Gone with the wind (Chapter 38)
Scarlett saw it all, lived with it by day, took it to bed with her at night, dreading always what might happen next. She knew that she and Frank were already in the Yankees’ black books, because of Tony, and disaster might descend on them at any hour. But, now of all times, she could not afford to be pushed back to her beginnings — not now with a baby coming, the mill just commencing to pay and Tara depending on her for money until the cotton came in in the fall. Oh, suppose she should lose everything! Suppose she should have to start all over again with only her puny weapons against this mad world! To have to pit her red lips and green eyes and her shrewd shallow brain against the Yankees and everything the Yankees stood for. Weary with dread, she felt that she would rather kill herself than try to make a new beginning.
In the ruin and chaos of that spring of 1866, she single mindedly turned her energies to making the mill pay. There was money in Atlanta. The wave of rebuilding was giving her the opportunity she wanted and she knew she could make money if only she could stay out of jail. But, she told herself time and again, she would have to walk easily, gingerly, be meek under insults, yielding to injustices, never giving offense to anyone, black or white, who might do her harm. She hated the impudent free negroes as much as anyone and her flesh crawled with fury every time she heard their insulting remarks and high-pitched laughter as she went by. But she never even gave them a glance of contempt. She hated the Carpetbaggers and Scallawags who were getting rich with ease while she struggled, but she said nothing in condemnation of them. No one in Atlanta could have loathed the Yankees more than she, for the very sight of a blue uniform made her sick with rage, but even in the privacy of her family she kept silent about them.
I won’t be a big-mouthed fool, she thought grimly. Let others break their hearts over the old days and the men who’ll never come back. Let others burn with fury over the Yankee rule and losing the ballot. Let others go to jail for speaking their minds and get themselves hanged for being in the Ku Klux Klan. (Oh, what a dreaded name that was, almost as terrifying to Scarlett as to the negroes.) Let other women be proud that their husbands belonged. Thank God, Frank had never been mixed up in it! Let others stew and fume and plot and plan about things they could not help. What did the past matter compared with the tense present and the dubious future? What did the ballot matter when bread, a roof and staying out of jail were the real problems? And, please God, just let me stay out of trouble until June!
Only till June! By that month Scarlett knew she would be forced to retire into Aunt Pitty’s house and remain secluded there until after her child was born. Already people were criticizing her for appearing in public when she was in such a condition. No lady ever showed herself when she was pregnant. Already Frank and Pitty were begging her not to expose herself — and them — to embarrassment and she had promised them to stop work in June.
Only till June! By June she must have the mill well enough established for her to leave it. By June she must have money enough to give her at least some little protection against misfortune. So much to do and so little time to do it! She wished for more hours of the day and counted the minutes, as she strained forward feverishly in her pursuit of money and still more money.
Because she nagged the timid Frank, the store was doing better now and he was even collecting some of the old bills. But it was the sawmill on which her hopes were pinned. Atlanta these days was like a giant plant which had been cut to the ground but now was springing up again with sturdier shoots, thicker foliage, more numerous branches. The demand for building materials was far greater than could be supplied. Prices of lumber, brick and stone soared and Scarlett kept the mill running from dawn until lantern light.
A part of every day she spent at the mill, prying into everything, doing her best to check the thievery she felt sure was going on. But most of the time she was riding about the town, making the rounds of builders, contractors and carpenters, even calling on strangers she had heard might build at future dates, cajoling them into promises of buying from her and her only.
Soon she was a familiar sight on Atlanta’s streets, sitting in her buggy beside the dignified, disapproving old darky driver, a lap robe pulled high about her, her little mittened hands clasped in her lap. Aunt Pitty had made her a pretty green mantelet which hid her figure and a green pancake hat which matched her eyes, and she always wore these becoming garments on her business calls. A faint dab of rouge on her cheeks and a fainter fragrance of cologne made her a charming picture, as long as she did not alight from the buggy and show her figure. And there was seldom any need for this, for she smiled and beckoned and the men came quickly to the buggy and frequently stood bareheaded in the rain to talk business with her.
She was not the only one who had seen the opportunities for making money out of lumber, but she did not fear her competitors. She knew with conscious pride in her own smartness that she was the equal of any of them. She was Gerald’s own daughter and the shrewd trading instinct she had inherited was now sharpened by her needs.
At first the other dealers had laughed at her, laughed with good-natured contempt at the very idea of a woman in business. But now they did not laugh. They swore silently as they saw her ride by. The fact that she was a woman frequently worked in her favor, for she could upon occasion look so helpless and appealing that she melted hearts. With no difficulty whatever she could mutely convey the impression of a brave but timid lady, forced by brutal circumstance into a distasteful position, a helpless little lady who would probably starve if customers didn’t buy her lumber. But when ladylike airs failed to get results she was coldly businesslike and willingly undersold her competitors at a loss to herself if it would bring her a new customer. She was not above selling a poor grade of lumber for the price of good lumber if she thought she would not be detected, and she had no scruples about black-guarding the other lumber dealers. With every appearance of reluctance at disclosing the unpleasant truth, she would sigh and tell prospective customers that her competitors’ lumber was far too high in price, rotten, full of knot holes and in general of deplorably poor quality.
The first time Scarlett lied in this fashion she felt disconcerted and guilty — disconcerted because the lie sprang so easily and naturally to her lips, guilty because the thought flashed into her mind: What would Mother say?
There was no doubt what Ellen would say to a daughter who told lies and engaged in sharp practices. She would be stunned and incredulous and would speak gentle words that stung despite their gentleness, would talk of honor and honesty and truth and duty to one’s neighbor. Momentarily, Scarlett cringed as she pictured the look on her mother’s face. And then the picture faded, blotted out by an impulse, hard, unscrupulous and greedy, which had been born in the lean days at Tara and was now strengthened by the present uncertainty of life. So she passed this milestone as she had passed others before it — with a sigh that she was not as Ellen would like her to be, a shrug and the repetition of her unfailing charm: “I’ll think of all this later.”
But she never again thought of Ellen in connection with her business practices, never again regretted any means she used to take trade away from other lumber dealers. She knew she was perfectly safe in lying about them. Southern chivalry protected her. A Southern lady could lie about a gentleman but a Southern gentleman could not lie about a lady or, worse still, call the lady a liar. Other lumbermen could only fume inwardly and state heatedly, in the bosoms of their families, that they wished to God Mrs. Kennedy was a man for just about five minutes.
One poor white who operated a mill on the Decatur road did try to fight Scarlett with her own weapons, saying openly that she was a liar and a swindler. But it hurt him rather than helped, for everyone was appalled that even a poor white should say such shocking things about a lady of good family, even when the lady was conducting herself in such an unwomanly way. Scarlett bore his remarks with silent dignity and, as time went by, she turned all her attention to him and his customers. She undersold him so relentlessly and delivered, with secret groans, such an excellent quality of lumber to prove her probity that he was soon bankrupt. Then, to Frank’s horror, she triumphantly bought his mill at her own price.
