your tempers, all your vixenish ways, but not a lie. Now what do you want it for?”
Raging as she was at his attack on Ashley, she would have given anything to spit on him and throw his offer of money proudly into his mocking face. For a moment she almost did, but the cold hand of common sense held her back. She swallowed her anger with poor grace and tried to assume an expression of pleasant dignity. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his legs toward the stove.
“If there’s one thing in the world that gives me more amusement than anything else,” he remarked, “it’s the sight of your mental struggles when a matter of principle is laid up against something practical like money. Of course, I know the practical in you will always win, but I keep hanging around to see if your better nature won’t triumph some day. And when that day comes I shall pack my bag and leave Atlanta forever. There are too many women whose better natures are always triumphing. . . . Well, let’s get back to business. How much and what for?”
“I don’t know quite how much I’ll need,” she said sulkily. “But I want to buy a sawmill — and I think I can get it cheap. And I’ll need two wagons and two mules. I want good mules, too. And a horse and buggy for my own use.”
“Yes, and if you’ll lend me the money, I’ll give you a half-interest in it.”
“Whatever would I do with a sawmill?”
“Make money! We can make loads of money. Or I’ll pay you interest on the loan — let’s see, what is good interest?”
“Fifty per cent is considered very fine.”
“Fifty — oh, but you are joking! Stop laughing, you devil. I’m serious.”
“That’s why I’m laughing. I wonder if anyone but me realizes what goes on in that head back of your deceptively sweet face.”
“Well, who cares? Listen, Rhett, and see if this doesn’t sound like good business to you. Frank told me about this man who has a sawmill, a little one out Peachtree road, and he wants to sell it. He’s got to have cash money pretty quick and he’ll sell it cheap. There aren’t many sawmills around here now, and the way people are rebuilding — why, we could sell lumber sky high. The man will stay and run the mill for a wage. Frank told me about it. Frank would buy the mill himself if he had the money. I guess he was intending buying it with the money he gave me for the taxes.”
“Poor Frank! What is he going to say when you tell him you’ve bought it yourself right out from under him? And how are you going to explain my lending you the money without compromising your reputation?”
Scarlett had given no thought to this, so intent was she upon the money the mill would bring in.
“Well, I just won’t tell him.”
“He’ll know you didn’t pick it off a bush.”
“I’ll tell him — why, yes, I’ll tell him I sold you my diamond earbobs. And I will give them to you, too. That’ll be my collat — my whatchucallit.”
“I wouldn’t take your earbobs.”
“I don’t want them. I don’t like them. They aren’t really mine, anyway.”
“Whose are they?”
Her mind went swiftly back to the still hot noon with the country hush deep about Tara and the dead man in blue sprawled in the hall.
“They were left with me — by someone who’s dead. They’re mine all right. Take them. I don’t want them. I’d rather have the money for them.”
“Good Lord!” he cried impatiently. “Don’t you ever think of anything but money?”
“No,” she replied frankly, turning hard green eyes upon him. “And if you’d been through what I have, you wouldn’t either. I’ve found out that money is the most important thing in the world and, as God is my witness, I don’t ever intend to be without it again.”
She remembered the hot sun, the soft red earth under her sick head, the niggery smell of the cabin behind the ruins of Twelve Oaks, remembered the refrain her heart had beaten: “I’ll never be hungry again. I’ll never be hungry again.”
“I’m going to have money some day, lots of it, so I can have anything I want to eat. And then there’ll never be any hominy or dried peas on my table. And I’m going to have pretty clothes and all of them are going to be silk —”
“All,” she said shortly, not even troubling to blush at his implication. “I’m going to have money enough so the Yankees can never take Tara away from me. And I’m going to have a new roof for Tara and a new barn and fine mules for plowing and more cotton than you ever saw. And Wade isn’t ever going to know what it means to do without the things he needs. Never! He’s going to have everything in the world. And all my family, they aren’t ever going to be hungry again. I mean it. Every word. You don’t understand, you’re such a selfish hound. You’ve never had the Carpetbaggers trying to drive you out. You’ve never been cold and ragged and had to break your back to keep from starving!”
