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Chapter 17

MAY OF 1864 CAME—a hot dry May that wilted the flowers in the buds—and the Yankeesunder General Sherman were in Georgia again, above Dalton, one hundred miles northwest ofAtlanta. Rumor had it that there would be heavy fighting up there near the boundary betweenGeorgia and Tennessee. The Yankees were massing for an attack on the Western and AtlanticRailroad, the line which connected Atlanta with Tennessee and the West, the same line over whichthe Southern troops had been rushed last fall to win the victory at Chickamauga.

  But, for the most part, Atlanta was not disturbed by the prospect of fighting near Dalton. Theplace where the Yankees were concentrating was only a few miles southeast of the battle field ofChickamauga. They had been driven back once when they had tried to break through the mountainpasses of that region, and they would be driven back again.

  Atlanta—and all of Georgia—knew that the state was far too important to the Confederacy forGeneral Joe Johnston to let the Yankees remain inside the state’s borders for long. Old Joe and hisarmy would not let one Yankee get south of Dalton, for too much depended on the undisturbedfunctioningof(even) Georgia. The unravaged state was a vast granary, machine shop and storehouse for the Confederacy. It manufactured much of the powder and arms used by the armyand most of the cotton and woolen goods. Lying between Atlanta and Dalton was the city of Romewith its cannon foundry and its other industries, and Etowah and Allatoona with the largest ironworkssouth of Richmond. And, in Atlanta, were not only the factories for making pistols andsaddles, tents and ammunition, but also the most extensive rolling mills in the South, the shops ofthe principal railroads and the enormous hospitals. And in Atlanta was the junction of the fourrailroads on which the very life of the Confederacy depended.

  So no one worried particularly. After all, Dalton was a long way off, up near the Tennessee line.

  There had been fighting in Tennessee for three years and people were accustomed to the thought ofthat state as a far-away battle field, almost as far away as Virginia or the Mississippi River.

  Moreover, Old Joe and his men were between the Yankees and Atlanta, and everyone knew that,next to General Lee himself, there was no greater general than Johnston, now that StonewallJackson was dead.

  Dr. Meade summed up the civilian point of view on the matter, one warm May evening on theveranda of Aunt Pitty’s house, when he said that Atlanta had nothing to fear, for General Johnstonwas standing in the mountains like an iron rampart. His audience heard him with varying emotions,for all who sat there rocking quietly in the fading twilight, watching the first fireflies of the seasonmoving magically through the dusk, had weighty matters on their minds. Mrs. Meade, her handupon Phil’s arm, was hoping the doctor was right. If the war came closer, she knew that Phil wouldhave to go. He was sixteen now and in the Home Guard. Fanny Elsing, pale and hollow eyed sinceGettysburg, was trying to keep her mind from the torturing picture which had worn a groove in hertired mind these past several months—Lieutenant Dallas McLure dying in a jolting ox cart in therain on the long, terrible retreat into Maryland.

  Captain Carey Ashburn’s useless arm was hurting him again and moreover he was depressed bythe thought that his courtship of Scarlett was at a standstill. That had been the situation ever sincethe news of Ashley Wilkes’ capture, though the connection between the two events did not occur tohim. Scarlett and Melanie both were thinking of Ashley, as they always did when urgent tasks orthe necessity of carrying on a conversation did not divert them. Scarlett was thinking bitterly,sorrowfully: He must be dead or else we would have heard. Melanie, stemming the tide of fearagain and again, through endless hours, was telling herself: “He can’t be dead. I’d know it—I’dfeel it if he were dead.” Rhett Butler lounged in the shadows, his long legs in their elegant bootscrossed negligently, his dark face an unreadable blank. In his arms Wade slept contentedly, acleanly picked wishbone in his small hand. Scarlett always permitted Wade to sit up late whenRhett called because the shy child was fond of him, and Rhett oddly enough seemed to be fond ofWade. Generally Scarlett was annoyed by the child’s presence, but he always behaved nicely inRhett’s arms. As for Aunt Pitty, she was nervously trying to stifle a belch, for the rooster they hadhad for supper was a tough old bird.

