Gone with the wind (Chapter 42)
Scarlett’s child was a girl, a small bald-headed mite, ugly as a hairless monkey and absurdly like Frank. No one except the doting father could see anything beautiful about her, but the neighbors were charitable enough to say that all ugly babies turned out pretty, eventually. She was named Ella Lorena, Ella for her grandmother Ellen, and Lorena because it was the most fashionable name of the day for girls, even as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were popular for boys and Abraham Lincoln and Emancipation for negro children.
She was born in the middle of a week when frenzied excitement gripped Atlanta and the air was tense with expectation of disaster. A negro who had boasted of rape had actually been arrested, but before he could be brought to trial the jail had been raided by the Ku Klux Klan and he had been quietly hanged. The Klan had acted to save the as yet unnamed victim from having to testify in open court. Rather than have her appear and advertise her shame, her father and brother would have shot her, so lynching the negro seemed a sensible solution to the townspeople, in fact, the only decent solution possible. But the military authorities were in a fury. They saw no reason why the girl should mind testifying publicly.
The soldiers made arrests right and left, swearing to wipe out the Klan if they had to put every white man in Atlanta in jail. The negroes, frightened and sullen, muttered of retaliatory house burnings. The air was thick with rumors of wholesale hangings by the Yankees should the guilty parties be found and of a concerted uprising against the whites by the negroes. The people of the town stayed at home behind locked doors and shuttered windows, the men fearing to go to their businesses and leave their women and children unprotected.
Scarlett, lying exhausted in bed, feebly and silently thanked God that Ashley had too much sense to belong to the Klan and Frank was too old and poor spirited. How dreadful it would be to know that the Yankees might swoop down and arrest them at any minute! Why didn’t the crack-brained young fools in the Klan leave bad enough alone and not stir up the Yankees like this? Probably the girl hadn’t been raped after all. Probably she’d just been frightened silly and, because of her, a lot of men might lose their lives.
In this atmosphere, as nerve straining as watching a slow fuse burn toward a barrel of gunpowder, Scarlett came rapidly back to strength. The healthy vigor which had carried her through the hard days at Tara stood her in good stead now, and within two weeks of Ella Lorena’s birth she was strong enough to sit up and chafe at her inactivity. In three weeks she was up, declaring she had to see to the mills. They were standing idle because both Hugh and Ashley feared to leave their families alone all day.
Then the blow fell.
Frank, full of the pride of new fatherhood, summoned up courage enough to forbid Scarlett leaving the house while conditions were so dangerous. His commands would not have worried her at all and she would have gone about her business in spite of them, if he had not put her horse and buggy in the livery stable and ordered that they should not be surrendered to anyone except himself. To make matters worse, he and Mammy had patiently searched the house while she was ill and unearthed her hidden store of money. And Frank had deposited it in the bank in his own name, so now she could not even hire a rig.
Scarlett raged at both Frank and Mammy, then was reduced to begging and finally cried all one morning like a furious thwarted child. But for all her pains she heard only: “There, Sugar! You’re just a sick little girl.” And: “Miss Scarlett, ef you doan quit cahyin’ on so, you gwine sour yo’ milk an’ de baby have colic, sho as gun’s iron.”
In a furious temper, Scarlett charged through her back yard to Melanie’s house and there unburdened herself at the top of her voice, declaring she would walk to the mills, she would go about Atlanta telling everyone what a varmint she had married, she would not be treated like a naughty simple-minded child. She would carry a pistol and shoot anyone who threatened her. She had shot one man and she would love, yes, love to shoot another. She would —
Melanie who feared to venture onto her own front porch was appalled by such threats.
“Oh, you must not risk yourself! I should die if anything happened to you! Oh, please —”
“I will! I will! I will walk —”
Melanie looked at her and saw that this was not the hysteria of a woman still weak from childbirth. There was the same breakneck, headlong determination in Scarlett’s face that Melanie had often seen in Gerald O’Hara’s face when his mind was made up. She put her arms around Scarlett’s waist and held her tightly.