Once in her possession there arose the perplexing problem of finding a trustworthy man to put in charge of it. She did not want another man like Mr. Johnson. She knew that despite all her watchfulness he was still selling her lumber behind her back, but she thought it would be easy to find the right sort of man. Wasn’t everybody as poor as Job’s turkey, and weren’t the streets full of men, some of them formerly rich, who were without work? The day never went by that Frank did not give money to some hungry ex-soldier or that Pitty and Cookie did not wrap up food for gaunt beggars.
But Scarlett, for some reason she could not understand, did not want any of these. “I don’t want men who haven’t found something to do after a year,” she thought. “If they haven’t adjusted to peace yet, they couldn’t adjust to me. And they all look so hangdog and licked. I don’t want a man who’s licked. I want somebody who’s smart and energetic like Renny or Tommy Wellburn or Kells Whiting or one of the Simmons boys or — or any of that tribe. They haven’t got that I-don’t-care-about-anything look the soldiers had right after the surrender. They look like they cared a heap about a heap of things.”
But to her surprise the Simmons boys, who had started a brick kiln, and Kells Whiting, who was selling a preparation made up in his mother’s kitchen, that was guaranteed to straighten the kinkiest negro hair in six applications, smiled politely, thanked her and refused. It was the same with the dozen others she approached. In desperation she raised the wage she was offering but she was still refused. One of Mrs. Merriwether’s nephews observed impertinently that while he didn’t especially enjoy driving a dray, it was his own dray and he would rather get somewhere under his own steam than Scarlett’s.
One afternoon, Scarlett pulled up her buggy beside Rene Picard’s pie wagon and hailed Rene and the crippled Tommy Wellburn, who was catching a ride home with his friend.
“Look here, Renny, why don’t you come and work for me? Managing a mill is a sight more respectable than driving a pie wagon. I’d think you’d be ashamed.”
“Me, I am dead to shame,” grinned Rene. “Who would be respectable? All of my days I was respectable until ze war set me free lak ze darkies. Nevaire again must I be deegneefied and full of ennui. Free lak ze bird! I lak my pie wagon. I lak my mule. I lak ze dear Yankees who so kindly buy ze pie of Madame Belle Mere. No, my Scarlett, I must be ze King of ze Pies. Eet ees my destiny! Lak Napoleon, I follow my star.” He flourished his whip dramatically.
“But you weren’t raised to sell pies any more than Tommy was raised to wrastle with a bunch of wild Irish masons. My kind of work is more —”
“And I suppose you were raised to run a lumber mill,” said Tommy, the corners of his mouth twitching. “Yes, I can just see little Scarlett at her mother’s knee, lisping her lesson, ‘Never sell good lumber if you can get a better price for bad.’”
Rene roared at this, his small monkey eyes dancing with glee as he whacked Tommy on his twisted back.
“Don’t be impudent,” said Scarlett coldly, for she saw little humor in Tommy’s remark. “Of course, I wasn’t raised to run a sawmill.”
“I didn’t mean to be impudent. But you are running a sawmill, whether you were raised to it or not. And running it very well, too. Well, none of us, as far as I can see, are doing what we intended to do right now, but I think we’ll make out just the same. It’s a poor person and a poor nation that sits down and cries because life isn’t precisely what they expected it to be. Why don’t you pick up some enterprising Carpetbagger to work for you, Scarlett? The woods are full of them, God knows.”
“I don’t want a Carpetbagger. Carpetbaggers will steal anything that isn’t red hot or nailed down. If they amounted to anything they’d have stayed where they were, instead of coming down here to pick our bones. I want a nice man, from nice folks, who is smart and honest and energetic and —”
“You don’t want much. And you won’t get it for the wage you’re offering. All the men of that description, barring the badly maimed ones, have already got something to do. They may be round pegs in square holes but they’ve all got something to do. Something of their own that they’d rather do than work for a woman.”
“Men haven’t got much sense, have they, when you get down to rock bottom?”
“Maybe not but they’ve got a heap of pride,” said Tommy soberly.
“Pride! Pride tastes awfully good, especially when the crust is flaky and you put meringue on it,” said Scarlett tartly.
The two men laughed, a bit unwillingly, and it seemed to Scarlett that they drew together in united masculine disapproval of her. What Tommy said was true, she thought, running over in her mind the men she had approached and the ones she intended to approach. They were all busy, busy at something, working hard, working harder than they would have dreamed possible in the days before the war. They weren’t doing what they wanted to do perhaps, or what was easiest to do, or what they had been reared to do, but they were doing something. Times were too hard for men to be choosy. And if they were sorrowing for lost hopes, longing for lost ways of living, no one knew it but they. They were fighting a new war, a harder war than the one before. And they were caring about life again, caring with the same urgency and the same violence that animated them before the war had cut their lives in two.
“Scarlett,” said Tommy awkwardly, “I do hate to ask a favor of you, after being impudent to you, but I’m going to ask it just the same. Maybe it would help you anyway. My brother-inlaw, Hugh Elsing, isn’t doing any too well peddling kindling wood. Everybody except the Yankees goes out and collects his own kindling wood. And I know things are mighty hard with the whole Elsing family. I— I do what I can, but you see I’ve got Fanny to support, and then, too, I’ve got my mother and two widowed sisters down in Sparta to look after. Hugh is nice, and you wanted a nice man, and he’s from nice folks, as you know, and he’s honest.”
“But — well, Hugh hasn’t got much gumption or else he’d make a success of his kindling.”
“You’ve got a hard way of looking at things, Scarlett,” he said. “But you think Hugh over. You could go far and do worse. I think his honesty and his willingness will outweigh his lack of gumption.”
Scarlett did not answer, for she did not want to be too rude. But to her mind there were few, if any, qualities that out-weighed gumption.
After she had unsuccessfully canvassed the town and refused the importuning of many eager Carpetbaggers, she finally decided to take Tommy’s suggestion and ask Hugh Elsing. He had been a dashing and resourceful officer during the war, but two severe wounds and four years of fighting seemed to have drained him of all his resourcefulness, leaving him to face the rigors of peace as bewildered as a child. There was a lost-dog look in his eyes these days as he went about peddling his firewood, and he was not at all the kind of man she had hoped to get.
“He’s stupid,” she thought. “He doesn’t know a thing about business and I’ll bet he can’t add two and two. And I doubt if he’ll ever learn. But, at least, he’s honest and won’t swindle me.”
Scarlett had little use these days for honesty in herself, but the less she valued it in herself the more she was beginning to value it in others.