  That morning Aunt Pitty had reached the regretful decision that she had better kill the patriarchbefore he died of old age and pining for his harem which had long since been eaten. For days hehad drooped about the empty chicken run, too dispirited to crow. After Uncle Peter had wrung hisneck, Aunt Pitty had been beset by conscience at the thought of enjoying him, en famille, when somany of her friends had not tasted chicken for weeks, so she suggested company for dinner.

  Melanie, who was now in her fifth month, had not been out in public or received guests for weeks,and she was appalled at the idea. But Aunt Pitty, for once, was firm. It would be selfish to eat therooster alone, and if Melanie would only move her top hoop a little higher no one would noticeanything and she was so flat in the bust anyway.

  “Oh, but Auntie I don’t want to see people when Ashley—”

  “It isn’t as if Ashley were—had passed away,” said Aunt Pitty, her voice quavering, for in herheart she was certain Ashley was dead. “He’s just as much alive as you are and it will do you goodto have company. And I’m going to ask Fanny Elsing, too. Mrs. Elsing begged me to try to dosomething to arouse her and make her see people—”

  “Oh, but Auntie, it’s cruel to force her when poor Dallas has only been dead—”

  “Now, Melly, I shall cry with vexation if you argue with me. I guess I’m your auntie and I knowwhat’s what. And I want a party.”

  So Aunt Pitty had her party, and, at the last minute, a guest she did not expect, or desire, arrived.

  Just when the smell of roast rooster was filling the house, Rhett Butler, back from one of hismysterious trips, knocked at the door, with a large box of bonbons packed in paper lace under hisarm and a mouthful of two-edged compliments for her. There was nothing to do but invite him tostay, although Aunt Pitty knew how the doctor and Mrs. Meade felt about him and how bitterFanny was against any man not in uniform. Neither the Meades nor the Elsings would have spokento him on the street, but in a friend’s home they would, of course, have to be polite to him. Besides,he was now more firmly than ever under the protection of the fragile Melanie. After he hadintervened for her to get the news about Ashley, she had announced publicly that her home wasopen to him as long as he lived and no matter what other people might say about him.

  Aunt Pitty’s apprehensions quieted when she saw that Rhett was on his best behavior. Hedevoted himself to Fanny with such sympathetic deference she even smiled at him, and the mealwent well. It was a princely feast Carey Ashburn had brought a little tea, which he had found in thetobacco pouch of a captured Yankee en route to Andersonville, and everyone had a cup, faintlyflavored with tobacco. There was a nibble of the tough old bird for each, an adequate amount ofdressing made of corn meal and seasoned with onions, a bowl of dried peas, and plenty of rice andgravy, the latter somewhat watery, for there was no flour with which to thicken it For dessert, therewas a sweet potato pie followed by Rhett’s bonbons, and when Rhett produced real Havana cigarsfor the gentlemen to enjoy over their glass of blackberry wine, everyone agreed it was indeed aLucullan banquetWhen the gentlemen joined the ladies on the front porch, the talk turned to war. Talk alwaysturned to war now, all conversations on any topic led from war or back to war—sometimes sad,often gay, but always war. War romances, war weddings, deaths in hospitals and on the field,incidents of camp and battle and march, gallantry, cowardice, humor, sadness, deprivation andhope. Always, always hope. Hope firm, unshaken despite the defeats of the summer before.

  When Captain Ashburn announced he had applied for and been granted transfer from Atlanta tothe army at Dalton, the ladies kissed his stiffened arm with their eyes and covered their emotionsof pride by declaring he couldn’t go, for then who would beau them about?

  Young Carey looked confused and pleased at hearing such statements from settled matrons andspinsters like Mrs. Meade and Melanie and Aunt Pitty and Fanny, and tried to hope that Scarlettreally meant it.

  “Why, he’ll be back in no time,” said the doctor, throwing an arm over Carey’s shoulder.