He said quietly: “I was in the Confederate Army for eight months. I don’t know any better place for starving.”
“The army! Bah! You’ve never had to pick cotton and weed corn. You’ve — Don’t you laugh at me!”
His hands were on hers again as her voice rose harshly.
“I wasn’t laughing at you. I was laughing at the difference in what you look and what you really are. And I was remembering the first time I ever saw you, at the barbecue at the Wilkes’. You had on a green dress and little green slippers, and you were knee deep in men and quite full of yourself. I’ll wager you didn’t know then how many pennies were in a dollar. There was only one idea in your whole mind then and that was ensnaring Ash —”
She jerked her hands away from him.
“Rhett, if we are to get on at all, you’ll have to stop talking about Ashley Wilkes. We’ll always fall out about him, because you can’t understand him.”
“I suppose you understand him like a book,” said Rhett maliciously. “No, Scarlett, if I am to lend you the money I reserve the right to discuss Ashley Wilkes in any terms I care to. I waive the right to collect interest on my loan but not that right. And there are a number of things about that young man I’d like to know.”
“I do not have to discuss him with you,” she answered shortly.
“Oh, but you do! I hold the purse strings, you see. Some day when you are rich, you can have the power to do the same to others. . . . It’s obvious that you still care about him —”
“I do not.”
“Oh, it’s so obvious from the way you rush to his defense. You —”
“I won’t stand having my friends sneered at.”
“Well, we’ll let that pass for the moment. Does he still care for you or did Rock Island make him forget? Or perhaps he’s learned to appreciate what a jewel of a wife he has?”
At the mention of Melanie, Scarlett began to breathe hard and could scarcely restrain herself from crying out the whole story, that only honor kept Ashley with Melanie. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it.
“Oh. So he still hasn’t enough sense to appreciate Mrs. Wilkes? And the rigors of prison didn’t dim his ardor for you?”
“I see no need to discuss the subject.”
“I wish to discuss it,” said Rhett. There was a low note in his voice which Scarlett did not understand but did not like to hear. “And, by God, I will discuss it and I expect you to answer me. So he’s still in love with you?”
“Well, what if he is?” cried Scarlett, goaded. “I don’t care to discuss him with you because you can’t understand him or his kind of love. The only kind of love you know about is just — well, the kind you carry on with creatures like that Watling woman.”
“Oh,” said Rhett softly. “So I am only capable of carnal lusts?”
“Well, you know it’s true.”
“Now I appreciate your hesitance in discussing the matter with me. My unclean hands and lips besmirch the purity of his love.”
“Well, yes — something like that.”
“I’m interested in this pure love —”
“Don’t be so nasty, Rhett Butler. If you are vile enough to think there’s ever been anything wrong between us —”
“Oh, the thought never entered my head, really. That’s why it all interests me. Just why hasn’t there been anything wrong between you?”
“If you think that Ashley would —”
“Ah, so it’s Ashley, and not you, who has fought the fight for purity. Really, Scarlett, you should not give yourself away so easily.”
Scarlett looked into his smooth unreadable face in confusion and indignation.
“We won’t go any further with this and I don’t want your money. So, get out!”
“Oh, yes, you do want my money and, as we’ve gone this far, why stop? Surely there can be no harm in discussing so chaste an idyl — when there hasn’t been anything wrong. So Ashley loves you for your mind, your soul, your nobility of character?”
Scarlett writhed at his words. Of course, Ashley loved her for just these things. It was this knowledge that made life endurable, this knowledge that Ashley, bound by honor, loved her from afar for beautiful things deep buried in her that he alone could see. But they did not seem so beautiful when dragged to the light by Rhett, especially in that deceptively smooth voice that covered sarcasm.
“It gives me back my boyish ideals to know that such a love can exist in this naughty world,” he continued. “So there’s no touch of the flesh in his love for you? It would be the same if you were ugly and didn’t have that white skin? And if you didn’t have those green eyes which make a man wonder just what you would do if he took you in his arms? And a way of swaying your hips, that’s an allurement to any man under ninety? And those lips which are — well, I mustn’t let my carnal lusts obtrude. Ashley sees none of these things? Or if he sees them, they move him not at all?”