“It’s all my fault for not being brave like you and for keeping Ashley at home with me all this time when he should have been at the mill. Oh, dear! I’m such a ninny! Darling, I’ll tell Ashley I’m not a bit frightened and I’ll come over and stay with you and Aunt Pitty and he can go back to work and —”
Not even to herself would Scarlett admit that she did not think Ashley could cope with the situation alone and she shouted: “You’ll do nothing of the kind! What earthly good would Ashley do at work if he was worried about you every minute? Everybody is just so hateful! Even Uncle Peter refuses to go out with me! But I don’t care! I’ll go alone. I’ll walk every step of the way and pick up a crew of darkies somewhere —”
“Oh, no! You mustn’t do that! Something dreadful might happen to you. They say that Shantytown settlement on the Decatur road is just full of mean darkies and you’d have to pass right by it. Let me think — Darling, promise me you won’t do anything today and I’ll think of something. Promise me you’ll go home and lie down. You look right peaked. Promise me.”
Because she was too exhausted by her anger to do otherwise, Scarlett sulkily promised and went home, haughtily refusing any overtures of peace from her household.
That afternoon a strange figure stumped through Melanie’s hedge and across Pitty’s back yard. Obviously, he was one of those men whom Mammy and Dilcey referred to as “de riff-raff whut Miss Melly pick up off de streets an’ let sleep in her cellar.”
There were three rooms in the basement of Melanie’s house which formerly had been servants’ quarters and a wine room. Now Dilcey occupied one, and the other two were in constant use by a stream of miserable and ragged transients. No one but Melanie knew whence they came or where they were going and no one but she knew where she collected them. Perhaps the negroes were right and she did pick them up from the streets. But even as the great and the near great gravitated to her small parlor, so unfortunates found their way to her cellar where they were fed, bedded and sent on their way with packages of food. Usually the occupants of the rooms were former Confederate soldiers of the rougher, illiterate type, homeless men, men without families, beating their way about the country in hope of finding work.
Frequently, brown and withered country women with broods of tow-haired silent children spent the night there, women widowed by the war, dispossessed of their farms, seeking relatives who were scattered and lost. Sometimes the neighborhood was scandalized by the presence of foreigners, speaking little or no English, who had been drawn South by glowing tales of fortunes easily made. Once a Republican had slept there. At least, Mammy insisted he was a Republican, saying she could smell a Republican, same as a horse could smell a rattlesnake; but no one believed Mammy’s story, for there must be some limit even to Melanie’s charity. At least everyone hoped so.
Yes, thought Scarlett, sitting on the side porch in the pale November sunshine with the baby on her lap, he is one of Melanie’s lame dogs. And he’s really lame, at that!
The man who was making his way across the back yard stumped, like Will Benteen, on a wooden leg. He was a tall, thin old man with a bald head, which shone pinkishly dirty, and a grizzled beard so long he could tuck it in his belt. He was over sixty, to judge by his hard, seamed face, but there was no sag of age to his body. He was lank and ungainly but, even with his wooden peg, he moved as swiftly as a snake.
He mounted the steps and came toward her and, even before he spoke, revealing in his tones a twang and a burring of “r s” unusual in the lowlands, Scarlett knew that he was mountain born. For all his dirty, ragged clothes there was about him, as about most mountaineers, an air of fierce silent pride that permitted no liberties and tolerated no foolishness. His beard was stained with tobacco juice and a large wad in his jaw made his face look deformed. His nose was thin and craggy, his eyebrows bushy and twisted into witches’ locks and a lush growth of hair sprang from his ears, giving them the tufted look of a lynx’s ears. Beneath his brow was one hollow socket from which a scar ran down his cheek, carving a diagonal line through his beard. The other eye was small, pale and cold, an unwinking and remorseless eye. There was a heavy pistol openly in his trouser band and from the top of his tattered boot protruded the hilt of a bowie knife.
He returned Scarlett’s stare coldly and spat across the rail of the banister before he spoke. There was contempt in his one eye, not a personal contempt for her, but for her whole sex.
“Miz Wilkes sont me to work for you,” he said shortly. He spoke rustily, as one unaccustomed to speaking, the words coming slowly and almost with difficulty. “M’ name’s Archie.”
“I’m sorry but I have no work for you, Mr. Archie.”
“Archie’s m’fuss name.”
“I beg your pardon. What is your last name?”