  There’ll be just one brief skirmish and the Yankees will skedaddle back into Tennessee. And whenthey get there, General Forrest will take care of them. You ladies need have no alarm about theproximity of the Yankees, for General Johnston and his army stands there in the mountains like aniron rampart. Yes, an iron rampart,” he repeated, relishing his phrase. “Sherman will never pass.

  He’ll never dislodge Old Joe.”

  The ladies smiled approvingly, for his lightest utterance was regarded as incontrovertible truth.

  After all, men understood these matters much better than women, and if he said General Johnstonwas an iron rampart, he must be one. Only Rhett spoke. He had been silent since supper and hadsat in the twilight listening to the war talk with a down-twisted mouth, holding the sleeping childagainst his shoulder.

  “I believe that rumor has it that Sherman has over one hundred thousand men, now that hisreinforcements have come up?”

  The doctor answered him shortly. He had been under considerable strain ever since he firstarrived and found that one of his fellow diners was this man whom he disliked so heartily. Only therespect due Miss Pittypat and his presence under her roof as a guest had restrained him fromshowing his feelings more obviously.

  “Well, sir?” the doctor barked in reply.

  “I believe Captain Ashburn said just a while ago that General Johnston had only about fortythousand, counting the deserters who were encouraged to come back to the colors by the lastvictory.”

  “Sir,” said Mrs. Meade indignantly. “There are no deserters in the Confederate army.”

  “I beg your pardon,” said Rhett with mock humility. “I meant those thousands on furlough whoforgot to rejoin their regiments and those who have been over their wounds for six months but whoremain at home, going about their usual business or doing the spring plowing.”

  His eyes gleamed and Mrs. Meade bit her lip in a huff. Scarlett wanted to giggle at herdiscomfiture, for Rhett had caught her fairly. There were hundreds of men skulking in the swampsand the mountains, defying the provost guard to drag them back to the army. They were the oneswho declared it was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” and they had had enough of it. Butoutnumbering these by far were men who, though carried on company rolls as deserters, had nointention of deserting permanently. They were the ones who had waited three years in vain forfurloughs and while they waited received ill-spelled letters from home: “We air hungry.” “Therewon’t be no crop this year—there ain’t nobody to plow.” “We air hungry.” “The commissary tookthe shoats, and we ain’t had no money from you in months. We air livin’ on dried peas.”

  Always the rising chorus swelled: “We are hungry, your wife, your babies, your parents. Whenwill it be over? When will you come home? We are hungry, hungry.” When furloughs from therapidly thinning army were denied, these soldiers went home without them, to plow their land and plant their crops, repair their houses and build up their fences. When regimental officers,understanding the situation, saw a hard fight ahead, they wrote these men, telling them to rejointheir companies and no questions would be asked. Usually the men returned when they saw thathunger at home would be held at bay for a few months longer. “Plow furloughs” were not lookedupon in the same light as desertion in the face of the enemy, but they weakened the army just thesame.

  Dr. Meade hastily bridged over the uncomfortable pause, his voice cold: “Captain Butler, thenumerical difference between our troops and those of the Yankees has never mattered. OneConfederate is worth a dozen Yankees.”

  The ladies nodded. Everyone knew that.

  “That was true at the first of the war,” said Rhett. “Perhaps it’s still true, provided theConfederate soldier has bullets for his gun and shoes on his feet and food in his stomach. Eh,Captain Ashburn?”

  His voice was still soft and filled with specious humility. Carey Ashburn looked unhappy, for itwas obvious that he, too, disliked Rhett intensely. He gladly would have sided with the doctor buthe could not lie. The reason he had applied for transfer to the front, despite his useless arm, wasthat he realized, as the civilian population did not, the seriousness of the situation. There weremany other men, stumping on wooden pegs, blind in one eye, fingers blown away, one arm gone,who were quietly transferring from, the commissariat, hospital duties, mail and railroad serviceback to their old fighting units. They knew Old Joe needed every man.

  He did not speak and Dr. Meade thundered, losing his temper: “Our men have fought withoutshoes before and without food and won victories. And they will fight again and win! I tell youGeneral Johnston cannot be dislodged! The mountain fastnesses have always been the refuge andthe strong forts of invaded peoples from ancient times. Think of—think of Thermopylae!”