Unbidden, Scarlett’s mind went back to that day in the orchard when Ashley’s arms shook as he held her, when his mouth was hot on hers as if he would never let her go. She went crimson at the memory and her blush was not lost on Rhett.
“So,” he said and there was a vibrant note almost like anger in his voice. “I see. He loves you for your mind alone.”
How dare he pry with dirty fingers, making the one beautiful sacred thing in her life seem vile? Coolly, determinedly, he was breaking down the last of her reserves and the information he wanted was forthcoming.
“Yes, he does!” she cried, pushing back the memory of Ashley’s lips.
“My dear, he doesn’t even know you’ve got a mind. If it was your mind that attracted him, he would not need to struggle against you, as he must have done to keep this love so — shall we say ‘holy’? He could rest easily for, after all, a man can admire a woman’s mind and soul and still be an honorable gentleman and true to his wife. But it must be difficult for him to reconcile the honor of the Wilkeses with coveting your body as he does.”
“You judge everybody’s mind by your own vile one!”
“Oh, I’ve never denied coveting you, if that’s what you mean. But, thank God, I’m not bothered about matters of honor. What I want I take if I can get it, and so I wrestle neither with angels nor devils. What a merry hell you must have made for Ashley! Almost I can be sorry for him.”
“I— I make a hell for him?”
“Yes, you! There you are, a constant temptation to him, but like most of his breed he prefers what passes in these parts as honor to any amount of love. And it looks to me as if the poor devil now had neither love nor honor to warm himself!”
“He has love! . . . I mean, he loves me!”
“Does he? Then answer me this and we are through for the day and you can take the money and throw it in the gutter for all I care.”
Rhett rose to his feet and threw his half-smoked cigar into the spittoon. There was about his movements the same pagan freedom and leashed power Scarlett had noted that night Atlanta fell, something sinister and a little frightening. “If he loved you, then why in hell did he permit you to come to Atlanta to get the tax money? Before I’d let a woman I loved do that, I’d —”
“He didn’t know! He had no idea that I—”
“Doesn’t it occur to you that he should have known?” There was barely suppressed savagery in his voice. “Loving you as you say he does, he should have known just what you would do when you were desperate. He should have killed you rather than let you come up here — and to me, of all people! God in Heaven!”
“But he didn’t know!”
“If he didn’t guess it without being told, he’ll never know anything about you and your precious mind.”
How unfair he was! As if Ashley was a mind reader! As if Ashley could have stopped her, even had he known! But, she knew suddenly, Ashley could have stopped her. The faintest intimation from him, in the orchard, that some day things might be different and she would never have thought of going to Rhett. A word of tenderness, even a parting caress when she was getting on the train, would have held her back. But he had only talked of honor. Yet — was Rhett right? Should Ashley have known her mind? Swiftly she put the disloyal thought from her. Of course, he didn’t suspect. Ashley would never suspect that she would even think of doing anything so immoral. Ashley was too fine to have such thoughts. Rhett was just trying to spoil her love. He was trying to tear down what was most precious to her. Some day, she thought viciously, when the store was on its feet and the mill doing nicely and she had money, she would make Rhett Butler pay for the misery and humiliation he was causing her.
He was standing over her, looking down at her, faintly amused. The emotion which had stirred him was gone.
“What does it all matter to you anyway?” she asked. “It’s my business and Ashley’s and not yours.”
“Only this. I have a deep and impersonal admiration for your endurance, Scarlett, and I do not like to see your spirit crushed beneath too many millstones. There’s Tara. That’s a man-sized job in itself. There’s your sick father added on. He’ll never be any help to you. And the girls and the darkies. And now you’ve taken on a husband and probably Miss Pittypat, too. You’ve enough burdens without Ashley Wilkes and his family on your hands.”
