It was ten o’clock in the morning. The day was warm for April and the golden sunlight streamedbrilliantly into Scarlett’s room through the blue curtains of the wide windows. The cream-coloredwalls glowed with light and the depths of the mahogany furniture gleamed deep red like wine,while the floor glistened as if it were glass, except where the rag rugs covered it and they werespots of gay color.
Already summer was in the air, the first hint of Georgia summer when the high tide of spring givesway reluctantly before a fiercer heat. A balmy, soft warmth poured into the room, heavy withvelvety smells, redolent of many blossoms, of newly fledged trees and of the moist, freshly turnedred earth. Through the window Scarlett could see the bright riot of the twin lanes of daffodilsbordering the graveled driveway and the golden masses of yellow jessamine spreading flowerysprangles modestly to the earth like crinolines. The mockingbirds and the jays, engaged in their oldfeud for possession of the magnolia tree beneath her window, were bickering, the jays strident,acrimonious, the mockers sweet voiced and plaintive.
Such a glowing morning usually called Scarlett to the window, to lean arms on the broad sill anddrink in the scents and sounds of Tara. But, today she had no eye for sun or azure sky beyond ahasty thought, “Thank God, it isn’t raining.” On the bed lay the apple-green, watered-silk ball dresswith its festoons of ecru lace, neatly packed in a large cardboard box. It was ready to be carried toTwelve Oaks to be donned before the dancing began, but Scarlett shrugged at the sight of it. If herplans were successful, she would not wear that dress tonight. Long before the ball began, she andAshley would be on their way to Jonesboro to be married. The troublesome question was — whatdress should she wear to the barbecue?
What dress would best set off her charms and make her most irresistible to Ashley? Since eighto’clock she had been trying on and rejecting dresses, and now she stood dejected and irritable inlace pantalets, linen corset cover and three billowing lace and linen petticoats. Discarded garmentslay about her on the floor, the bed, the chairs, in bright heaps of color and straying ribbons.
The rose organdie with long pink sash was becoming, but she had worn it last summer whenMelanie visited Twelve Oaks and she’d be sure to remember it. And might be catty enough tomention it. The black bombazine, with its puffed sleeves and princess lace collar, set off her whiteskin superbly, but it did make her look a trifle elderly. Scarlett peered anxiously in the mirror at hersixteen-year-old face as if expecting to see wrinkles and sagging chin muscles. It would never do toappear sedate and elderly before Melanie’s sweet youthfulness. The lavender barred muslin wasbeautiful with those wide insets of lace and net about the hem, but it had never suited her type. Itwould suit Carreen’s delicate profile and wishy-washy expression perfectly, but Scarlett felt that itmade her look like a schoolgirl. It would never do to appear schoolgirlish beside Melanie’s poisedself. The green plaid taffeta, frothing with flounces and each flounce edged in green velvet ribbon,was most becoming, in fact her favorite dress, for it darkened her eyes to emerald. But there wasunmistakably a grease spot on the front of the basque. Of course, her brooch could be pinned overthe spot, but perhaps Melanie had sharp eyes. There remained varicolored cotton dresses whichScarlett felt were not festive enough for the occasion, ball dresses and the green sprigged muslinshe had worn yesterday. But it was an afternoon dress. It was not suitable for a barbecue, for ithad only tiny puffed sleeves and the neck was low enough for a dancing dress. But there wasnothing else to do but wear it. After all she was not ashamed of her neck and arms and bosom,even if it was not correct to show them in the morning.
As she stood before the mirror and twisted herself about to get a side view, she thought that therewas absolutely nothing about her figure to cause her shame. Her neck was short but rounded andher arms plump and enticing. Her breasts, pushed high by her stays, were very nice breasts. Shehad never had to sew tiny rows of silk ruffles in the lining of her basques, as most sixteen-year-oldgirls did, to give their figures the desired curves and fullness. She was glad she had inheritedEllen’s slender white hands and tiny feet, and she wished she had Ellen’s height, too, but her ownheight pleased her very well. What a pity legs could not be shown, she thought, pulling up herpetticoats and regretfully viewing them, plump and neat under pantalets. She had such nice legs.Even the girls at the Fayetteville Academy had admitted as much. And as for her waist — there wasno one in Fayetteville, Jonesboro or in three counties, for that matter, who had so small a waist.
The thought of her waist brought her back to practical matters. The green muslin measuredseventeen inches about the waist, and Mammy had laced her for the eighteen-inch bombazine.Mammy would have to lace her tighter. She pushed open the door, listened and heard Mammy’sheavy tread in the downstairs hall. She shouted for her impatiently, knowing she could raise hervoice with impunity, as Ellen was in the smokehouse, measuring out the day’s food to Cookie.
“Some folks thinks as how Ah kin fly,” grumbled Mammy, shuffling up the stairs. She enteredpuffing, with the expression of one who expects battle and welcomes it. In her large black handswas a tray upon which food smoked, two large yams covered with butter, a pile of buckwheatcakes dripping syrup, and a large slice of ham swimming in gravy. Catching sight of Mammy’sburden, Scarlett’s expression changed from one of minor irritation to obstinate belligerency. In theexcitement of trying on dresses she had forgotten Mammy’s ironclad rule that, before going to anyparty, the O’Hara girls must be crammed so full of food at home they would be unable to eat anyrefreshments at the party.