  Scarlett thought hard but Thermopylae meant nothing to her.

  “They died to the last man at Thermopylae, didn’t they, Doctor?” Rhett asked, and his lipstwitched with suppressed laughter.

  “Are you being insulting, young man?”

  “Doctor! I beg of you! You misunderstood me! I merely asked for information. My memory ofancient history is poor.”

  “If need be, our army will die to the last man before they permit the Yankees to advance fartherinto Georgia,” snapped the doctor. “But it will not be. They will drive them out of Georgia in oneskirmish.”

  Aunt Pittypat rose hastily and asked Scarlett to favor them with a piano selection and a song.

  She saw that the conversation was rapidly getting into deep and stormy water. She had known verywell there would be trouble if she invited Rhett to supper. There was always trouble when he waspresent. Just how he started it, she never exactly understood. Dear! Dear! What did Scarlett see inthe man? And how could dear Melly defend him?

  As Scarlett went obediently into the parlor, a silence fell on the porch, a silence that pulsed with resentment toward Rhett How could anyone not believe with heart and soul in the invincibility ofGeneral Johnston and his men? Believing was a sacred duty. And those who were so traitorous asnot to believe should, at least, have the decency to keep their mouths shut.

  Scarlett struck a few chords and her voice floated out to them from the parlor, sweetly, sadly, inthe words of a popular song:

  “Into a ward of whitewashed wallsWhere the dead and dying lay—Wounded with bayonets, shells and balls—Somebody’s darling was borne one day.

  “Somebody’s darling! so young and so brave!

  Wearing still on his pale, sweet face—Soon to be hid by the dust of the grave—The lingering light of his boyhood’s grace.”

  “Matted and damp are the curls of gold,” mourned Scarlett’s faulty soprano, and Fanny half roseand said in a faint, strangled voice: “Sing something else!”

  The piano was suddenly silent as Scarlett was overtaken with surprise and embarrassment. Thenshe hastily blundered into the opening bars of “Jacket of Gray” and stopped with a discord as sheremembered how heartrending that selection was too. The piano was silent again for she wasutterly at a loss. All the songs had to do with death and parting and sorrow.

  Rhett rose swiftly, deposited Wade in Fanny’s lap, and went into the parlor.

  “Play ‘My Old Kentucky Home,’ ” he suggested smoothly, and Scarlett gratefully plunged intoit. Her voice was joined by Rhett’s excellent bass, and as they went into the second verse those onthe porch breathed more easily, though Heaven knew it was none too cheery a song, either.

  “Just a few more days for to tote the weary load!

  No matter, ‘twill never be light!

  Just a few more days, till we totter in the road!

  Then, my old Kentucky home, good night!”

  .

  Dr. Meade’s prediction was right—as far as it went Johnston did stand like an iron rampart inthe mountains above Dalton, one hundred miles away. So firmly did he stand and so bitterly did he contest Sherman’s desire to pass down the valley toward Atlanta that finally the Yankees drewback and took counsel with themselves. They could not break the gray lines by direct assault andso, under cover of night they marched through the mountain passes in a semicircle, hoping to comeupon Johnston’s rear and cut the railroad behind him at Resaca, fifteen miles below Dalton.

  With those precious twin lines of iron in danger, the Confederates left their desperately defendedrifle pits and, under the starlight, made a forced march to Resaca by the short, direct road. Whenthe Yankees, swarming out of the hills, came upon them, the Southern troops were waiting forthem, entrenched behind breastworks, batteries planted, bayonets gleaming, even as they had beenat Dalton.

  When the wounded from Dalton brought in garbled accounts of Old Joe’s retreat to Resaca,Atlanta was surprised and a little disturbed. It was as though a small, dark cloud had appeared inthe northwest, the first cloud of a summer storm. What was the General thinking about, letting theYankees penetrate eighteen miles farther into Georgia? The mountains were natural fortresses,even as Dr. Meade had said. Why hadn’t Old Joe held the Yankees there?