“It’s a pity Johnnie Gallegher is tied up with Tommy Wellburn on that construction work,” she thought. “He’s just the kind of man I want. He’s hard as nails and slick as a snake, but he’d be honest if it paid him to be honest. I understand him and he understands me and we could do business together very well. Maybe I can get him when the hotel is finished and till then I’ll have to make out on Hugh and Mr. Johnson. If I put Hugh in charge of the new mill and leave Mr. Johnson at the old one, I can stay in town and see to the selling while they handle the milling and hauling. Until I can get Johnnie I’ll have to risk Mr. Johnson robbing me if I stay in town all the time. If only he wasn’t a thief! I believe I’ll build a lumber yard on half that lot Charles left me. If only Frank didn’t holler so loud about me building a saloon on the other half! Well, I shall build the saloon just as soon as I get enough money ahead, no matter how he takes on. If only Frank wasn’t so thin skinned. Oh, God, if only I wasn’t going to have a baby at this of all times! In a little while I’ll be so big I can’t go out. Oh, God, if only I wasn’t going to have a baby! And oh, God, if the damned Yankees will only let me alone! If —”
If! If! If! There were so many ifs in life, never any certainty of anything, never any sense of security, always the dread of losing everything and being cold and hungry again. Of course, Frank was making a little more money now, but Frank was always ailing with colds and frequently forced to stay in bed for days. Suppose he should become an invalid. No, she could not afford to count on Frank for much. She must not count on anything or anybody but herself. And what she could earn seemed so pitiably small. Oh, what would she do if the Yankees came and took it all away from her? If! If! If!
Half of what she made every month went to Will at Tara, part to Rhett to repay his loan and the rest she hoarded. No miser ever counted his gold oftener than she and no miser ever had greater fear of losing it. She would not put the money in the bank, for it might fail or the Yankees might confiscate it. So she carried what she could with her, tucked into her corset, and hid small wads of bills about the house, under loose bricks on the hearth, in her scrap bag, between the pages of the Bible. And her temper grew shorter and shorter as the weeks went by, for every dollar she saved would be just one more dollar to lose if disaster descended.
Frank, Pitty and the servants bore her outbursts with maddening kindness, attributing her bad disposition to her pregnancy, never realizing the true cause. Frank knew that pregnant women must be humored, so he put his pride in his pocket and said nothing more about her running the mills and her going about town at such a time, as no lady should do. Her conduct was a constant embarrassment to him but he reckoned he could endure it for a while longer. After the baby came, he knew she would be the same sweet, feminine girl he had courted. But in spite of everything he did to appease her, she continued to have her tantrums and often he thought she acted like one possessed.
No one seemed to realize what really possessed her, what drove her like a mad woman. It was a passion to get her affairs in order before she had to retire behind doors, to have as much money as possible in case the deluge broke upon her again, to have a stout levee of cash against the rising tide of Yankee hate. Money was the obsession dominating her mind these days. When she thought of the baby at all, it was with baffled rage at the untimeliness of it.
“Death and taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them!”
Atlanta had been scandalized enough when Scarlett, a woman, began operating the sawmill but, as time went by, the town decided there was no limit to what she would do. Her sharp trading was shocking, especially when her poor mother had been a Robillard, and it was positively indecent the way she kept on going about the streets when everyone knew she was pregnant. No respectable white woman and few negroes ever went outside their homes from the moment they first suspected they were with child, and Mrs. Merriwether declared indignantly that from the way Scarlett was acting she was likely to have the baby on the public streets.
But all the previous criticism of her conduct was as nothing compared with the buzz of gossip that now went through the town. Scarlett was not only trafficking with the Yankees but was giving every appearance of really liking it!
Mrs. Merriwether and many other Southerners were also doing business with the newcomers from the North, but the difference was that they did not like it and plainly showed they did not like it. And Scarlett did, or seemed to, which was just as bad. She had actually taken tea with the Yankee officers’ wives in their homes! In fact, she had done practically everything short of inviting them into her own home, and the town guessed she would do even that, except for Aunt Pitty and Frank.
Scarlett knew the town was talking but she did not care, could not afford to care. She still hated the Yankees with as fierce a hate as on the day when they tried to burn Tara, but she could dissemble that hate. She knew that if she was going to make money, she would have to make it out of the Yankees, and she had learned that buttering them up with smiles and kind words was the surest way to get their business for her mill.
Some day when she was very rich and her money was hidden away where the Yankees could not find it, then, then she would tell them exactly what she thought of them, tell them how she hated and loathed and despised them. And what a joy that would be! But until that time came, it was just plain common sense to get along with them. And if that was hypocrisy, let Atlanta make the most of it.
She discovered that making friends with the Yankee officers was as easy as shooting birds on the ground. They were lonely exiles in a hostile land and many of them were starved for polite feminine associations in a town where respectable women drew their skirts aside in passing and looked as if they would like to spit on them. Only the prostitutes and the negro women had kind words for them. But Scarlett was obviously a lady and a lady of family, for all that she worked, and they thrilled to her flashing smile and the pleasant light in her green eyes.
Frequently when Scarlett sat in her buggy talking to them and making her dimples play, her dislike for them rose so strong that it was hard not to curse them to their faces. But she restrained herself and she found that twisting Yankee men around her finger was no more difficult than that same diversion had been with Southern men. Only this was no diversion but a grim business. The role she enacted was that of a refined sweet Southern lady in distress. With an air of dignified reserve she was able to keep her victims at their proper distance, but there was nevertheless a graciousness in her manner which left a certain warmth in the Yankee officers’ memories of Mrs. Kennedy.
This warmth was very profitable — as Scarlett had intended it to be. Many of the officers of the garrison, not knowing how long they would be stationed in Atlanta, had sent for their wives and families. As the hotels and boarding houses were overflowing, they were building small houses; and they were glad to buy their lumber from the gracious Mrs. Kennedy, who treated them more politely than anyone else in town. The Carpetbaggers and Scallawags also, who were building fine homes and stores and hotels with their new wealth, found it more pleasant to do business with her than with the former Confederate soldiers who were courteous but with a courtesy more formal and cold than outspoken hate.
So, because she was pretty and charming and could appear quite helpless and forlorn at times, they gladly patronized her lumber yard and also Frank’s store, feeling that they should help a plucky little woman who apparently had only a shiftless husband to support her. And Scarlett, watching the business grow, felt that she was safeguarding not only the present with Yankee money but the future with Yankee friends.