“It’s no use. I won’t eat it. You can just take it back to the kitchen.”
Mammy set the tray on the table and squared herself, hands on hips.
“Yas’m, you is! Ah ain’ figgerin’ on havin’ happen whut happen at dat las’ barbecue w’en Ah wuztoo sick frum dem chittlins Ah et ter fetch you no tray befo’ you went. You is gwine eat eve’y bite ofdis.”
“I am not! Now, come here and lace me tighter because we are late already. I heard the carriagecome round to the front of the house.”
Mammy’s tone became wheedling.
“Now, Miss Scarlett, you be good an’ come eat jes’a lil. Miss Carreen an’ Miss Suellen done eat alldey’n.”
“They would,” said Scarlett contemptuously. “They haven’t any more spirit than a rabbit. But Iwon’t! I’m through with trays. I’m not forgetting the time I ate a whole tray and went to theCalverts’ and they had ice cream out of ice they’d brought all the way from Savannah, and I couldn’teat but a spoonful. I’m going to have a good time today and eat as much as I please.”
At this defiant heresy, Mammy’s brow lowered with indignation. What a young miss could do andwhat she could not do were as different as black and white in Mammy’s mind; there was no middleground of deportment between. Suellen and Carreen were clay in her powerful hands andharkened respectfully to her warning. But it had always been a struggle to teach Scarlett that mostof her natural impulses were unladylike. Mammy’s victories over Scarlett were hard-won andrepresented guile unknown to the white mind.
“Ef you doan care ‘bout how folks talks ‘bout dis fainbly, Ah does,” she rumbled. “Ah ain’ gwinestand by an’ have eve’ybody at de pahty sayin’ how you ain’ fotched up right. Ah has tole you an’tole you dat you kin allus tell a lady by dat she eat lak a bird. An’ Ah ain’ aimin’ ter have you go terMist’ Wilkes’ an’ eat lak a fe’el han’ an’ gobble lak a hawg.”
“Mother is a lady and she eats,” countered Scarlett.
“W’en you is mahied, you kin eat, too,” retorted Mammy. “W’en Miss Ellen yo’ age, she never etnuthin’ w’en she went out, an’ needer yo’ Aunt Pauline nor yo’ Aunt Eulalie. An’ dey all donemahied. Young misses whut eats heavy mos’ gener’ly doan never ketch husbands.”
“I don’t believe it. At that barbecue when you were sick and I didn’t eat beforehand, Ashley Wilkestold me he LIKED to see a girl with a healthy appetite.”
Mammy shook her head ominously.
“Whut gempmums says an’ whut dey thinks is two diffunt things. An’ Ah ain’ noticed Mist’ Ashleyaxing fer ter mahy you.”
Scarlett scowled, started to speak sharply and then caught herself. Mammy had her there andthere was no argument. Seeing the obdurate look on Scarlett’s face, Mammy picked up the trayand, with the bland guile of her race, changed her tactics. As she started for the door, she sighed.
“Well’m, awright. Ah wuz tellin’ Cookie w’ile she wuz a-fixin’ dis tray. ‘You kin sho tell a lady by whutshe DOAN eat,’ an’ Ah say ter Cookie. ‘Ah ain’ seed no w’ite lady who et less’n Miss Melly Hamiltondid las’ time she wuz visitin’ Mist’ Ashley’— Ah means, visitin’ Miss India.”
Scarlett shot a look of sharp suspicion at her, but Mammy’s broad face carried only a look ofinnocence and of regret that Scarlett was not the lady Melanie Hamilton was.
“Put down that tray and come lace me tighter,” said Scarlett irritably. “And I’ll try to eat a littleafterwards. If I ate now I couldn’t lace tight enough.”
Cloaking her triumph, Mammy set down the tray.
“Whut mah lamb gwine wear?”
“That,” answered Scarlett, pointing at the fluffy mass of green flowered muslin. Instantly Mammywas in arms.
“No, you ain’. It ain’ fittin’ fer mawnin’. You kain show yo’ buzzum befo’ three o’clock an’ dat dressain’ got no neck an’ no sleeves. An’ you’ll git freckled sho as you born, an’ Ah ain’ figgerin’ on yougittin’ freckled affer all de buttermilk Ah been puttin’ on you all dis winter, bleachin’ dem freckles yougot at Savannah settin’ on de beach. Ah sho gwine speak ter yo’ Ma ‘bout you.”
“If you say one word to her before I’m dressed I won’t eat a bite,” said Scarlett coolly. “Motherwon’t have time to send me back to change once I’m dressed.”
Mammy sighed resignedly, beholding herself outguessed. Between the two evils, it was better tohave Scarlett wear an afternoon dress at a morning barbecue than to have her gobble like a hog.