  Johnston fought desperately at Resaca and repulsed the Yankees again, but Sherman, employingthe same flanking movement, swung his vast army in another semicircle, crossed the OostanaulaRiver and again struck at the railroad in the Confederate rear. Again the gray lines were summonedswiftly from their red ditches to defend the railroad, and, weary for sleep, exhausted frommarching and fighting, and hungry, always hungry, they made another rapid march down thevalley. They reached the little town of Calhoun, six miles below Resaca, ahead of the Yankees,entrenched and were again ready for the attack when the Yankees came up. The attack came, therewas fierce skirmishing and the Yankees were beaten back. Wearily the Confederates lay on theirarms and prayed for respite and rest. But there was no rest. Sherman inexorably advanced, step bystep, swinging his army about them in a wide curve, forcing another retreat to defend the railroadat their back.

  The Confederates marched in their sleep, too tired to think for the most part But when they didthink, they trusted Old Joe. They knew they were retreating but they knew they had not beenbeaten. They just didn’t have enough men to hold their entrenchments and defeat Sherman’sflanking movements, too. They could and did lick the Yankees every time the Yankees would standand fight What would be the end of this retreat, they did not know. But Old Joe knew what he wasdoing and that was enough for them. He had conducted the retreat in masterly fashion, for they hadlost few men and the Yankees killed and captured ran high. They hadn’t lost a single wagon andonly four guns. And they hadn’t lost the railroad at their back, either. Sherman hadn’t laid a fingeron it for all his frontal attacks, cavalry dashes and flank movements.

  The railroad. It was still theirs, that slender iron line winding through the sunny valley towardAtlanta. Men lay down to sleep where they could see the rails gleaming faintly in the starlight.

  Men lay down to die, and the last sight that met their puzzled eyes was the rails shining in themerciless sun, heat shimmering along them.

  As they fell back down the valley, an army of refugees fell back before them. Planters andCrackers, rich and poor, black and white, women and children, the old, the dying, the crippled, thewounded, the women far gone in pregnancy, crowded the road to Atlanta on trains, afoot, on horseback, in carriages and wagons piled high with trunks and household goods. Five miles aheadof the retreating army went the refugees, halting at Resaca, at Calhoun, at Kingston, hoping at eachstop to hear that the Yankees had been driven back so they could return to their homes. But therewas no retracing that sunny road. The gray troops passed by empty mansions, deserted farms,lonely cabins with doors ajar. Here and there some lone woman remained with a few frightenedslaves, and they came to the road to cheer the soldiers, to bring buckets of well water for the thirstymen, to bind up the wounds and bury the dead in their own family burying grounds. But for themost part the sunny valley was abandoned and desolate and the untended crops stood in parchingfields.

  Flanked again at Calhoun, Johnston fell back to Adairsville, where there was sharp skirmishing,then to Cassville, then south of Cartersville. And the enemy had now advanced fifty-five milesfrom Dalton. At New Hope Church, fifteen miles farther along the hotly fought way, the gray ranksdug in for a determined stand. On came the blue lines, relentlessly, like a monster serpent coiling,striking venomously, drawing its injured lengths back, but always striking again. There wasdesperate fighting at New Hope Church, eleven days of continuous fighting, with every Yankeeassault bloodily repulsed. Then Johnston, flanked again, withdrew his thinning lines a few milesfarther.

  The Confederate dead and wounded at New Hope Church ran high. The wounded floodedAtlanta in train-loads and the town was appalled. Never, even after the battle of Chickamauga, hadthe town seen so many wounded. The hospitals overflowed and wounded lay on the floors ofempty stores and upon cotton bales in the warehouses. Every hotel, boarding house and privateresidence was crowded with sufferers. Aunt Pitty had her share, although she protested that it wasmost unbecoming to have strange men in the house when Melanie was in a delicate condition andwhen gruesome sights might bring on premature birth. But Melanie reefed up her top hoop a littlehigher to hide her thickening figure and the wounded invaded the brick house. There was endlesscooking and lifting and turning and fanning, endless hours of washing and rerolling bandages andpicking lint, and endless warm nights made sleepless by the babbling delirium of men in the nextroom. Finally the choked town could take care of no more and the overflow of wounded was senton to the hospitals at Macon and Augusta.