Keeping her relations with the Yankee officers on the plane she desired was easier than she expected, for they all seemed to be in awe of Southern ladies, but Scarlett soon found that their wives presented a problem she had not anticipated. Contacts with the Yankee women were not of her seeking. She would have been glad to avoid them but she could not, for the officers’ wives were determined to meet her. They had an avid curiosity about the South and Southern women, and Scarlett gave them their first opportunity to satisfy it. Other Atlanta women would have nothing to do with them and even refused to bow to them in church, so when business brought Scarlett to their homes, she was like an answer to prayer. Often when Scarlett sat in her buggy in front of a Yankee home talking of uprights and shingles with the man of the house, the wife came out to join in the conversation or insist that she come inside for a cup of tea. Scarlett seldom refused, no matter how distasteful the idea might be, for she always hoped to have an opportunity to suggest tactfully that they do their trading at Frank’s store. But her self-control was severely tested many times, because of the personal questions they asked and because of the smug and condescending attitude they displayed toward all things Southern.
Accepting Uncle Tom’s Cabin as revelation second only to the Bible, the Yankee women all wanted to know about the bloodhounds which every Southerner kept to track down runaway slaves. And they never believed her when she told them she had only seen one bloodhound in all her life and it was a small mild dog and not a huge ferocious mastiff. They wanted to know about the dreadful branding irons which planters used to mark the faces of their slaves and the cat-o’-nine-tails with which they beat them to death, and they evidenced what Scarlett felt was a very nasty and ill-bred interest in slave concubinage. Especially did she resent this in view of the enormous increase in mulatto babies in Atlanta since the Yankee soldiers had settled in the town.
Any other Atlanta woman would have expired in rage at having to listen to such bigoted ignorance but Scarlett managed to control herself. Assisting her in this was the fact that they aroused her contempt more than her anger. After all, they were Yankees and no one expected anything better from Yankees. So their unthinking insults to her state, her people and their morals, glanced off and never struck deep enough to cause her more than a well-concealed sneer until an incident occurred which made her sick with rage and showed her, if she needed any showing, how wide was the gap between North and South and how utterly impossible it was to bridge it.
While driving home with Uncle Peter one afternoon, she passed the house into which were crowded the families of three officers who were building their own homes with Scarlett’s lumber. The three wives were standing in the walk as she drove by and they waved to her to stop. Coming out to the carriage block they greeted her in accents that always made her feel that one could forgive Yankees almost anything except their voices.
“You are just the person I want to see, Mrs. Kennedy,” said a tall thin woman from Maine. “I want to get some information about this benighted town.”
Scarlett swallowed the insult to Atlanta with the contempt it deserved and smiled her best.
“And what can I tell you?”
“My nurse, my Bridget, has gone back North. She said she wouldn’t stay another day down here among the ‘naygurs’ as she calls them. And the children are just driving me distracted! Do tell me how to go about getting another nurse. I do not know where to apply.”
“That shouldn’t be difficult,” said Scarlett and laughed. “If you can find a darky just in from the country who hasn’t been spoiled by the Freedmen’s Bureau, you’ll have the best kind of servant possible. Just stand at your gate here and ask every darky woman who passes and I’m sure —”
The three women broke into indignant outcries.
“Do you think I’d trust my babies to a black nigger?” cried the Maine woman. “I want a good Irish girl.”
“I’m afraid you’ll find no Irish servants in Atlanta,” answered Scarlett, coolness in her voice. “Personally, I’ve never seen a white servant and I shouldn’t care to have one in my house. And,” she could not keep a slight note of sarcasm from her words, “I assure you that darkies aren’t cannibals and are quite trustworthy.”
“Goodness, no! I wouldn’t have one in my house. The idea!”
“I wouldn’t trust them any farther than I could see them and as for letting them handle my babies . . .”
Scarlett thought of the kind, gnarled hands of Mammy worn rough in Ellen’s service and hers and Wade’s. What did these strangers know of black hands, how dear and comforting they could be, how unerringly they knew how to soothe, to pat, to fondle? She laughed shortly.
“It’s strange you should feel that way when it was you all who freed them.”
“Lor’! Not I, dearie,” laughed the Maine woman. “I never saw a nigger till I came South last month and I don’t care if I never see another. They give me the creeps. I wouldn’t trust one of them . . . .”
For some moments Scarlett had been conscious that Uncle Peter was breathing hard and sitting up very straight as he stared steadily at the horse’s ears. Her attention was called to him more forcibly when the Maine woman broke off suddenly with a laugh and pointed him out to her companions.
“Look at that old nigger swell up like a toad,” she giggled. “I’ll bet he’s an old pet of yours, isn’t he? You Southerners don’t know how to treat niggers. You spoil them to death.”
Peter sucked in his breath and his wrinkled brow showed deep furrows but he kept his eyes straight ahead. He had never had the term “nigger” applied to him by a white person in all his life. By other negroes, yes. But never by a white person. And to be called untrustworthy and an “old pet,” he, Peter, who had been the dignified mainstay of the Hamilton family for years!
Scarlett felt, rather than saw, the black chin begin to shake with hurt pride, and a killing rage swept over her. She had listened with calm contempt while these women had underrated the Confederate Army, blackguarded Jeff Davis and accused Southerners of murder and torture of their slaves. If it were to her advantage she would have endured insults about her own virtue and honesty. But the knowledge that they had hurt the faithful old darky with their stupid remarks fired her like a match in gunpowder. For a moment she looked at the big horse pistol in Peter’s belt and her hands itched for the feel of it. They deserved killing, these insolent, ignorant, arrogant conquerors. But she bit down on her teeth until her jaw muscles stood out, reminding herself that the time had not yet come when she could tell the Yankees just what she thought of them. Some day, yes. My God, yes! But not yet.
“Uncle Peter is one of our family,” she said, her voice shaking. “Good afternoon. Drive on, Peter.”
Peter laid the whip on the horse so suddenly that the startled animal jumped forward and as the buggy jounced off, Scarlett heard the Maine woman say with puzzled accents: “Her family? You don’t suppose she meant a relative? He’s exceedingly black.”
God damn them! They ought to be wiped off the face of the earth. If ever I get money enough, I’ll spit in all their faces! I’ll —
She glanced at Peter and saw that a tear was trickling down his nose. Instantly a passion of tenderness, of grief for his humiliation swamped her, made her eyes sting. It was as though someone had been senselessly brutal to a child. Those women had hurt Uncle Peter — Peter who had been through the Mexican War with old Colonel Hamilton, Peter who had held his master in his arms when he died, who had raised Melly and Charles and looked after the feckless, foolish Pittypat, “pertecked” her when she refugeed, and “‘quired” a horse to bring her back from Macon through a war-torn country after the surrender. And they said they wouldn’t trust niggers!
“Peter,” she said, her voice breaking as she put her hand on his thin arm. “I’m ashamed of you for crying. What do you care? They aren’t anything but damned Yankees!”