“Hole onter sumpin’ an’ suck in yo’ breaf,” she commanded.
Scarlett obeyed, bracing herself and catching firm hold of one of the bedposts. Mammy pulled andjerked vigorously and, as the tiny circumference of whalebone-girdled waist grew smaller, a proud,fond look came into her eyes.
“Ain’ nobody got a wais’ lak mah lamb,” she said approvingly. “Eve’y time Ah pulls Miss Suellen littlerdan twenty inches, she up an’ faint.”
“Pooh!” gasped Scarlctt, speaking with difficulty. “I never fainted in my life.”
“Well, ‘twouldn’ do no hahm ef you wuz ter faint now an’ den,” advised Mammy. “You is so brashsometimes, Miss Scarlett. Ah been aimin’ ter tell you, it jes’ doan look good de way you doan faint‘bout snakes an’ mouses an’ sech. Ah doan mean round home but w’en you is out in comp’ny. An’Ah has tole you an’—”
“Oh, hurry! Don’t talk so much. I’ll catch a husband. See if I don’t, even if I don’t scream and faint.Goodness, but my stays are tight! Put on the dress.”
Mammy carefully dropped the twelve yards of green sprigged muslin over the mountainouspetticoats and hooked up the back of the tight, low-cut basque.
“You keep yo’ shawl on yo’ shoulders w’en you is in de sun, an’ doan you go takin’ off yo’ hat w’enyou is wahm,” she commanded. “Elsewise you be comin’ home lookin’ brown lak Ole Miz Slattery.Now, you come eat, honey, but doan eat too fas’. No use havin’ it come right back up agin.”
Scarlett obediently sat down before the tray, wondering if she would be able to get any food intoher stomach and still have room to breathe. Mammy plucked a large towel from the washstand andcarefully tied it around Scarlett’s neck, spreading the white folds over her lap. Scarlett began on theham, because she liked ham, and forced it down.
“I wish to Heaven I was married,” she said resentfully as she attacked the yams with loathing. “I’mtired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I’m tired of acting likeI don’t eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz,when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I’m tired of saying, ‘How wonderful you are!’to fool men who haven’t got one-half the sense I’ve got, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t knowanything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they’re doing it. . . . I can’t eat anotherbite.”
“Try a hot cake,” said Mammy inexorably.
“Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?”
“Ah specs it’s kase gempmums doan know whut dey wants. Dey jes’ knows whut dey thinks deywants. An’ givin’ dem whut dey thinks dey wants saves a pile of mizry an’ bein’ a ole maid. An’ deythinks dey wants mousy lil gals wid bird’s tastes an’ no sense at all. It doan make a gempmum feellak mahyin’ a lady ef he suspicions she got mo’ sense dan he has.”
“Don’t you suppose men get surprised after they’re married to find that their wives do havesense?”
“Well, it’s too late den. Dey’s already mahied. ‘Sides, gempmums specs dey wives ter have sense.”
“Some day I’m going to do and say everything I want to do and say, and if people don’t like it Idon’t care.”
“No, you ain’,” said Mammy grimly. “Not while Ah got breaf. You eat dem cakes. Sop dem in degravy, honey.”
“I don’t think Yankee girls have to act like such fools. When we were at Saratoga last year, Inoticed plenty of them acting like they had right good sense and in front of men, too.”
“Yankee gals! Yas’m, Ah guess dey speaks dey minds awright, but Ah ain’ noticed many of demgittin’ proposed ter at Saratoga.”
“But Yankees must get married,” argued Scarlett. “They don’t just grow. They must get married andhave children. There’s too many of them.”
“Men mahys dem fer dey money,” said Mammy firmly.
Scarlett sopped the wheat cake in the gravy and put it in her mouth. Perhaps there was somethingto what Mammy said. There must be something in it, for Ellen said the same things, in different andmore delicate words. In fact, the mothers of all her girl friends impressed on their daughters thenecessity of being helpless, clinging, doe-eyed creatures. Really, it took a lot of sense to cultivateand hold such a pose. Perhaps she had been too brash. Occasionally she had argued with Ashleyand frankly aired her opinions. Perhaps this and her healthy enjoyment of walking and riding hadturned him from her to the frail Melanie. Perhaps if she changed her tactics — But she felt that ifAshley succumbed to premeditated feminine tricks, she could never respect him as she now did. Anyman who was fool enough to fall for a simper, a faint and an “Oh, how wonderful you are!” wasn’tworth having. But they all seemed to like it.
If she had used the wrong tactics with Ashley in the past — well, that was the past and done with.Today she would use different ones, the right ones. She wanted him and she had only a few hoursin which to get him. If fainting, or pretending to faint, would do the trick, then she would faint. Ifsimpering, coquetry or empty-headedness would attract him, she would gladly play the flirt and bemore empty-headed than even Cathleen Calvert. And if bolder measures were necessary, shewould take them. Today was the day!
There was no one to tell Scarlett that her own personality, frighteningly vital though it was, wasmore attractive than any masquerade she might adopt. Had she been told, she would have beenpleased but unbelieving. And the civilization of which she was a part would have been unbelievingtoo, for at no time, before or since, had so low a premium been placed on feminine naturalness.