  With this backwash of wounded bearing conflicting reports and the increase of frightenedrefugees crowding into the already crowded town, Atlanta was in an uproar. The small cloud on thehorizon had blown up swiftly into a large, sullen storm cloud and it was as though a faint, chillingwind blew from it.

  No one had lost faith in the invincibility of the troops but everyone, the civilians at least, hadlost faith in the General. New Hope Church was only thirty-five miles from Atlanta! The Generalhad let the Yankees push him back sixty-five miles in three weeks! Why didn’t he hold the Yankeesinstead of everlastingly retreating? He was a fool and worse than a fool. Graybeards in the HomeGuard and members of the state militia, safe in Atlanta, insisted they could have managed thecampaign better and drew maps on tablecloths to prove their contentions. As his lines grew thinnerand he was forced back farther, the General called desperately on Governor Brown for these verymen, but the state troops felt reasonably safe. After all, the Governor had defied Jeff Davis’

  demand for them. Why should he accede to General Johnston?

  Fight and fall back! Fight and fall back! For seventy miles and twenty-five days theConfederates had fought almost daily. New Hope Church was behind the gray troops now, amemory in a mad haze of like memories, heat, dust, hunger, weariness, tramp-tramp on the redrutted roads, slop-slop through the red mud, retreat, entrench, fight—retreat, entrench, fight. NewHope Church was a nightmare of another life and so was Big Shanty, where they turned and foughtthe Yankees like demons. But, fight the Yankees till the fields were blue with dead, there werealways more Yankees, fresh Yankees; there was always that sinister southeast curving of the bluelines toward the Confederate rear, toward the railroad—and toward Atlanta!

  From Big Shanty, the weary sleepless lines retreated down the road to Kennesaw Mountain, nearthe little town of Marietta, and here they spread their lines in a ten-mile curve. On the steep sidesof the mountain they dug their rifle pits and on the towering heights they planted their batteries.

  Swearing, sweating men hauled the heavy guns up the precipitous slopes, for mules could notclimb the hillsides. Couriers and wounded coming into Atlanta gave reassuring reports to thefrightened townspeople. The heights of Kennesaw were impregnable. So were Pine Mountain andLost Mountain near by which were also fortified. The Yankees couldn’t dislodge Old Joe’s menand they could hardly flank them now for the batteries on the mountain tops commanded all theroads for miles. Atlanta breathed more easily, but—But Kennesaw Mountain was only twenty-two miles away!

  On the day when the first wounded from Kennesaw Mountain were coming in, Mrs.

  Merriwether’s carriage was at Aunt Pitty’s house at the unheard-of hour of seven in the morning,and black Uncle Levi sent up word that Scarlett must dress immediately and come to the hospital.

  Fanny Rising and the Bonnell girls, roused early from slumber, were yawning on the back seat andthe Risings’ mammy sat grumpily on the box, a basket of freshly laundered bandages on her lap.

  Off Scarlett went, unwillingly for she had danced till dawn the night before at the Home Guard’sparty and her feet were tired. She silently cursed the efficient and indefatigable Mrs. Merriwether,the wounded and the whole Southern Confederacy, as Prissy buttoned her in her oldest andraggedest calico frock which she used for hospital work. Gulping down the bitter brew of parchedcorn and dried sweet potatoes that passed for coffee, she went out to join the girls.

  She was sick of all this nursing. This very day she would tell Mrs. Merriwether that Ellen hadwritten her to come home for a visit. Much good this did her, for that worthy matron, her sleevesrolled up, her stout figure swathed in a large apron, gave her one sharp look and said: “Don’t letme hear any more such foolishness, Scarlett Hamilton. I’ll write your mother today and tell herhow much we need you, and I’m sure she’ll understand and let you stay. Now, put on your apronand trot over to Dr. Meade. He needs someone to help with the dressings.”