“Dey talked in front of me lak Ah wuz a mule an’ couldn’ unnerstan’ dem — lak Ah wuz a Affikun an’ din’ know whut dey wuz talkin’ ‘bout,” said Peter, giving a tremendous sniff. “An’ dey call me a nigger an’ Ah’ ain’ never been call a nigger by no w’ite folks, an’ dey call me a ole pet an’ say dat niggers ain’ ter be trus’ed! Me not ter be trus’ed! Why, w’en de ole Cunnel wuz dyin’ he say ter me, ‘You, Peter! You look affer mah chillun. Tek keer of yo’ young Miss Pittypat,’ he say, ‘‘cause she ain’ got no mo’ sense dan a hoppergrass.’ An’ Ah done tek keer of her good all dese y’ars —”
“Nobody but the Angel Gabriel could have done better,” said Scarlett soothingly. “We just couldn’t have lived without you.”
“Yas’m, thankee kinely, Ma’m. Ah knows it an’ you knows it, but dem Yankee folks doan know it an’ dey doan want ter know it. Huccome dey come mixin’ in our bizness, Miss Scarlett? Dey doan unnerstan’ us Confedruts.”
Scarlett said nothing for she was still burning with the wrath she had not exploded in the Yankee women’s faces. The two drove home in silence. Peter’s sniffles stopped and his underlip began to protrude gradually until it stuck out alarmingly. His indignation was mounting, now that the initial hurt was subsiding.
Scarlett thought: What damnably queer people Yankees are! Those women seemed to think that because Uncle Peter was black, he had no ears to hear with and no feelings, as tender as their own, to be hurt. They did not know that negroes had to be handled gently, as though they were children, directed, praised, petted, scolded. They didn’t understand negroes or the relations between the negroes and their former masters. Yet they had fought a war to free them. And having freed them, they didn’t want to have anything to do with them, except to use them to terrorize Southerners. They didn’t like them, didn’t trust them, didn’t understand them, and yet their constant cry was that Southerners didn’t know how to get along with them.
Not trust a darky! Scarlett trusted them far more than most white people, certainly more than she trusted any Yankee. There were qualities of loyalty and tirelessness and love in them that no strain could break, no money could buy. She thought of the faithful few who remained at Tara in the face of the Yankee invasion when they could have fled or joined the troops for lives of leisure. But they had stayed. She thought of Dilcey toiling in the cotton fields beside her, of Pork risking his life in neighboring hen houses that the family might eat, of Mammy coming to Atlanta with her to keep her from doing wrong. She thought of the servants of her neighbors who had stood loyally beside their white owners, protecting their mistresses while the men were at the front, refugeeing with them through the terrors of the war, nursing the wounded, burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, working, begging, stealing to keep food on the tables. And even now, with the Freedmen’s Bureau promising all manner of wonders, they still stuck with their white folks and worked much harder than they ever worked in slave times. But the Yankees didn’t understand these things and would never understand them.
“Yet they set you free,” she said aloud.
“No, Ma’m! Dey din’ sot me free. Ah wouldn’ let no sech trash sot me free,” said Peter indignantly. “Ah still b’longs ter Miss Pitty an’ w’en Ah dies she gwine lay me in de Hamilton buhyin’ groun’ whar Ah b’longs. . . . Mah Miss gwine ter be in a state w’en Ah tells her ‘bout how you let dem Yankee women ‘sult me.”
“I did no such thing!” cried Scarlett, startled.
“You did so, Miss Scarlett,” said Peter, pushing out his lip even farther. “De pint is, needer you nor me had no bizness bein’ wid Yankees, so dey could ‘sult me. Ef you hadn’t talked wid dem, dey wouldn’ had no chance ter treat me lak a mule or a Affikun. An’ you din’ tek up fer me, needer.”
“I did, too!” said Scarlett, stung by the criticism. “Didn’t I tell them you were one of the family?”
“Dat ain’ tekkin’ up. Dat’s jes’ a fac’,” said Peter. “Miss Scarlett, you ain’ got no bizness havin’ no truck wid Yankees. Ain’ no other ladies doin’ it. You wouldn’ ketch Miss Pitty wipin’ her lil shoes on sech trash. An’ she ain’ gwine lake it w’en she hear ‘bout whut dey said ‘bout me.”
Peter’s criticism hurt worse than anything Frank or Aunt Pitty or the neighbors had said and it so annoyed her she longed to shake the old darky until his toothless gums clapped together. What Peter said was true but she hated to hear it from a negro and a family negro, too. Not to stand high in the opinion of one’s servants was as humiliating a thing as could happen to a Southerner.
“A ole pet!” Peter grumbled. “Ah specs Miss Pitty ain’t gwine want me ter drive you roun’ no mo’ after dat. No, Ma’m!”
“Aunt Pitty will want you to drive me as usual,” she said sternly, “so let’s hear no more about it.”
“Ah’ll git a mizry in mak back,” warned Peter darkly. “Mah back huttin’ me so bad dis minute Ah kain sceercely set up. Mah Miss ain’ gwine want me ter do no drivin’ w’en Ah got a mizry. . . . Miss Scarlett, it ain’ gwine do you no good ter stan’ high wid de Yankees an’ de w’ite trash, ef yo’ own folks doan ‘prove of you.”
That was as accurate a summing up of the situation as could be made and Scarlett relapsed into infuriated silence. Yes, the conquerors did approve of her and her family and her neighbors did not. She knew all the things the town was saying about her. And now even Peter disapproved of her to the point of not caring to be seen in public with her. That was the last straw.
Heretofore she had been careless of public opinion, careless and a little contemptuous. But Peter’s words caused fierce resentment to burn in her breast, drove her to a defensive position, made her suddenly dislike her neighbors as much as she disliked the Yankees.
“Why should they care what I do?” she thought. “They must think I enjoy associating with Yankees and working like a field hand. They’re just making a hard job harder for me. But I don’t care what they think. I won’t let myself care. I can’t afford to care now. But some day — some day —”
Oh some day! When there was security in her world again, then she would sit back and fold her hands and be a great lady as Ellen had been. She would be helpless and sheltered, as a lady should be, and then everyone would approve of her. Oh, how grand she would be when she had money again! Then she could permit herself to be kind and gentle, as Ellen had been, and thoughtful of other people and of the proprieties, to. She would not be driven by fears, day and night, and life would be a placid, unhurried affair. She would have time to play with her children and listen to their lessons. There would be long warm afternoons when ladies would call and, amid the rustlings of taffeta petticoats and the rhythmic harsh cracklings of palmetto fans, she would serve tea and delicious sandwiches and cakes and leisurely gossip the hours away. And she would be so kind to those who were suffering misfortune, take baskets to the poor and soup and jelly to the sick and “air” those less fortunate in her fine carriage. She would be a lady in the true Southern manner, as her mother had been. And then, everyone would love her as they had loved Ellen and they would say how unselfish she was and call her “Lady Bountiful.”