He spat again. “I reckon that’s my bizness,” he said. “Archie’ll do.”
“I don’t care what your last name is! I have nothing for you to do.”
“I reckon you have. Miz Wilkes was upsot about yore wantin’ to run aroun’ like a fool by yoreself and she sont me over here to drive aroun’ with you.”
“Indeed?” cried Scarlett, indignant both at the man’s rudeness and Melly’s meddling.
His one eye met hers with an impersonal animosity. “Yes. A woman’s got no bizness botherin’ her men folks when they’re tryin’ to take keer of her. If you’re bound to gad about, I’ll drive you. I hates niggers — Yankees too.”
He shifted his wad of tobacco to the other cheek and, without waiting for an invitation, sat down on the top step. “I ain’t sayin’ I like drivin’ women aroun’, but Miz Wilkes been good to me, lettin’ me sleep in her cellar, and she sont me to drive you.”
“But —” began Scarlett helplessly and then she stopped and looked at him. After a moment she began to smile. She didn’t like the looks of this elderly desperado but his presence would simplify matters. With him beside her, she could go to town, drive to the mills, call on customers. No one could doubt her safety with him and his very appearance was enough to keep from giving rise to scandal.
“It’s a bargain,” she said. “That is, if my husband agrees.”
After a private conversation with Archie, Frank gave his reluctant approval and sent word to the livery stable to release the horse and buggy. He was hurt and disappointed that motherhood had not changed Scarlett as he had hoped it would but, if she was determined to go back to her damnable mills, then Archie was a godsend.
So began the relationship that at first startled Atlanta. Archie and Scarlett were a queerly assorted pair, the truculent dirty old man with his wooden peg sticking stiffly out over the dashboard and the pretty, neatly dressed young woman with forehead puckered in an abstracted frown. They could be seen at all hours and at all places in and near Atlanta, seldom speaking to each other, obviously disliking each other, but bound together by mutual need, he of money, she of protection. At least, said the ladies of the town, it’s better than riding around so brazenly with that Butler man. They wondered curiously where Rhett was these days, for he had abruptly left town three months before and no one, not even Scarlett, knew where he was.
Archie was a silent man, never speaking unless spoken to and usually answering with grunts. Every morning he came from Melanie’s cellar and sat on the front steps of Pitty’s house, chewing and spitting until Scarlett came out and Peter brought the buggy from the stable. Uncle Peter feared him only a little less than the devil or the Ku Klux and even Mammy walked silently and timorously around him. He hated negroes and they knew it and feared him. He reinforced his pistol and knife with another pistol, and his fame spread far among the black population. He never once had to draw a pistol or even lay his hand on his belt. The moral effect was sufficient. No negro dared even laugh while Archie was in hearing.
Once Scarlett asked him curiously why he hated negroes and was surprised when he answered, for generally all questions were answered by “I reckon that’s my bizness.”
“I hates them, like all mountain folks hates them. We never liked them and we never owned none. It was them niggers that started the war. I hates them for that, too.”
“But you fought in the war.”
“I reckon that’s a man’s privilege. I hates Yankees too, more’n I hates niggers. Most as much as I hates talkative women.”
It was such outspoken rudeness as this that threw Scarlett into silent furies and made her long to be rid of him. But how could she do without him? In what other way could she obtain such freedom? He was rude and dirty and, occasionally, very odorous but he served his purpose. He drove her to and from the mills and on her round of customers, spitting and staring off into space while she talked and gave orders. If she climbed down from the buggy, he climbed after her and dogged her footsteps. When she was among rough laborers, negroes or Yankee soldiers, he was seldom more than a pace from her elbow.
Soon Atlanta became accustomed to seeing Scarlett and her bodyguard and, from being accustomed, the ladies grew to envy her her freedom of movement. Since the Ku Klux lynching, the ladies had been practically immured, not even going to town to shop unless there were half a dozen in their group. Naturally social minded, they became restless and, putting their pride in their pockets, they began to beg the loan of Archie from Scarlett. And whenever she did not need him, she was gracious enough to spare him for the use of other ladies.