As the carriage bore her down the red road toward the Wilkes plantation, Scarlett had a feeling ofguilty pleasure that neither her mother nor Mammy was with the party. There would be no one atthe barbecue who, by delicately lifted brows or out-thrust underlip, could interfere with her plan ofaction. Of course, Suellen would be certain to tell tales tomorrow, but if all went as Scarlett hoped,the excitement of the family over her engagement to Ashley or her elopement would more thanoverbalance their displeasure. Yes, she was very glad Ellen had been forced to stay at home.
Gerald, primed with brandy, had given Jonas Wilkerson his dismissal that morning, and Ellen hadremained at Tara to go over the accounts of the plantation before he took his departure. Scarletthad kissed her mother good-by in the little office where she sat before the tall secretary with itspaper-stuffed pigeonholes. Jonas Wilkerson, hat in hand, stood beside her, his sallow tight-skinnedface hardly concealing the fury of hate that possessed him at being so unceremoniously turned outof the best overseer’s job in the County. And all because of a bit of minor philandering. He had toldGerald over and over that Emmie Slattery’s baby might have been fathered by any one of a dozenmen as easily as himself — an idea in which Gerald concurred — but that had not altered his caseso far as Ellen was concerned. Jonas hated all Southerners. He hated their cool courtesy to him andtheir contempt for his social status, so inadequately covered by their courtesy. He hated EllenO’Hara above anyone else, for she was the epitome of all that he hated in Southerners.
Mammy, as head woman of the plantation, had remained to help Ellen, and it was Dilcey who rodeon the driver’s seat beside Toby, the girls’ dancing dresses in a long box across her lap. Geraldrode beside the carriage on his big hunter, warm with brandy and pleased with himself for havinggotten through with the unpleasant business of Wilkerson so speedily. He had shoved theresponsibility onto Ellen, and her disappointment at missing the barbecue and the gathering of herfriends did not enter his mind; for it was a fine spring day and his fields were beautiful and thebirds were singing and he felt too young and frolicsome to think of anyone else. Occasionally heburst out with “Peg in a Low-backed Car” and other Irish ditties or the more lugubrious lament forRobert Emmet, “She is far from the land where her young hero sleeps.”
He was happy, pleasantly excited over the prospect of spending the day shouting about theYankees and the war, and proud of his three pretty daughters in their bright spreading hoop skirtsbeneath foolish little lace parasols. He gave no thought to his conversation of the day before withScarlett, for it had completely slipped his mind. He only thought that she was pretty and a greatcredit to him and that, today, her eyes were as green as the hills of Ireland. The last thought madehim think better of himself, for it had a certain poetic ring to it, and so he favored the girls with aloud and slightly off-key rendition of “The Wearin’ o’ the Green.”
Scarlett, looking at him with the affectionate contempt that mothers feel for small swaggering sons,knew that he would be very drunk by sundown. Coming home in the dark, he would try, as usual,to jump every fence between Twelve Oaks and Tara and, she hoped, by the mercy of Providenceand the good sense of his horse, would escape breaking his neck. He would disdain the bridge andswim his horse through the river and come home roaring, to be put to bed on the sofa in the officeby Pork who always waited up with a lamp in the front hall on such occasions.
He would ruin his new gray broadcloth suit, which would cause him to swear horribly in the morningand tell Ellen at great length how his horse fell off the bridge in the darkness — a palpable lie whichwould fool no one but which would be accepted by all and make him feel very clever.
Pa is a sweet, selfish, irresponsible darling, Scarlett thought, with a surge of affection for him. Shefelt so excited and happy this morning that she included the whole world, as well as Gerald, in heraffection. She was pretty and she knew it; she would have Ashley for her own before the day wasover; the sun was warm and tender and the glory of the Georgia spring was spread before hereyes. Along the roadside the blackberry brambles were concealing with softest green the savagered gulches cut by the winter’s rains, and the bare granite boulders pushing up through the redearth were being draped with sprangles of Cherokee roses and compassed about by wild violets ofpalest purple hue. Upon the wooded hills above the river, the dogwood blossoms lay glistening andwhite, as if snow still lingered among the greenery. The flowering crab trees were bursting theirbuds and rioting from delicate white to deepest pink and, beneath the trees where the sunshinedappled the pine straw, the wild honeysuckle made a varicolored carpet of scarlet and orange androse. There was a faint wild fragrance of sweet shrub on the breeze and the world smelled goodenough to eat.
“I’ll remember how beautiful this day is till I die,” thought Scarlett. “Perhaps it will be my weddingday!”
And she thought with a tingling in her heart how she and Ashley might ride swiftly through thisbeauty of blossom and greenery this very afternoon, or tonight by moonlight, toward Jonesboroand a preacher. Of course, she would have to be remarried by a priest from Atlanta, but that wouldbe something for Ellen and Gerald to worry about. She quailed a little as she thought how whitewith mortification Ellen would be at hearing that her daughter had eloped with another girl’s fiance,but she knew Ellen would forgive her when she saw her happiness. And Gerald would scold andbawl but, for all his remarks of yesterday about not wanting her to marry Ashley, he would bepleased beyond words at an alliance between his family and the Wilkes.