Her pleasure in these thoughts of the future was undimmed by any realization that she had no real desire to be unselfish or charitable or kind. All she wanted was the reputation for possessing these qualities. But the meshes of her brain were too wide, too coarse, to filter such small differences. It was enough that some day, when she had money, everyone would approve of her.
Some day! But not now. Not now, in spite of what anyone might say of her. Now, there was no time to be a great lady.
Peter was as good as his word. Aunt Pitty did get into a state, and Peter’s misery developed overnight to such proportions that he never drove the buggy again. Thereafter Scarlett drove alone and the calluses which had begun to leave her palms came back again.
So the spring months went by, the cool rains of April passing into the warm balm of green May weather. The weeks were packed with work and worry and the handicaps of increasing pregnancy, with old friends growing cooler and her family increasingly more kind, more maddeningly solicitous and more completely blind to what was driving her. During those days of anxiety and struggle there was only one dependable, understanding person in her world, and that person was Rhett Butler. It was odd that he of all people should appear in this light, for he was as unstable as quicksilver and as perverse as a demon fresh from the pit. But he gave her sympathy, something she had never had from anyone and never expected from him.
Frequently he was out of town on those mysterious trips to New Orleans which he never explained but which she felt sure, in a faintly jealous way, were connected with a woman — or women. But after Uncle Peter’s refusal to drive her, he remained in Atlanta for longer and longer intervals.
While in town, he spent most of his time gambling in the rooms above the Girl of the Period Saloon, or in Belle Watling’s bar hobnobbing with the wealthier of the Yankees and Carpetbaggers in money-making schemes which made the townspeople detest him even more than his cronies. He did not call at the house now, probably in deference to the feelings of Frank and Pitty who would have been outraged at a male caller while Scarlett was in a delicate condition. But she met him by accident almost every day. Time and again, he came riding up to her buggy when she was passing through lonely stretches of Peachtree road and Decatur road where the mills lay. He always drew rein and talked and sometimes he tied his horse to the back of the buggy and drove her on her rounds. She tired more easily these days than she liked to admit and she was always silently grateful when he took the reins. He always left her before they reached the town again but all Atlanta knew about their meetings, and it gave the gossips something new to add to the long list of Scarlett’s affronts to the proprieties.
She wondered occasionally if these meetings were not more than accidental. They became more and more numerous as the weeks went by and as the tension in town heightened over negro outrages. But why did he seek her out, now of all times when she looked her worst? Certainly he had no designs upon her if he had ever had any, and she was beginning to doubt even this. It had been months since he made any joking references to their distressing scene at the Yankee jail. He never mentioned Ashley and her love for him, or made any coarse and ill-bred remarks about “coveting her.” She thought it best to let sleeping dogs lie, so she did not ask for an explanation of their frequent meetings. And finally she decided that, because he had little to do besides gamble and had few enough nice friends in Atlanta, he sought her out solely for companionship’s sake.
Whatever his reason might be, she found his company most welcome. He listened to her moans about lost customers and bad debts, the swindling ways of Mr. Johnson and the incompetency of Hugh. He applauded her triumphs, where Frank merely smiled indulgently and Pitty said “Dear me!” in a dazed manner. She was sure that he frequently threw business her way, for he knew all the rich Yankees and Carpetbaggers intimately, but he always denied being helpful. She knew him for what he was and she never trusted him, but her spirits always rose with pleasure at the sight of him riding around the curve of a shady road on his big black horse. When he climbed into the buggy and took the reins from her and threw her some impertinent remark, she felt young and gay and attractive again, for all her worries and her increasing bulk. She could talk to him about almost everything, with no care for concealing her motives or her real opinions and she never ran out of things to say as she did with Frank — or even with Ashley, if she must be honest with herself. But of course, in all her conversations with Ashley there were so many things which could not be said, for honor’s sake, that the sheer force of them inhibited other remarks. It was comforting to have a friend like Rhett, now that for some unaccountable reason he had decided to be on good behavior with her. Very comforting, for she had so few friends these days.
“Rhett,” she asked stormily, shortly after Uncle Peter’s ultimatum, “why do folks in this town treat me so scurvily and talk about me so? It’s a toss-up who they talk worst about, me or the Carpetbaggers! I’ve minded my own business and haven’t done anything wrong and —”
“If you haven’t done anything wrong, it’s because you haven’t had the opportunity, and perhaps they dimly realize it.”
“Oh, do be serious! They make me so mad. All I’ve done is try to make a little money and —”
“All you’ve done is to be different from other women and you’ve made a little success at it. As I’ve told you before, that is the one unforgivable sin in any society. Be different and be damned! Scarlett, the mere fact that you’ve made a success of your mill is an insult to every man who hasn’t succeeded. Remember, a well-bred female’s place is in the home and she should know nothing about this busy, brutal world.”
“But if I had stayed in my home, I wouldn’t have had any home left to stay in.”
“The inference is that you should have starved genteelly and with pride.”
“Oh, fiddle-dee-dee! But look at Mrs. Merriwether. She’s selling pies to Yankees and that’s worse than running a sawmill, and Mrs. Elsing takes in sewing and keeps boarders, and Fanny paints awful-looking china things that nobody wants and everybody buys to help her and —”
“But you miss the point, my pet. They aren’t successful and so they aren’t affronting the hot Southern pride of their men folks. The men can still say, ‘Poor sweet sillies, how hard they try! Well, I’ll let them think they’re helping.’ And besides, the ladies you mentioned don’t enjoy having to work. They let it be known that they are only doing it until some man comes along to relieve them of their unwomanly burdens. And so everybody feels sorry for them. But obviously you do like to work and obviously you aren’t going to let any man tend to your business for you, and so no one can feel sorry for you. And Atlanta is never going to forgive you for that. It’s so pleasant to feel sorry for people.”
“I wish you’d be serious, sometimes.”
“Did you ever hear the Oriental proverb: ‘The dogs bark but the caravan passes on?’ Let them bark, Scarlett. I fear nothing will stop your caravan.”
“But why should they mind my making a little money?”
“You can’t have everything, Scarlett. You can either make money in your present unladylike manner and meet cold shoulders everywhere you go, or you can be poor and genteel and have lots of friends. You’ve made your choice.”
“I won’t be poor,” she said swiftly. “But — it is the right choice, isn’t it?”
“If it’s money you want most.”
“Yes, I want money more than anything else in the world.”
“Then you’ve made the only choice. But there’s a penalty attached, as there is to most things you want. It’s loneliness.”
That silenced her for a moment. It was true. When she stopped to think about it, she was a little lonely — lonely for feminine companionship. During the war years she had had Ellen to visit when she felt blue. And since Ellen’s death, there had always been Melanie, though she and Melanie had nothing in common except the hard work at Tara. Now there was no one, for Aunt Pitty had no conception of life beyond her small round of gossip.