“He’s not on my hands. He helps —”
“Oh, for God’s sake,” he said impatiently. “Don’t let’s have any more of that. He’s no help. He’s on your hands and he’ll be on them, or on somebody’s, till he dies. Personally, I’m sick of him as a topic of conversation. . . . How much money do you want?”
Vituperative words rushed to her lips. After all his insults, after dragging from her those things which were most precious to her and trampling on them, he still thought she would take his money!
But the words were checked unspoken. How wonderful it would be to scorn his offer and order him out of the store! But only the truly rich and the truly secure could afford this luxury. So long as she was poor, just so long would she have to endure such scenes as this. But when she was rich — oh, what a beautiful warming thought that was! — when she was rich, she wouldn’t stand anything she didn’t like, do without anything she desired or even be polite to people unless they pleased her.
I shall tell them all to go to Halifax, she thought, and Rhett Butler will be the first one!
The pleasure in the thought brought a sparkle into her green eyes and a half-smile to her lips. Rhett smiled too.
“You’re a pretty person, Scarlett,” he said. “Especially when you are meditating devilment. And just for the sight of that dimple I’ll buy you a baker’s dozen of mules if you want them.”
The front door opened and the counter boy entered, picking his teeth with a quill. Scarlett rose, pulled her shawl about her and tied her bonnet strings firmly under her chin. Her mind was made up.
“Are you busy this afternoon? Can you come with me now?” she asked.
“I want you to drive to the mill with me. I promised Frank I wouldn’t drive out of town by myself.”
“To the mill in this rain?”
“Yes, I want to buy that mill now, before you change your mind.”
He laughed so loudly the boy behind the counter started and looked at him curiously.
“Have you forgotten you are married? Mrs. Kennedy can’t afford to be seen driving out into the country with that Butler reprobate, who isn’t received in the best parlors. Have you forgotten your reputation?”
“Reputation, fiddle-dee-dee! I want that mill before you change your mind or Frank finds out that I’m buying it. Don’t be a slow poke, Rhett. What’s a little rain? Let’s hurry.”
That sawmill! Frank groaned every time he thought of it, cursing himself for ever mentioning it to her. It was bad enough for her to sell her earrings to Captain Butler (of all people!) and buy the mill without even consulting her own husband about it, but it was worse still that she did not turn it over to him to operate. That looked bad. As if she did not trust him or his judgment.
Frank, in common with all men he knew, felt that a wife should be guided by her husband’s superior knowledge, should accept his opinions in full and have none of her own. He would have given most women their own way. Women were such funny little creatures and it never hurt to humor their small whims. Mild and gentle by nature, it was not in him to deny a wife much. He would have enjoyed gratifying the foolish notions of some soft little person and scolding her lovingly for her stupidity and extravagance. But the things Scarlett set her mind on were unthinkable.
That sawmill, for example. It was the shock of his life when she told him with a sweet smile, in answer to his questions, that she intended to run it herself. “Go into the lumber business myself,” was the way she put it. Frank would never forget the horror of that moment. Go into business for herself! It was unthinkable. There were no women in business in Atlanta. In fact, Frank had never heard of a woman in business anywhere. If women were so unfortunate as to be compelled to make a little money to assist their families in these hard times, they made it in quiet womanly ways — baking as Mrs. Merriwether was doing, or painting china and sewing and keeping boarders, like Mrs. Elsing and Fanny, or teaching school like Mrs. Meade or giving music lessons like Mrs. Bonnell. These ladies made money but they kept themselves at home while they did it, as a woman should. But for a woman to leave the protection of her home and venture out into the rough world of men, competing with them in business, rubbing shoulders with them, being exposed to insult and gossip. . . . Especially when she wasn’t forced to do it, when she had a husband amply able to provide for her!
Frank had hoped she was only teasing or playing a joke on him, a joke of questionable taste, but he soon found she meant what she said. She did operate the sawmill. She rose earlier than he did to drive out Peachtree road and frequently did not come home until long after he had locked up the store and returned to Aunt Pitty’s for supper. She drove the long miles to the mill with only the disapproving Uncle Peter to protect her and the woods were full of free niggers and Yankee riffraff. Frank couldn’t go with her, the store took all of his time, but when he protested, she said shortly: “If I don’t keep an eye on that slick scamp, Johnson, he’ll steal my lumber and sell it and put the money in his pocket. When I can get a good man to run the mill for me, then I won’t have to go out there so often. Then I can spend my time in town selling lumber.”