Soon Archie became an Atlanta institution and the ladies competed for his free time. There was seldom a morning when a child or a negro servant did not arrive at breakfast time with a note saying: “If you aren’t using Archie this afternoon, do let me have him. I want to drive to the cemetery with flowers.” “I must go to the milliners.” “I should like Archie to drive Aunt Nelly for an airing.” “I must go calling on Peters Street and Grandpa is not feeling well enough to take me. Could Archie —”
He drove them all, maids, matrons and widows, and toward all he evidenced the same uncompromising contempt. It was obvious that he did not like women, Melanie excepted, any better than he liked negroes and Yankees. Shocked at first by his rudeness, the ladies finally became accustomed to him and, as he was so silent, except for intermittent explosions of tobacco juice, they took him as much for granted as the horses he drove and forgot his very existence. In fact, Mrs. Merriwether related to Mrs. Meade the complete details of her niece’s confinement before she even remembered Archie’s presence on the front seat of the carriage.
At no other time than this could such a situation have been possible. Before the war, he would not have been permitted even in the ladies’ kitchens. They would have handed him food through the back door and sent him about his business. But now they welcomed his reassuring presence. Rude, illiterate, dirty, he was a bulwark between the ladies and the terrors of Reconstruction. He was neither friend nor servant. He was a hired bodyguard, protecting the women while their men worked by day or were absent from home at night.
It seemed to Scarlett that after Archie came to work for her Frank was away at night very frequently. He said the books at the store had to be balanced and business was brisk enough now to give him little time to attend to this in working hours. And there were sick friends with whom he had to sit. Then there was the organization of Democrats who forgathered every Wednesday night to devise ways of regaining the ballot and Frank never missed a meeting. Scarlett thought this organization did little else except argue the merits of General John B. Gordon over every other general, except General Lee, and refight the war. Certainly she could observe no progress in the direction of the recovery of the ballot. But Frank evidently enjoyed the meetings for he stayed out until all hours on those nights.
Ashley also sat up with the sick and he, too, attended the Democratic meetings and he was usually away on the same nights as Frank. On these nights, Archie escorted Pitty, Scarlett, Wade and little Ella though the back yard to Melanie’s house and the two families spent the evenings together. The ladies sewed while Archie lay full length on the parlor sofa snoring, his gray whiskers fluttering at each rumble. No one had invited him to dispose himself on the sofa and as it was the finest piece of furniture in the house, the ladies secretly moaned every time he lay down on it, planting his boot on the pretty upholstery. But none of them had the courage to remonstrate with him. Especially after he remarked that it was lucky he went to sleep easy, for otherwise the sound of women clattering like a flock of guinea hens would certainly drive him crazy.
Scarlett sometimes wondered where Archie had come from and what his life had been before he came to live in Melly’s cellar but she asked no questions. There was that about his grim one-eyed face which discouraged curiosity. All she knew was that his voice bespoke the mountains to the north and that he had been in the army and had lost both leg and eye shortly before the surrender. It was words spoken in a fit of anger against Hugh Elsing which brought out the truth of Archie’s past.
One morning, the old man had driven her to Hugh’s mill and she had found it idle, the negroes gone and Hugh sitting despondently under a tree. His crew had not made their appearance that morning and he was at a loss as to what to do. Scarlett was in a furious temper and did not scruple to expend it on Hugh, for she had just received an order for a large amount of lumber — a rush order at that. She had used energy and charm and bargaining to get that order and now the mill was quiet.
“Drive me out to the other mill,” she directed Archie. “Yes, I know it’ll take a long time and we won’t get any dinner but what am I paying you for? I’ll have to make Mr. Wilkes stop what he’s doing and run me off this lumber. Like as not, his crew won’t be working either. Great balls of fire! I never saw such a nincompoop as Hugh Elsing! I’m going to get rid of him just as soon as that Johnnie Gallegher finishes the stores he’s building. What do I care if Gallegher was in the Yankee Army? He’ll work. I never saw a lazy Irishman yet. And I’m through with free issue darkies. You just can’t depend on them. I’m going to get Johnnie Gallegher and lease me some convicts. He’ll get work out of them. He’ll —”
Archie turned to her, his eye malevolent, and when he spoke there was cold anger in his rusty voice.