“I think — I think,” she began hesitantly, “that I’ve always been lonely where women were concerned. It isn’t just my working that makes Atlanta ladies dislike me. They just don’t like me anyway. No woman ever really liked me, except Mother. Even my sisters. I don’t know why, but even before the war, even before I married Charlie, ladies didn’t seem to approve of anything I did —”
“You forget Mrs. Wilkes,” said Rhett and his eyes gleamed maliciously. “She has always approved of you up to the hilt. I daresay she’d approve of anything you did, short of murder.”
Scarlett thought grimly: “She’s even approved of murder,” and she laughed contemptuously.
“Oh, Melly!” she said, and then, ruefully: “It’s certainly not to my credit that Melly is the only woman who approves of me, for she hasn’t the sense of a guinea hen. If she had any sense —” She stopped in some confusion.
“If she had any sense, she’d realize a few things and she couldn’t approve,” Rhett finished. “Well, you know more about that than I do, of course.”
“Oh, damn your memory and your bad manners!”
“I’ll pass over your unjustified rudeness with the silence it deserves and return to our former subject. Make up your mind to this. If you are different, you are isolated, not only from people of your own age but from those of your parents’ generation and from your children’s generation too. They’ll never understand you and they’ll be shocked no matter what you do. But your grandparents would probably be proud of you and say: ‘There’s a chip off the old block,’ and your grandchildren will sigh enviously and say: ‘What an old rip Grandma must have been!’ and they’ll try to be like you.”
Scarlett laughed with amusement.
“Sometimes you do hit on the truth! Now there was my Grandma Robillard. Mammy used to hold her over my head whenever I was naughty. Grandma was as cold as an icicle and strict about her manners and everybody else’s manners, but she married three times and had any number of duels fought over her and she wore rouge and the most shockingly low-cut dresses and no — well, er — not much under her dresses.”
“And you admired her tremendously, for all that you tried to be like your mother! I had a grandfather on the Butler side who was a pirate.”
“Not really! A walk-the-plank kind?”
“I daresay he made people walk the plank if there was any money to be made that way. At any rate, he made enough money to leave my father quite wealthy. But the family always referred to him carefully as a ‘sea captain.’ He was killed in a saloon brawl long before I was born. His death was, needless to say, a great relief to his children, for the old gentleman was drunk most of the time and when in his cups was apt to forget that he was a retired sea captain and give reminiscences that curled his children’s hair. However, I admired him and tried to copy him far more than I ever did my father, for Father is an amiable gentleman full of honorable habits and pious saws — so you see how it goes. I’m sure your children won’t approve of you, Scarlett, any more than Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing and their broods approve of you now. Your children will probably be soft, prissy creatures, as the children of hard-bitten characters usually are. And to make them worse, you, like every other mother, are probably determined that they shall never know the hardships you’ve known. And that’s all wrong. Hardships make or break people. So you’ll have to wait for approval from your grandchildren.”
“I wonder what our grandchildren will be like!”
“Are you suggesting by that ‘our’ that you and I will have mutual grandchildren? Fie, Mrs. Kennedy!”
Scarlett, suddenly conscious of her error of speech, went red. It was more than his joking words that shamed her, for she was suddenly aware again of her thickening body. In no way had either of them ever hinted at her condition and she had always kept the lap robe high under her armpits when with him, even on warm days, comforting herself in the usual feminine manner with the belief that she did not show at all when thus covered, and she was suddenly sick with quick rage at her own condition and shame that he should know.
“You get out of this buggy, you dirty-minded varmit,” she said, her voice shaking.
“I’ll do nothing of the kind,” he returned calmly. “It’ll be dark before you get home and there’s a new colony of darkies living in tents and shanties near the next spring, mean niggers I’ve been told, and I see no reason why you should give the impulsive Ku Klux a cause for putting on their nightshirts and riding abroad this evening.”
“Get out!” she cried, tugging at the reins and suddenly nausea overwhelmed her. He stopped the horse quickly, passed her two clean handkerchiefs and held her head over the side of the buggy with some skill. The afternoon sun, slanting low through the newly leaved trees, spun sickeningly for a few moments in a swirl of gold and green. When the spell had passed, she put her head in her hands and cried from sheer mortification. Not only had she vomited before a man — in itself as horrible a contretemps as could overtake a woman — but by doing so, the humiliating fact of her pregnancy must now be evident. She felt that she could never look him in the face again. To have this happen with him, of all people, with Rhett who had no respect for women! She cried, expecting some coarse and jocular remark from him which she would never be able to forget.
“Don’t be a fool,” he said quietly. “And you are a fool, if you are crying for shame. Come, Scarlett, don’t be a child. Surely you must know that, not being blind, I knew you were pregnant.”
She said “Oh” in a stunned voice and tightened her fingers over her crimson face. The word itself horrified her. Frank always referred to her pregnancy embarrassedly as “your condition,” Gerald had been wont to say delicately “in the family way,” when he had to mention such matters, and ladies genteelly referred to pregnancy as being “in a fix.”
“You are a child if you thought I didn’t know, for all your smothering yourself under that hot lap robe. Of course, I knew. Why else do you think I’ve been —”
He stopped suddenly and a silence fell between them. He picked up the reins and clucked to the horse. He went on talking quietly and as his drawl fell pleasantly on her ears, some of the color faded from her down-tucked face.
“I didn’t think you could be so shocked, Scarlett. I thought you were a sensible person and I’m disappointed. Can it be possible that modesty still lingers in your breast? I’m afraid I’m not a gentleman to have mentioned the matter. And I know I’m not a gentleman, in view of the fact that pregnant women do not embarrass me as they should. I find it possible to treat them as normal creatures and not look at the ground or the sky or anywhere else in the universe except their waist lines — and then cast at them those furtive glances I’ve always thought the height of indecency. Why should I? It’s a perfectly normal state. The Europeans are far more sensible than we are. They compliment expectant mothers upon their expectations. While I wouldn’t advise going that far, still it’s more sensible than our way of trying to ignore it. It’s a normal state and women should be proud of it, instead of hiding behind closed doors as if they’d committed a crime.”
“Proud!” she cried in a strangled voice. “Proud — ugh!”
“Aren’t you proud to be having a child?”
“Oh dear God, no! I— I hate babies!”
“You mean — Frank’s baby.”
“No — anybody’s baby.”
For a moment she went sick again at this new error of speech, but his voice went on as easily as though he had not marked it.
“Then we’re different. I like babies.”
“You like them?” she cried, looking up, so startled at the statement that she forgot her embarrassment. “What a liar you are!”
“I like babies and I like little children, till they begin to grow up and acquire adult habits of thought and adult abilities to lie and cheat and be dirty. That can’t be news to you. You know I like Wade Hampton a lot, for all that he isn’t the boy he ought to be.”