Selling lumber in town! That was worst of all. She frequently did take a day off from the mill and peddle lumber and, on those days, Frank wished he could hide in the dark back room of his store and see no one. His wife selling lumber!
And people were talking terrible about her. Probably about him too, for permitting her to behave in so unwomanly a fashion. It embarrassed him to face his customers over the counter and hear them say: “I saw Mrs. Kennedy a few minutes ago over at . . .” Everyone took pains to tell him what she did. Everyone was talking about what happened over where the new hotel was being built. Scarlett had driven up just as Tommy Wellburn was buying some lumber from another man and she climbed down out of the buggy among the rough Irish masons who were laying the foundations, and told Tommy briefly that he was being cheated. She said her lumber was better and cheaper too, and to prove it she ran up a long column of figures in her head and gave him an estimate then and there. It was bad enough that she had intruded herself among strange rough workmen, but it was still worse for a woman to show publicly that she could do mathematics like that. When Tommy accepted her estimate and gave her the order, Scarlett had not taken her departure speedily and meekly but had idled about, talking to Johnnie Gallegher, the foreman of the Irish workers, a hard-bitten little gnome of a man who had a very bad reputation. The town talked about it for weeks.
On top of everything else, she was actually making money out of the mill, and no man could feel right about a wife who succeeded in so unwomanly an activity. Nor did she turn over the money or any part of it to him to use in the store. Most of it went to Tara and she wrote interminable letters to Will Benteen telling him just how it should be spent. Furthermore, she told Frank that if the repairs at Tara could ever be completed, she intended to lend out her money on mortgages.
“My! My!” moaned Frank whenever he thought of this. A woman had no business even knowing what a mortgage was.
Scarlett was full of plans these days and each one of them seemed worse to Frank than the previous one. She even talked of building a saloon on the property where her warehouse had been until Sherman burned it. Frank was no teetotaler but he feverishly protested against the idea. Owning saloon property was a bad business, an unlucky business, almost as bad as renting to a house of prostitution. Just why it was bad, he could not explain to her and to his lame arguments she said “Fiddle-dee-dee!”
“Saloons are always good tenants. Uncle Henry said so,” she told him. “They always pay their rent and, look here, Frank, I could put up a cheap salon out of poor-grade lumber I can’t sell and get good rent for it, and with the rent money and the money from the mill and what I could get from mortgages, I could buy some more sawmills.”
“Sugar, you don’t need any more sawmills!” cried Frank, appalled. “What you ought to do is sell the one you’ve got. It’s wearing you out and you know what trouble you have keeping free darkies at work there —”
“Free darkies are certainly worthless,” Scarlett agreed, completely ignoring his hint that she should sell. “Mr. Johnson says he never knows when he comes to work in the morning whether he’ll have a full crew or not. You just can’t depend on the darkies any more. They work a day or two and then lay off till they’ve spent their wages, and the whole crew is like as not to quit overnight. The more I see of emancipation the more criminal I think it is. It’s just ruined the darkies. Thousands of them aren’t working at all and the ones we can get to work at the mill are so lazy and shiftless they aren’t worth having. And if you so much as swear at them, much less hit them a few licks for the good of their souls, the Freedmen’s Bureau is down on you like a duck on a June bug.”
“Sugar, you aren’t letting Mr. Johnson beat those —”
“Of course not,” she returned impatiently. “Didn’t I just say the Yankees would put me in jail if I did?”
“I’ll bet your pa never hit a darky a lick in his life,” said Frank.
“Well, only one. A stable boy who didn’t rub down his horse after a day’s hunt. But, Frank; it was different then. Free issue niggers are something else, and a good whipping would do some of them a lot of good.”