“The day you gits convicts is the day I quits you,” he said.
Scarlett was startled. “Good heavens! Why?”
“I knows about convict leasin’. I calls it convict murderin’. Buyin’ men like they was mules. Treatin’ them worse than mules ever was treated. Beatin’ them, starvin’ them, killin’ them. And who cares? The State don’t care. It’s got the lease money. The folks that gits the convicts, they don’t care. All they want is to feed them cheap and git all the work they can out of them. Hell, Ma’m. I never thought much of women and I think less of them now.”
“Is it any of your business?”
“I reckon,” said Archie laconically and, after a pause, “I was a convict for nigh on to forty years.”
Scarlett gasped, and, for a moment, shrank back against the cushions. This then was the answer to the riddle of Archie, his unwillingness to tell his last name or the place of his birth or any scrap of his past life, the answer to the difficulty with which he spoke and his cold hatred of the world. Forty years! He must have gone into prison a young man. Forty years! Why — he must have been a life prisoner and lifers were —
“Was it — murder?”
“Yes,” answered Archie briefly, as he flapped the reins. “M’ wife.”
Scarlett’s eyelids batted rapidly with fright.
The mouth beneath the beard seemed to move, as if he were smiling grimly at her fear. “I ain’t goin’ to kill you, Ma’m, if that’s what’s frettin’ you. Thar ain’t but one reason for killin’ a woman.”
“You killed your wife!”
“She was layin’ with my brother. He got away. I ain’t sorry none that I kilt her. Loose women ought to be kilt. The law ain’t got no right to put a man in jail for that but I was sont.”
“But — how did you get out? Did you escape? Were you pardoned?”
“You might call it a pardon.” His thick gray brows writhed together as though the effort of stringing words together was difficult.
“‘Long in ‘sixty-four when Sherman come through, I was at Milledgeville jail, like I had been for forty years. And the warden he called all us prisoners together and he says the Yankees are a-comin’ a-burnin’ and a-killin’. Now if thar’s one thing I hates worse than a nigger or a woman, it’s a Yankee.”
“Why? Had you — Did you ever know any Yankees?”
“No’m. But I’d hearn tell of them. I’d hearn tell they couldn’t never mind their own bizness. I hates folks who can’t mind their own bizness. What was they doin’ in Georgia, freein’ our niggers and burnin’ our houses and killin’ our stock? Well, the warden he said the army needed more soldiers bad, and any of us who’d jine up would be free at the end of the war — if we come out alive. But us lifers — us murderers, the warden he said the army didn’t want us. We was to be sont somewheres else to another jail. But I said to the warden I ain’t like most lifers. I’m just in for killin’ my wife and she needed killin’. And I wants to fight the Yankees. And the warden he saw my side of it and he slipped me out with the other prisoners.”
He paused and grunted.
“Huh. That was right funny. They put me in jail for killin’ and they let me out with a gun in my hand and a free pardon to do more killin’. It shore was good to be a free man with a rifle in my hand again. Us men from Milledgeville did good fightin’ and killin’— and a lot of us was kilt. I never knowed one who deserted. And when the surrender come, we was free. I lost this here leg and this here eye. But I ain’t sorry.”
“Oh,” said Scarlett, weakly.
She tried to remember what she had heard about the releasing of the Milledgeville convicts in that last desperate effort to stem the tide of Sherman’s army. Frank had mentioned it that Christmas of 1864. What had he said? But her memories of that time were too chaotic. Again she felt the wild terror of those days, heard the siege guns, saw the line of wagons dripping blood into the red roads, saw the Home Guard marching off, the little cadets and the children like Phil Meade and the old men like Uncle Henry and Grandpa Merriwether. And the convicts had marched out too, to die in the twilight of the Confederacy, to freeze in the snow and sleet of that last campaign in Tennessee.
For a brief moment she thought what a fool this old man was, to fight for a state which had taken forty years from his life. Georgia had taken his youth and his middle years for a crime that was no crime to him, yet he had freely given a leg and an eye to Georgia. The bitter words Rhett had spoken in the early days of the war came back to her, and she remembered him saying he would never fight for a society that had made him an outcast. But when the emergency had arisen he had gone off to fight for that same society, even as Archie had done. It seemed to her that all Southern men, high or low, were sentimental fools and cared less for their hides than for words which had no meaning.