That was true, thought Scarlett, suddenly marveling. He did seem to enjoy playing with Wade and often brought him presents.
“Now that we’ve brought this dreadful subject into the light and you admit that you expect a baby some time in the not too distant future, I’ll say something I’ve been wanting to say for weeks — two things. The first is that it’s dangerous for you to drive alone. You know it. You’ve been told it often enough. If you don’t care personally whether or not you are raped, you might consider the consequences. Because of your obstinacy, you may get yourself into a situation where your gallant fellow townsmen will be forced to avenge you by stringing up a few darkies. And that will bring the Yankees down on them and someone will probably get hanged. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps one of the reasons the ladies do not like you is that your conduct may cause the neck-stretching of their sons and husbands? And furthermore, if the Ku Klux handles many more negroes, the Yankees are going to tighten up on Atlanta in a way that will make Sherman’s conduct look angelic. I know what I’m talking about, for I’m hand in glove with the Yankees. Shameful to state, they treat me as one of them and I hear them talk openly. They mean to stamp out the Ku Klux if it means burning the whole town again and hanging every male over ten. That would hurt you, Scarlett. You might lose money. And there’s no telling where a prairie fire will stop, once it gets started. Confiscation of property, higher taxes, fines for suspected women — I’ve heard them all suggested. The Ku Klux —”
Do you know any Ku Klux? Is Tommy Wellburn or Hugh or —”
He shrugged impatiently.
“How should I know? I’m a renegade, a turncoat, a Scallawag. Would I be likely to know? But I do know men who are suspected by the Yankees and one false move from them and they are as good as hanged. While I know you would have no regrets at getting your neighbors on the gallows, I do believe you’d regret losing your mills. I see by the stubborn look on your face that you do not believe me and my words are falling on stony ground. So all I can say is, keep that pistol of yours handy — and when I’m in town, I’ll try to be on hand to drive you.”
“Rhett, do you really — is it to protect me that you —”
“Yes, my dear, it is my much advertised chivalry that makes me protect you.” The mocking light began to dance in his black eyes and all signs of earnestness fled from his face. “And why? Because of my deep love for you, Mrs. Kennedy. Yes, I have silently hungered and thirsted for you and worshipped you from afar; but being an honorable man, like Mr. Ashley Wilkes, I have concealed it from you. You are, alas, Frank’s wife and honor has forbidden my telling this to you. But even as Mr. Wilkes’ honor cracks occasionally, so mine is cracking now and I reveal my secret passion and my —”
“Oh, for God’s sake, hush!” interrupted Scarlett, annoyed as usual when he made her look like a conceited fool, and not caring to have Ashley and his honor become the subject of further conversation. “What was the other thing you wanted to tell me?”
“What! You change the subject when I am baring a loving but lacerated heart? Well, the other thing is this.” The mocking light died out of his eyes again and his face was dark and quiet.
“I want you to do something about this horse. He’s stubborn and he’s got a mouth as tough as iron. Tires you to drive him, doesn’t it? Well, if he chose to bolt, you couldn’t possibly stop him. And if you turned over in a ditch, it might kill your baby and you too. You ought to get the heaviest curb bit you can, or else let me swap him for a gentle horse with a more sensitive mouth.”
She looked up into his blank, smooth face and suddenly her irritation fell away, even as her embarrassment had disappeared after the conversation about her pregnancy. He had been kind, a few moments before, to put her at her ease when she was wishing that she were dead. And he was being kinder now and very thoughtful about the horse. She felt a rush of gratitude to him and she wondered why he could not always be this way.
“The horse is hard to drive,” she agreed meekly. “Sometimes my arms ache all night from tugging at him. You do what you think best about him, Rhett.”
His eyes sparkled wickedly.
“That sounds very sweet and feminine, Mrs. Kennedy. Not in your usual masterful vein at all. Well, it only takes proper handling to make a clinging vine out of you.”
She scowled and her temper came back.
“You will get out of this buggy this time, or I will hit you with the whip. I don’t know why I put up with you — why I try to be nice to you. You have no manners. You have no morals. You are nothing but a — Well, get out. I mean it.”
But when he had climbed down and untied his horse from the back of the buggy and stood in the twilight road, grinning tantalizingly at her, she could not smother her own grin as she drove off.
Yes, he was coarse, he was tricky, he was unsafe to have dealings with, and you never could tell when the dull weapon you put into his hands in an unguarded moment might turn into the keenest of blades. But, after all, he was as stimulating as — well, as a surreptitious glass of brandy!
During these months Scarlett had learned the use of brandy. When she came home in the late afternoons, damp from the rain, cramped and aching from long hours in the buggy, nothing sustained her except the thought of the bottle hidden in her top bureau drawer, locked against Mammy’s prying eyes. Dr. Meade had not thought to warn her that a woman in her condition should not drink, for it never occurred to him that a decent woman would drink anything stronger than scuppernong wine. Except, of course, a glass of champagne at a wedding or a hot toddy when confined to bed with a hard cold. Of course, there were unfortunate women who drank, to the eternal disgrace of their families, just as there were women who were insane or divorced or who believed, with Miss Susan B. Anthony, that women should have the vote. But as much as the doctor disapproved of Scarlett, he never suspected her of drinking.
Scarlett had found that a drink of neat brandy before supper helped immeasurably and she would always chew coffee or gargle cologne to disguise the smell. Why were people so silly about women drinking, when men could and did get reeling drunk whenever they wanted to? Sometimes when Frank lay snoring beside her and sleep would not come, when she lay tossing, torn with fears of poverty, dreading the Yankees, homesick for Tara and yearning for Ashley, she thought she would go crazy were it not for the brandy bottle. And when the pleasant familiar warmth stole through her veins, her troubles began to fade. After three drinks, she could always say to herself: “I’ll think of these things tomorrow when I can stand them better.”
But there were some nights when even brandy would not still the ache in her heart, the ache that was even stronger than fear of losing the mills, the ache to see Tara again. Atlanta, with its noises, its new buildings, its strange faces, its narrow streets crowded with horses and wagons and bustling crowds sometimes seemed to stifle her. She loved Atlanta but — oh, for the sweet peace and country quiet of Tara, the red fields and the dark pines about it! Oh, to be back at Tara, no matter how hard the life might be! And to be near Ashley, just to see him, to hear him speak, to be sustained by the knowledge of his love! Each letter from Melanie, saying that they were well, each brief note from Will reporting about the plowing, the planting, the growing of the cotton made her long anew to be home again.
I’ll go home in June. I can’t do anything here after that. I’ll go home for a couple of months, she thought, and her heart would rise. She did go home in June but not as she longed to go, for early in that month came a brief message from Will that Gerald was dead.