  “Oh, God,” thought Scarlett drearily, “that’s just the trouble. Mother will make me stay here andI shall die if I have to smell these stinks any longer! I wish I was an old lady so I could bully theyoung ones, instead of getting bullied—and tell old cats like Mrs. Merriwether to go to Halifax!”

  Yes, she was sick of the hospital, the foul smells, the lice, the aching, unwashed bodies. If therehad ever been any novelty and romance about nursing, that had worn off a year ago. Besides, thesemen wounded in the retreat were not so attractive as the earlier ones had been. They didn’t showthe slightest interest in her and they had very little to say beyond: “How’s the fightin’ goin’?

  What’s Old Joe doin’ now? Mighty clever fellow. Old Joe.” She didn’t think Old Joe a mightyclever fellow. All he had done was let the Yankees penetrate eighty-eight miles into Georgia. No,they were not an attractive lot. Moreover, many of them were dying, dying swiftly, silently, havinglittle strength left to combat the blood poisoning, gangrene, typhoid and pneumonia which had setin before they could reach Atlanta and a doctor.

  The day was hot and the flies came in the open windows in swarms, fat lazy flies that broke thespirits of the men as pain could not. The tide of smells and pain rose and rose about her.

  Perspiration soaked through her freshly starched dress as she followed Dr. Meade about, a basin inher hand.

  Oh, the nausea of standing by the doctor, trying not to vomit when his bright knife cut intomortifying flesh! And oh, the horror of hearing the screams from the operating ward whereamputations were going on! And the sick, helpless sense of pity at the sight of tense, white faces ofmangled men waiting for the doctor to get to them, men whose ears were filled with screams, menwaiting for the dreadful words: “I’m sorry, my boy, but that hand will have to come off. Yes, yes, Iknow; but look, see those red streaks? It’ll have to come off.”

  Chloroform was so scarce now it was used only for the worst amputations and opium was aprecious thing, used only to ease the dying out of life, not the living out of pain. There was noquinine and no iodine at all. Yes, Scarlett was sick of it all, and that morning she wished that she,like Melanie, had the excuse of pregnancy to offer. That was about the only excuse that wassocially acceptable for not nursing these days.

  When noon came, she put off her apron and sneaked away from the hospital while Mrs.

  Merriwether was busy writing a letter for a gangling, illiterate mountaineer. Scarlett felt that shecould stand it no longer. It was an imposition on her and she knew that when the wounded came inon the noon train there would be enough work to keep her busy until night-fall—and probablywithout anything to eatShe went hastily up the two short blocks to Peachtree Street breathing the unfouled air in asdeep gulps as her tightly laced corset would permit. She was standing on the corner, uncertain as towhat she would do next, ashamed to go home to Aunt Pitty’s but determined not to go back to thehospital, when Rhett Butler drove by.

  “You look like the ragpicker’s child,” he observed, his eyes taking in the mended lavendercalico, streaked with perspiration and splotched here and there with water which had slopped fromthe basin. Scarlett was furious with embarrassment and indignation. Why did he always noticewomen’s clothing and why was he so rude as to remark upon her present untidiness?

  “I don’t want to hear a word out of you. You get out and help me in and drive me somewherewhere nobody will see me. I won’t go back to the hospital if they hang me! My goodness, I didn’tstart this war and I don’t see any reason why I should be worked to death and—”

  “A traitor to Our Glorious Cause!”

  The pot’s calling the kettle black. You help me in. I don’t care where you were going. You’regoing to take me riding now.”

  He swung himself out of the carriage to the ground and she suddenly thought how nice it was to see a man who was whole, who was not minus eyes or limbs, or white with pain or yellow withmalaria, and who looked well fed and healthy. He was so well dressed too. His coat and trouserswere actually of the same material and they fitted him, instead of hanging in folds or being almosttoo tight for movement. And they were new, not ragged, with dirty bare flesh and hairy legsshowing through. He looked as if he had not a care in the world and that in itself was startlingthese days, when other men wore such worried, preoccupied, grim looks. His brown face wasBland and his mouth, red lipped, clear cut as a woman’s, frankly sensual, smiled carelessly as helifted her into the carriage.