She looked at Archie’s gnarled old hands, his two pistols and his knife, and fear pricked her again. Were there other ex-convicts at large, like Archie, murderers, desperadoes, thieves, pardoned for their crimes, in the name of the Confederacy? Why, any stranger on the street might be a murderer! If Frank ever learned the truth about Archie, there would be the devil to pay. Or if Aunt Pitty — but the shock would kill Pitty. And as for Melanie — Scarlett almost wished she could tell Melanie the truth about Archie. It would serve her right for picking up trash and foisting it off on her friends and relatives.
“I’m — I’m glad you told me, Archie. I— I won’t tell anyone. It would be a great shock to Mrs. Wilkes and the other ladies if they knew.”
“Huh. Miz Wilkes knows. I told her the night she fuss let me sleep in her cellar. You don’t think I’d let a nice lady like her take me into her house not knowin’?”
“Saints preserve us!” cried Scarlet, aghast.
Melanie knew this man was a murderer and a woman murderer at that and she hadn’t ejected him from her house. She had trusted her son with him and her aunt and sister-inlaw and all her friends. And she, the most timid of females, had not been frightened to be alone with him in her house.
“Miz Wilkes is right sensible, for a woman. She ‘lowed that I was all right. She ‘lowed that a liar allus kept on lyin’ and a thief kept on stealin’ but folks don’t do more’n one murder in a lifetime. And she reckoned as how anybody who’d fought for the Confederacy had wiped out anything bad they’d done. Though I don’t hold that I done nothin’ bad, killin’ my wife. . . . Yes, Miz Wilkes is right sensible, for a woman. . . . And I’m tellin’ you, the day you leases convicts is the day I quits you.”
Scarlett made no reply but she thought,
“The sooner you quit me the better it will suit me. A murderer!”
How could Melly have been so — so — Well, there was no word for Melanie’s action in taking in this old ruffian and not telling her friends he was a jailbird. So service in the army wiped out past sins! Melanie had that mixed up with baptism! But then Melly was utterly silly about the Confederacy, its veterans, and anything pertaining to them. Scarlett silently damned the Yankees and added another mark on her score against them. They were responsible for a situation that forced a woman to keep a murderer at her side to protect her.
Driving home with Archie in the chill twilight, Scarlett saw a clutter of saddle horses, buggies and wagons outside the Girl of the Period Saloon. Ashley was sitting on his horse, a strained alert look on his face; the Simmons boys were leaning from their buggy, making emphatic gestures; Hugh Elsing, his lock of brown hair falling in his eyes, was waving his hands. Grandpa Merriwether’s pie wagon was in the center of the tangle and, as she came closer, Scarlett saw that Tommy Wellburn and Uncle Henry Hamilton were crowded on the seat with him.
“I wish,” thought Scarlett irritably, “that Uncle Henry wouldn’t ride home in that contraption. He ought to be ashamed to be seen in it. It isn’t as though he didn’t have a horse of his own. He just does it so he and Grandpa can go to the saloon together every night.”
As she came abreast the crowd something of their tenseness reached her, insensitive though she was, and made fear clutch at her heart.
“Oh!” she thought. “I hope no one else has been raped! If the Ku Klux lynch just one more darky the Yankees will wipe us out!” And she spoke to Archie. “Pull up. Something’s wrong.”
“You ain’t goin’ to stop outside a saloon,” said Archie.
“You heard me. Pull up. Good evening, everybody. Ashley — Uncle Henry — is something wrong? You all look so —”
The crowd turned to her, tipping their hats and smiling, but there was a driving excitement in their eyes.
“Something’s right and something’s wrong,” barked Uncle Henry. “Depends on how you look at it. The way I figure is the legislature couldn’t have done different.”
The legislature? thought Scarlett in relief. She had little interest in the legislature, feeling that its doings could hardly affect her. It was the prospect of the Yankee soldiers on a rampage again that frightened her.
“What’s the legislature been up to now?”
“They’ve flatly refused to ratify the amendment,” said Grandpa Merriwether and there was pride in his voice. “That’ll show the Yankees.”