Frank was not only amazed at his wife’s views and her plans but at the change which had come over her in the few months since their marriage. This wasn’t the soft, sweet, feminine person he had taken to wife. In the brief period of the courtship, he thought he had never known a woman more attractively feminine in her reactions to life, ignorant, timid and helpless. Now her reactions were all masculine. Despite her pink cheeks and dimples and pretty smiles, she talked and acted like a man. Her voice was brisk and decisive and she made up her mind instantly and with no girlish shilly-shallying. She knew what she wanted and she went after it by the shortest route, like a man, not by the hidden and circuitous routes peculiar to women.
It was not that Frank had never seen commanding women before this. Atlanta, like all Southern towns, had its share of dowagers whom no one cared to cross. No one could be more dominating than stout Mrs. Merriwether, more imperious than frail Mrs. Elsing, more artful in securing her own ends than the silver-haired sweet-voiced Mrs. Whiting. But no matter what devices these ladies employed in order to get their own way, they were always feminine devices. They made a point of being deferential to men’s opinions, whether they were guided by them or not. They had the politeness to appear to be guided by what men said, and that was what mattered. But Scarlett was guided by no one but herself and was conducting her affairs in a masculine way which had the whole town talking about her.
“And,” thought Frank miserably, “probably talking about me too, for letting her act so unwomanly.”
Then, there was that Butler man. His frequent calls at Aunt Pitty’s house were the greatest humiliation of all. Frank had always disliked him, even when he had done business with him before the war. He often cursed the day he had brought Rhett to Twelve Oaks and introduced him to his friends. He despised him for the cold-blooded way he had acted in his speculations during the war and for the fact that he had not been in the army. Rhett’s eight months’ service with the Confederacy was known only to Scarlett, for Rhett had begged her, with mock fear, not to reveal his “shame” to anyone. Most of all Frank had contempt for him for holding on to the Confederate gold, when honest men like Admiral Bulloch and others confronted with the same situation had turned back thousands to the Federal treasury. But whether Frank liked it or not, Rhett was a frequent caller.
Ostensibly it was Miss Pitty he came to see and she had no better sense than to believe it and give herself airs over his visits. But Frank had an uncomfortable feeling that Miss Pitty was not the attraction which brought him. Little Wade was very fond of him, though the boy was shy of most people, and even called him “Uncle Rhett,” which annoyed Frank. And Frank could not help remembering that Rhett had squired Scarlett about during the war days and there had been talk about them then. He imagined there might be even worse talk about them now. None of his friends had the courage to mention anything of this sort to Frank, for all their outspoken words on Scarlett’s conduct in the matter of the mill. But he could not help noticing that he and Scarlett were less frequently invited to meals and parties and fewer and fewer people came to call on them. Scarlett disliked most of her neighbors and was too busy with her mill to care about seeing the ones she did like, so the lack of calls did not disturb her. But Frank felt it keenly.
All of his life, Frank had been under the domination of the phrase “What will the neighbors say?” and he was defenseless against the shocks of his wife’s repeated disregard of the proprieties. He felt that everyone disapproved of Scarlett and was contemptuous of him for permitting her to “unsex herself.” She did so many things a husband should not permit, according to his views, but if he ordered her to stop them, argued or even criticized, a storm broke on his head.
“My! My!” he thought helplessly. “She can get mad quicker and stay mad longer than any woman I ever saw!”
Even at the times when things were most pleasant, it was amazing how completely and how quickly the teasing, affectionate wife who hummed to herself as she went about the house could be transformed into an entirely different person. He had only to say: “Sugar, if I were you, I wouldn’t —” and the tempest would break.
Her black brows rushed together to meet in a sharp angle over her nose and Frank cowered, almost visibly. She had the temper of a Tartar and the rages of a wild cat and, at such times, she did not seem to care what she said or how much it hurt. Clouds of gloom hung over the house on such occasions. Frank went early to the store and stayed late. Pitty scrambled into her bedroom like a rabbit panting for its burrow. Wade and Uncle Peter retired to the carriage house and Cookie kept to her kitchen and forebore to raise her voice to praise the Lord in song. Only Mammy endured Scarlett’s temper with equanimity and Mammy had had many years of training with Gerald O’Hara and his explosions.