“But that’ll be something to worry about after I’m married,” she thought, tossing the worry fromher.
It was impossible to feel anything but palpitating joy in this warm sun, in this spring, with thechimneys of Twelve Oaks just beginning to show on the hill across the river.
“I’ll live there all my life and I’ll see fifty springs like this and maybe more, and I’ll tell my childrenand my grandchildren how beautiful this spring was, lovelier than any they’ll ever see.” She was sohappy at this thought that she joined in the last chorus of “The Wearin’ o’ the Green” and wonGerald’s shouted approval.
“I don’t know why you’re so happy this morning,” said Suellen crossly, for the thought still rankledin her mind that she would look far better in Scarlett’s green silk dancing frock than its rightfulowner would. And why was Scarlett always so selfish about lending her clothes and bonnets? Andwhy did Mother always back her up, declaring green was not Suellen’s color? “You know as well asI do that Ashley’s engagement is going to be announced tonight. Pa said so this morning. And Iknow you’ve been sweet on him for months.”
“That’s all you know,” said Scarlett, putting out her tongue and refusing to lose her good humor.How surprised Miss Sue would be by this time tomorrow morning!
“Susie, you know that’s not so,” protested Carreen, shocked. “It’s Brent that Scarlett cares about.”
Scarlett turned smiling green eyes upon her younger sister, wondering how anyone could be sosweet. The whole family knew that Carreen’s thirteen-year-old heart was set upon Brent Tarleton,who never gave her a thought except as Scarlett’s baby sister. When Ellen was not present, theO’Haras teased her to tears about him.
“Darling, I don’t care a thing about Brent,” declared Scarlett, happy enough to be generous. “Andhe doesn’t care a thing about me. Why, he’s waiting for you to grow up!”
Carreen’s round little face became pink, as pleasure struggled with incredulity.
“Oh, Scarlett, really?”
“Scarlett, you know Mother said Carreen was too young to think about beaux yet, and there you goputting ideas in her head.”
“Well, go and tattle and see if I care,” replied Scarlett. “You want to hold Sissy back, because youknow she’s going to be prettier than you in a year or so.”
“You’ll be keeping civil tongues in your heads this day, or I’ll be taking me crop to you,” warnedGerald. “Now whist! Is it wheels I’m hearing? That’ll be the Tarletons or the Fontaines.”
As they neared the intersecting road that came down the thickly wooded hill from Mimosa andFairhill, the sound of hooves and carriage wheels became plainer and clamorous feminine voicesraised in pleasant dispute sounded from behind the screen of trees. Gerald, riding ahead, pulled uphis horse and signed to Toby to stop the carriage where the two roads met.
“’Tis the Tarleton ladies,” he announced to his daughters, his florid face abeam, for excepting Ellenthere was no lady in the County he liked more than the red-haired Mrs. Tarleton. “And ’tis herself atthe reins. Ah, there’s a woman with fine hands for a horse! Feather light and strong as rawhide,and pretty enough to kiss for all that. More’s the pity none of you have such hands,” he added,casting fond but reproving glances at his girls. “With Carreen afraid of the poor beasts and Suewith hands like sadirons when it comes to reins and you, Puss —”
“Well, at any rate I’ve never been thrown,” cried Scarlett indignantly. “And Mrs. Tarleton takes atoss at every hunt.”
“And breaks a collar bone like a man,” said Gerald. “No fainting, no fussing. Now, no more of it, forhere she comes.”
He stood up in his stirrups and took off his hat with a sweep, as the Tarleton carriage, overflowingwith girls in bright dresses and parasols and fluttering veils, came into view, with Mrs. Tarleton onthe box as Gerald had said. With her four daughters, their mammy and their ball dresses in longcardboard boxes crowding the carriage, there was no room for the coachman. And, besides,Beatrice Tarleton never willingly permitted anyone, black or white, to hold reins when her armswere out of slings. Frail, fine-boned, so white of skin that her flaming hair seemed to have drawn allthe color from her face into its vital burnished mass, she was nevertheless possessed of exuberanthealth and untiring energy. She had borne eight children, as red of hair and as full of life as she,and had raised them most successfully, so the County said, because she gave them all the lovingneglect and the stern discipline she gave the colts she bred. “Curb them but don’t break theirspirits,” was Mrs. Tarleton’s motto.
She loved horses and talked horses constantly. She understood them and handled them betterthan any man in the County. Colts overflowed the paddock onto the front lawn, even as her eightchildren overflowed the rambling house on the hill, and colts and sons and daughters and huntingdogs tagged after her as she went about the plantation. She credited her horses, especially herred mare, Nellie, with human intelligence; and if the cares of the house kept her busy beyond thetime when she expected to take her daily ride, she put the sugar bowl in the hands of some smallpickaninny and said: “Give Nellie a handful and tell her I’ll be out terrectly.”