“And there’ll be hell to pay for it — I beg your pardon, Scarlett,” said Ashley.
“Oh, the amendment?” questioned Scarlett, trying to look intelligent.
Politics were beyond her and she seldom wasted time thinking about them. There had been a Thirteenth Amendment ratified sometime before or maybe it had been the Sixteenth Amendment but what ratification meant she had no idea. Men were always getting excited about such things. Something of her lack of comprehension showed in her face and Ashley smiled.
“It’s the amendment letting the darkies vote, you know,” he explained. “It was submitted to the legislature and they refused to ratify it.”
“How silly of them! You know the Yankees are going to force it down our throats!”
“That’s what I meant by saying there’d be hell to pay,” said Ashley.
“I’m proud of the legislature, proud of their gumption!” shouted Uncle Henry. “The Yankees can’t force it down our throats if we won’t have it.”
“They can and they will.” Ashley’s voice was calm but there was worry in his eyes. “And it’ll make things just that much harder for us.”
“Oh, Ashley, surely not! Things couldn’t be any harder than they are now!”
“Yes, things can get worse, even worse than they are now. Suppose we have a darky legislature? A darky governor? Suppose we have a worse military rule than we now have?”
Scarlett’s eyes grew large with fear as some understanding entered her mind.
“I’ve been trying to think what would be best for Georgia, best for all of us.” Ashley’s face was drawn. “Whether it’s wisest to fight this thing like the legislature has done, rouse the North against us and bring the whole Yankee Army on us to cram the darky vote down us, whether we want it or not. Or — swallow our pride as best we can, submit gracefully and get the whole matter over with as easily as possible. It will amount to the same thing in the end. We’re helpless. We’ve got to take the dose they’re determined to give us. Maybe it would be better for us to take it without kicking.”
Scarlett hardly heard his words, certainly their full import went over her head. She knew that Ashley, as usual, was seeing both sides of a question. She was seeing only one side — how this slap in the Yankees’ faces might affect her.
“Going to turn Radical and vote the Republican ticket, Ashley?” jeered Grandpa Merriwether harshly.
There was a tense silence. Scarlett saw Archie’s hand make a swift move toward his pistol and then stop. Archie thought, and frequently said, that Grandpa was an old bag of wind and Archie had no intention of letting him insult Miss Melanie’s husband, even if Miss Melanie’s husband was talking like a fool.
The perplexity vanished suddenly from Ashley’s eyes and hot anger flared. But before he could speak, Uncle Henry charged Grandpa.
“You God — you blast — I beg your pardon, Scarlett — Grandpa, you jackass, don’t you say that to Ashley!”
“Ashley can take care of himself without you defending him,” said Grandpa coldly. “And he is talking like a Scallawag. Submit, hell! I beg your pardon, Scarlett.”
“I didn’t believe in secession,” said Ashley and his voice shook with anger. “But when Georgia seceded, I went with her. And I didn’t believe in war but I fought in the war. And I don’t believe in making the Yankees madder than they already are. But if the legislature has decided to do it, I’ll stand by the legislature. I—”
“Archie,” said Uncle Henry abruptly, “drive Miss Scarlett on home. This isn’t any place for her. Politics aren’t for women folks anyway, and there’s going to be cussing in a minute. Go on, Archie. Good night, Scarlett.”
As they drove off down Peachtree Street, Scarlett’s heart was beating fast with fear. Would this foolish action of the legislature have any effect on her safety? Would it so enrage the Yankees that she might lose her mills?
“Well, sir,” rumbled Archie, “I’ve hearn tell of rabbits spittin’ in bulldogs’ faces but I ain’t never seen it till now. Them legislatures might just as well have hollered ‘Hurray for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy’ for all the good it’ll do them — and us. Them nigger-lovin’ Yankees have made up their mind to make the niggers our bosses. But you got to admire them legislatures’ sperrit!”
“Admire them? Great balls of fire! Admire them? They ought to be shot! It’ll bring the Yankees down on us like a duck on a June bug. Why couldn’t they have rati — radi — whatever they were supposed to do to it and smoothed the Yankees down instead of stirring them up again? They’re going to make us knuckle under and we may as well knuckle now as later.”