Scarlett did not mean to be short tempered and she really wanted to make Frank a good wife, for she was fond of him and grateful for his help in saving Tara. But he did try her patience to the breaking point so often and in so many different ways.
She could never respect a man who let her run over him and the timid, hesitant attitude he displayed in any unpleasant situation, with her or with others, irritated her unbearably. But she could have overlooked these things and even been happy, now that some of her money problems were being solved, except for her constantly renewed exasperation growing out of the many incidents which showed that Frank was neither a good business man nor did he want her to be a good business man.
As she expected, he had refused to collect the unpaid bills until she prodded him into it, and then he had done it apologetically and half heartedly. That experience was the final evidence she needed to show her that the Kennedy family would never have more than a bare living, unless she personally made the money she was determined to have. She knew now that Frank would be contented to dawdle along with his dirty little store for the rest of his life. He didn’t seem to realize what a slender fingerhold they had on security and how important it was to make more money in these troublous times when money was the only protection against fresh calamities.
Frank might have been a successful business man in the easy days before the war but he was so annoyingly old-fashioned, she thought, and so stubborn about wanting to do things in the old ways, when the old ways and the old days were gone. He was utterly lacking in the aggressiveness needed in these new bitter times. Well, she had the aggressiveness and she intended to use it, whether Frank liked it or not. They needed money and she was making money and it was hard work. The very least Frank could do, in her opinion, was not to interfere with her plans which were getting results.
With her inexperience, operating the new mill was no easy job and competition was keener now than it had been at first, so she was usually tired and worried and cross when she came home at nights. And when Frank would cough apologetically and say: “Sugar, I wouldn’t do this,” or “I wouldn’t do that, Sugar, if I were you,” it was all she could do to restrain herself from flying into a rage, and frequently she did not restrain herself. If he didn’t have the gumption to get out and make some money, why was he always finding fault with her? And the things he nagged her about were so silly! What difference did it make in times like these if she was being unwomanly? Especially when her unwomanly sawmill was bringing in money they needed so badly, she and the family and Tara, and Frank too.
Frank wanted rest and quiet. The war in which he had served so conscientiously had wrecked his health, cost him his fortune and made him an old man. He regretted none of these things and after four years of war, all he asked of life was peace and kindliness, loving faces about him and the approval of friends. He soon found that domestic peace had its price, and that price was letting Scarlett have her own way, no matter what she might wish to do. So, because he was tired, he bought peace at her own terms. Sometimes, he thought it was worth it to have her smiling when she opened the front door in the cold twilights, kissing him on the ear or the nose or some other inappropriate place, to feel her head snuggling drowsily on his shoulder at night under warm quilts. Home life could be so pleasant when Scarlett was having her own way. But the peace he gained was hollow, only an outward semblance, for he had purchased it at the cost of everything he held to be right in married life.
“A woman ought to pay more attention to her home and her family and not be gadding about like a man,” he thought. “Now, if she just had a baby —”
He smiled when he thought of a baby and he thought of a baby very often. Scarlett had been most outspoken about not wanting a child, but then babies seldom waited to be invited. Frank knew that many women said they didn’t want babies but that was all foolishness and fear. If Scarlett had a baby, she would love it and be content to stay home and tend it like other women. Then she would be forced to sell the mill and his problems would be ended. All women needed babies to make them completely happy and Frank knew that Scarlett was not happy. Ignorant as he was of women, he was not so blind that he could not see she was unhappy at times.
Sometimes he awoke at night and heard the soft sound of tears muffled in the pillow. The first time he had waked to feel the bed shaking with her sobbing, he had questioned, in alarm: “Sugar, what is it?” and had been rebuked by a passionate cry: “Oh, let me alone!”
Yes, a baby would make her happy and would take her mind off things she had no business fooling with. Sometimes Frank sighed, thinking he had caught a tropic bird, all flame and jewel color, when a wren would have served him just as well. In fact, much better.