Except on rare occasions she always wore her riding habit, for whether she rode or not she alwaysexpected to ride and in that expectation put on her habit upon arising. Each morning, rain or shine,Nellie was saddled and walked up and down in front of the house, waiting for the time when Mrs.Tarleton could spare an hour away from her duties. But Fairhill was a difficult plantation to manageand spare time hard to get, and more often than not Nellie walked up and down riderless hourafter hour, while Beatrice Tarleton went through the day with the skirt of her habit absently loopedover her arm and six inches of shining boot showing below it.
Today, dressed in dull black silk over unfashionably narrow hoops, she still looked as though in herhabit, for the dress was as severely tailored as her riding costume and the small black hat with itslong black plume perched over one warm, twinkling, brown eye was a replica of the battered oldhat she used for hunting.
She waved her whip when she saw Gerald and drew her dancing pair of red horses to a halt, andthe four girls in the back of the carriage leaned out and gave such vociferous cries of greeting thatthe team pranced in alarm. To a casual observer it would seem that years had passed since theTarletons had seen the O’Haras, instead of only two days. But they were a sociable family and likedtheir neighbors, especially the O’Hara girls. That is, they liked Suellen and Carreen. No girl in theCounty, with the possible exception of the empty-headed Cathleen Calvert, really liked Scarlett.
In summers, the County averaged a barbecue and ball nearly every week, but to the red-hairedTarletons with their enormous capacity for enjoying themselves, each barbecue and each ball wasas exciting as if it were the first they had ever attended. They were a pretty, buxom quartette, socrammed into the carriage that their hoops and flounces overlapped and their parasols nudged andbumped together above their wide leghorn sun hats, crowned with roses and dangling with blackvelvet chin ribbons. All shades of red hair were represented beneath these hats, Hetty’s plain redhair, Camilla’s strawberry blonde, Randa’s coppery auburn and small Betsy’s carrot top.
“That’s a fine bevy, Ma’m,” said Gerald gallantly, reining his horse alongside the carriage. “But it’sfar they’ll go to beat their mother.”
Mrs. Tarleton rolled her red-brown eyes and sucked in her lower lip in burlesqued appreciation, andthe girls cried, “Ma, stop making eyes or we’ll tell Pa!” “I vow, Mr. O’Hara, she never gives us achance when there’s a handsome man like you around!”
Scarlett laughed with the rest at these sallies but, as always, the freedom with which the Tarletonstreated their mother came as a shock. They acted as if she were one of themselves and not a dayover sixteen. To Scarlett, the very idea of saying such things to her own mother was almostsacrilegious. And yet — and yet — there was something very pleasant about the Tarleton girls’relations with their mother, and they adored her for all that they criticized and scolded and teasedher. Not, Scarlett loyally hastened to tell herself, that she would prefer a mother like Mrs. Tarletonto Ellen, but still it would be fun to romp with a mother. She knew that even that thought wasdisrespectful to Ellen and felt ashamed of it. She knew no such troublesome thoughts everdisturbed the brains under the four flaming thatches in the carriage and, as always when she feltherself different from her neighbors, an irritated confusion fell upon her.
Quick though her brain was, it was not made for analysis, but she half-consciously realized that, forall the Tarleton girls were as unruly as colts and wild as March hares, there was an unworriedsingle-mindedness about them that was part of their inheritance. On both their mother’s and theirfather’s side they were Georgians, north Georgians, only a generation away from pioneers. Theywere sure of themselves and of their environment. They knew instinctively what they were about,as did the Wilkeses, though in widely divergent ways, and in them there was no such conflict asfrequently raged in Scarlett’s bosom where the blood of a soft-voiced, overbred Coast aristocratmingled with the shrewd, earthy blood of an Irish peasant. Scarlett wanted to respect and adoreher mother like an idol and to rumple her hair and tease her too. And she knew she should bealtogether one way or the other. It was the same conflicting emotion that made her desire toappear a delicate and high-bred lady with boys and to be, as well, a hoyden who was not above afew kisses.
“Where’s Ellen this morning?” asked Mrs. Tarleton.
“She’s after discharging our overseer and stayed home to go over the accounts with him. Where’shimself and the lads?”
“Oh, they rode over to Twelve Oaks hours ago — to sample the punch and see if it was strongenough, I dare say, as if they wouldn’t have from now till tomorrow morning to do it! I’m going toask John Wilkes to keep them overnight, even if he has to bed them down in the stable. Five men intheir cups are just too much for me. Up to three, I do very well but —”
Gerald hastily interrupted to change the subject. He could feel his own daughters snickering behindhis back as they remembered in what condition he had come home from the Wilkeses’ lastbarbecue the autumn before.
“And why aren’t you riding today, Mrs. Tarleton? Sure, you don’t look yourself at all without Nellie.It’s a stentor, you are.”
“A stentor, me ignorant broth of a boy!” cried Mrs. Tarleton, aping his brogue. “You mean a centaur.Stentor was a man with a voice like a brass gong.”