Archie fixed her with a cold eye.
“Knuckle under without a fight? Women ain’t got no more pride than goats.”
When Scarlett leased ten convicts, five for each of her mills, Archie made good his threat and refused to have anything further to do with her. Not all Melanie’s pleading or Frank’s promises of higher pay would induce him to take up the reins again. He willingly escorted Melanie and Pitty and India and their friends about the town but not Scarlett. He would not even drive for the other ladies if Scarlett was in the carriage. It was an embarrassing situation, having the old desperado sitting in judgment upon her, and it was still more embarrassing to know that her family and friends agreed with the old man.
Frank pleaded with her against taking the step. Ashley at first refused to work convicts and was persuaded, against his will, only after tears and supplications and promises that when times were better she would hire free darkies. Neighbors were so outspoken in their disapproval that Frank, Pitty and Melanie found it hard to hold up their heads. Even Peter and Mammy declared that it was bad luck to work convicts and no good would come of it. Everyone said it was wrong to take advantage of the miseries and misfortunes of others.
“You didn’t have any objections to working slaves!” Scarlett cried indignantly.
Ah, but that was different. Slaves were neither miserable nor unfortunate. The negroes were far better off under slavery than they were now under freedom, and if she didn’t believe it, just look about her! But, as usual, opposition had the effect of making Scarlett more determined on her course. She removed Hugh from the management of the mill, put him to driving a lumber wagon and closed the final details of hiring Johnnie Gallegher.
He seemed to be the only person she knew who approved of the convicts. He nodded his bullet head briefly and said it was a smart move. Scarlett, looking at the little ex-jockey, planted firmly on his short bowed legs, his gnomish face hard and businesslike, thought: “Whoever let him ride their horses didn’t care much for horse flesh. I wouldn’t let him get within ten feet of any horse of mine.”
But she had no qualms in trusting him with a convict gang.
“And I’m to have a free hand with the gang?” he questioned, his eyes as cold as gray agates.
“A free hand. All I ask is that you keep that mill running and deliver my lumber when I want it and as much as I want.”
“I’m your man,” said Johnnie shortly. “I’ll tell Mr. Wellburn I’m leaving him.”
As he rolled off through the crowd of masons and carpenters and hod carriers Scarlett felt relieved and her spirits rose. Johnnie was indeed her man. He was tough and hard and there was no nonsense about him. “Shanty Irish on the make,” Frank had contemptuously called him, but for that very reason Scarlett valued him. She knew that an Irishman with a determination to get somewhere was a valuable man to have, regardless of what his personal characteristics might be. And she felt a closer kinship with him than with many men of her own class, for Johnnie knew the value of money.
The first week he took over the mill he justified all her hopes, for he accomplished more with five convicts than Hugh had ever done with his crew of ten free negroes. More than that, he gave Scarlett greater leisure than she had had since she came to Atlanta the year before, because he had no liking for her presence at the mill and said so frankly.
“You tend to your end of selling and let me tend to my end of lumbering,” he said shortly. “A convict camp ain’t any place for a lady and if nobody else’ll tell you so, Johnnie Gallegher’s telling you now. I’m delivering your lumber, ain’t I? Well, I’ve got no notion to be pestered every day like Mr. Wilkes. He needs pestering. I don’t.”
So Scarlett reluctantly stayed away from Johnnie’s mill, fearing that if she came too often he might quit and that would be ruinous. His remark that Ashley needed pestering stung her, for there was more truth in it than she liked to admit. Ashley was doing little better with convicts than he had done with free labor, although why, he was unable to tell. Moreover, he looked as if he were ashamed to be working convicts and he had little to say to her these days.
Scarlett was worried by the change that was coming over him. There were gray hairs in his bright head now and a tired slump in his shoulders. And he seldom smiled. He no longer looked the debonaire Ashley who had caught her fancy so many years before. He looked like a man secretly gnawed by a scarcely endurable pain and there was a grim tight look about his mouth that baffled and hurt her. She wanted to drag his head fiercely down on her shoulder, stroke the graying hair and cry: “Tell me what’s worrying you! I’ll fix it! I’ll make it right for you!”
But his formal, remote air kept her at arm’s length.