“Stentor or centaur, ’tis no matter,” answered Gerald, unruffled by his error. “And ’tis a voice likebrass you have, Ma’m, when you’re urging on the hounds, so it is.”
“That’s one on you, Ma,” said Betty. “I told you you yelled like a Comanche whenever you saw afox.”
“But not as loud as you yell when Mammy washes your ears,” returned Mrs. Tarleton. “And yousixteen! Well, as to why I’m not riding today, Nellie foaled early this morning.”
“Did she now!” cried Gerald with real interest, his Irishman’s passion for horses shining in his eyes,and Scarlett again felt the sense of shock in comparing her mother with Mrs. Tarleton. To Ellen,mares never foaled nor cows calved. In fact, hens almost didn’t lay eggs. Ellen ignored thesematters completely. But Mrs. Tarleton had no such reticences.
“A little filly, was it?”
“No, a fine little stallion with legs two yards long. You must ride over and see him, Mr. O’Hara. He’sa real Tarleton horse. He’s as red as Hetty’s curls.”
“And looks a lot like Betty, too,” said Camilla, and then disappeared shrieking amid a welter ofskirts and pantalets and bobbing hats, as Betty, who did have a long face, began pinching her.
“My fillies are feeling their oats this morning,” said Mrs. Tarleton. “They’ve been kicking up theirheels ever since we heard the news this morning about Ashley and that little cousin of his fromAtlanta. What’s her name? Melanie? Bless the child, she’s a sweet little thing, but I can neverremember either her name or her face. Our cook is the broad wife of the Wilkes butler, and he wasover last night with the news that the engagement would be announced tonight and Cookie told usthis morning. The girls are all excited about it, though I can’t see why. Everybody’s known for yearsthat Ashley would marry her, that is, if he didn’t marry one of his Burr cousins from Macon. Just likeHoney Wilkes is going to marry Melanie’s brother, Charles. Now, tell me, Mr. O’Hara, is it illegal forthe Wilkes to marry outside of their family? Because if —”
Scarlett did not hear the rest of the laughing words. For one short instant, it was as though thesun had ducked behind a cool cloud, leaving the world in shadow, taking the color out of things.The freshly green foliage looked sickly, the dogwood pallid, and the flowering crab, so beautifullypink a moment ago, faded and dreary. Scarlett dug her fingers into the upholstery of the carriageand for a moment her parasol wavered. It was one thing to know that Ashley was engaged but itwas another to hear people talk about it so casually. Then her courage flowed strongly back andthe sun came out again and the landscape glowed anew. She knew Ashley loved her. That wascertain. And she smiled as she thought how surprised Mrs. Tarleton would be when no engagementwas announced that night — how surprised if there were an elopement. And she’d tell neighborswhat a sly boots Scarlett was to sit there and listen to her talk about Melanie when all the time sheand Ashley — She dimpled at her own thoughts and Betty, who had been watching sharply theeffect of her mother’s words, sank back with a small puzzled frown.
“I don’t care what you say, Mr. O’Hara,” Mrs. Tarleton was saying emphatically. “It’s all wrong, thismarrying of cousins. It’s bad enough for Ashley to be marrying the Hamilton child, but for Honey tobe marrying that pale-looking Charles Hamilton —”
“Honey’ll never catch anybody else if she doesn’t marry Charlie,” said Randa, cruel and secure inher own popularity. “She’s never had another beau except him. And he’s never acted very sweeton her, for all that they’re engaged. Scarlett, you remember how he ran after you last Christmas —”
“Don’t be a cat, Miss,” said her mother. “Cousins shouldn’t marry, even second cousins. It weakensthe strain. It isn’t like horses. You can breed a mare to a brother or a sire to a daughter and getgood results if you know your blood strains, but in people it just doesn’t work. You get good lines,perhaps, but no stamina. You —”
“Now, Ma’m, I’m taking issue with you on that! Can you name me better people than the Wilkes?And they’ve been intermarrying since Brian Boru was a boy.”
“And high time they stopped it, for it’s beginning to show. Oh, not Ashley so much, for he’s a good-looking devil, though even he — But look at those two washed-out-looking Wilkes girls, poorthings! Nice girls, of course, but washed out. And look at little Miss Melanie. Thin as a rail anddelicate enough for the wind to blow away and no spirit at all. Not a notion of her own. ‘No, Ma’m!’‘Yes, Ma’m!’ That’s all she has to say. You see what I mean? That family needs new blood, finevigorous blood like my red heads or your Scarlett. Now, don’t misunderstand me. The Wilkes arefine folks in their way, and you know I’m fond of them all, but be frank! They are overbred andinbred too, aren’t they? They’ll do fine on a dry track, a fast track, but mark my words, I don’tbelieve the Wilkes can run on a mud track. I believe the stamina has been bred out of them, andwhen the emergency arises I don’t believe they can run against odds. Dry-weather stock. Give mea big horse who can run in any weather! And their intermarrying has made them different fromother folks around here. Always fiddling with the piano or sticking their heads in a book. I dobelieve Ashley would rather read than hunt! Yes, I honestly believe that, Mr. O’Hara! And just lookat the bones on them. Too slender. They need dams and sires with strength —”
“Ah-ah-hum,” said Gerald, suddenly and guiltily aware that the conversation, a most interestingand entirely proper one to him, would seem quite otherwise to Ellen. In fact, he knew she wouldnever recover should she learn that her daughters had been exposed to so frank a conversation.But Mrs. Tarleton was, as usual, deaf to all other ideas when pursuing her favorite topic, breeding,whether it be horses or humans.
“I know what I’m talking about because I had some cousins who married each other and I give youmy word their children all turned out as popeyed as bullfrogs, poor things. And when my familywanted me to marry a second cousin, I bucked like a colt. I said, ‘No, Ma. Not for me. My children willall have spavins and heaves.’ Well, Ma fainted when I said that about spavins, but I stood firm andGrandma backed me up. She knew a lot about horse breeding too, you see, and said I was right.And she helped me run away with Mr. Tarleton. And look at my children! Big and healthy and not asickly one or a runt among them, though Boyd is only five feet ten. Now, the Wilkes —”
“Not meaning to change the subject, Ma’m,” broke in Gerald hurriedly, for he had noticed Carreen’sbewildered look and the avid curiosity on Suellen’s face and feared lest they might ask Ellenembarrassing questions which would reveal how inadequate a chaperon he was. Puss, he wasglad to notice, appeared to be thinking of other matters as a lady should.
Betty Tarleton rescued him from his predicament.
“Good Heavens, Ma, do let’s get on!” she cried impatiently. “This sun is broiling me and I can justhear freckles popping out on my neck.”
“Just a minute, Ma’m, before you go,” said Gerald. “But what have you decided to do about sellingus the horses for the Troop? War may break any day now and the boys want the matter settled.It’s a Clayton County troop and it’s Clayton County horses we want for them. But you, obstinatecreature that you are, are still refusing to sell us your fine beasts.”
“Maybe there won’t be any war,” Mrs. Tarleton temporized, her mind diverted completely from theWilkeses’ odd marriage habits.
“Why, Ma’m, you can’t —”
“Ma,” Betty interrupted again, “can’t you and Mr. O’Hara talk about the horses at Twelve Oaks aswell as here?”
“That’s just it, Miss Betty,” said Gerald. “And I won’t be keeping you but one minute by the clock.We’ll be getting to Twelve Oaks in a little bit, and every man there, old and young, wanting to knowabout the horses. Ah, but it’s breaking me heart to see such a fine pretty lady as your mother sostingy with her beasts! Now, where’s your patriotism, Mrs. Tarleton? Does the Confederacy meannothing to you at all?”
“Ma,” cried small Betsy, “Randa’s sitting on my dress and I’m getting all wrinkled.”
“Well, push Randa off you, Betsy, and hush. Now, listen to me, Gerald O’Hara,” she retorted, hereyes beginning to snap. “Don’t you go throwing the Confederacy in my face! I reckon theConfederacy means as much to me as it does to you, me with four boys in the Troop and you withnone. But my boys can take care of themselves and my horses can’t. I’d gladly give the horses freeof charge if I knew they were going to be ridden by boys I know, gentlemen used tothoroughbreds. No, I wouldn’t hesitate a minute. But let my beauties be at the mercy of back-woodsmen and Crackers who are used to riding mules! No, sir! I’d have nightmares thinking theywere being ridden with saddle galls and not groomed properly. Do you think I’d let ignorant foolsride my tender-mouthed darlings and saw their mouths to pieces and beat them till their spiritswere broken? Why, I’ve got goose flesh this minute, just thinking about it! No, Mr. O’Hara, you’remighty nice to want my horses, but you’d better go to Atlanta and buy some old plugs for yourclodhoppers. They’ll never know the difference.”
“Ma, can’t we please go on?” asked Camilla, joining the impatient chorus. “You know mighty wellyou’re going to end up giving them your darlings anyhow. When Pa and the boys get throughtalking about the Confederacy needing them and so on, you’ll cry and let them go.”
Mrs. Tarleton grinned and shook the lines.
“I’ll do no such thing,” she said, touching the horses lightly with the whip. The carriage went offswiftly.
“That’s a fine woman,” said Gerald, putting on his hat and taking his place beside his own carriage.“Drive on, Toby. We’ll wear her down and get the horses yet. Of course, she’s right. She’s right. If aman’s not a gentleman, he’s no business on a horse. The infantry is the place for him. But more’sthe pity, there’s not enough planters’ sons in this County to make up a full troop. What did you say,Puss?”
“Pa, please ride behind us or in front of us. You kick up such a heap of dust that we’re choking,”said Scarlett, who felt that she could endure conversation no longer. It distracted her from herthoughts and she was very anxious to arrange both her thoughts and her face in attractive linesbefore reaching Twelve Oaks. Gerald obediently put spurs to his horse and was off in a red cloudafter the Tarleton carriage where he could continue his horsy conversation.