  The muscles of his big body rippled against his well-tailored clothes, as he got in beside her,and, as always, the sense of his great physical power struck her like a blow. She watched the swellof his powerful shoulders against the cloth with fascination that disturbing, a little frightening.Hisbodyseemedso toughandhard, astoug(a) hand hardashiskeen(was) mind. His was suchan easy, graceful strength, lazy as a panther stretching in the sun, alert as a panther to spring andstrike.

  “You little fraud,” he said, clucking to the horse. “You dance all night with the soldiers and givethem roses and ribbons and tell them how you’d die for the Cause, and when it comes to bandaginga few wounds and picking off a few lice, you decamp hastily.”

  “Can’t you talk about something else and drive faster? It would be just my luck for GrandpaMerriwether to come out of his store and see me and tell old lady—I mean, Mrs. Merriwether.”

  He touched up the mare with the whip and she trotted briskly across Five Points and across therailroad tracks that cut the town in two. The train bearing the wounded had already come in and thelitter bearers were working swiftly in the hot sun, transferring wounded into ambulances andcovered ordnance wagons. Scarlett had no qualm of conscience as she watched them but only afeeling of vast relief that she had made her escape.

  “I’m just sick and tired of that old hospital,” she said, settling her billowing skirts and tying herbonnet bow more firmly under her chin. “And every day more and more wounded come in. It’s allGeneral Johnston’s fault. If he’d just stood up to the Yankees at Dalton, they’d have—”

  “But he did stand up to the Yankees, you ignorant child. And if he’d kept on standing there,Sherman would have flanked him and crushed him between the two wings of his army. And he’dhave lost the railroad and the railroad is what Johnston is fighting for.”

  “Oh, well,” said Scarlett, on whom military strategy was utterly lost. “It’s his fault anyway. Heought to have done something about it and I think he ought to be removed. Why doesn’t he standand fight instead of retreating?”

  “You are like everyone else, screaming ‘Off with his head’ because he can’t do the impossible.

  He was Jesus the Savior at Dalton, and now he’s Judas the Betrayer at Kennesaw Mountain, all insix weeks. Yet, just let him drive the Yankees back twenty miles and he’ll be Jesus again. My child,Sherman has twice as many men as Johnston, and he can afford to lose two men for every one ofour gallant laddies. And Johnston can’t afford to lose a single man. He needs reinforcements badlyand what is he getting? ‘Joe Brown’s Pets.’ What a help they’ll be!”

  “Is the militia really going to be called out? The Home Guard, too? I hadn’t heard. How do you know?”

  There’s a rumor floating about to that effect The rumor arrived on the train from Milledgevillethis morning. Both the militia and the Home Guards are going to be sent in to reinforce GeneralJohnston. Yes, Governor Brown’s darlings are likely to smell powder at last, and I imagine most ofthem will be much surprised. Certainly they never expected to see action. The Governor as good aspromised them they wouldn’t. Well, that’s a good joke on them. They thought they had bombproofs because the Governor stood up to even Jeff Davis and refused to send them to Virginia. Saidthey were needed for the defense of their state. Who’d have ever thought the war would come totheir own back yard and they’d really have to defend their state?”

  “Oh, how can you laugh, you cruel thing! Think of the old gentlemen and the little boys in theHome Guard! Why, little Phil Meade will have to go and Grandpa Merriwether and Uncle HenryHamilton.”

  “I’m not talking about the little boys and the Mexican War veterans. I’m talking about braveyoung men like Willie Guinan who like to wear pretty uniforms and wave swords—”

  “And yourself!”

  “My dear, that didn’t hurt a bit! I wear no uniform and wave no sword and the fortunes of theConfederacy mean nothing at all to me. Moreover, I wouldn’t be caught dead in the Home Guardor in any army, for that matter. I had enough of things military at West Point to do me the rest ofmy life. ... Well, I wish Old Joe luck. General Lee can’t send him any help because the Yankees arekeeping him busy in Virginia. So the Georgia state troops are the only reinforcements Johnston canget. He deserves better, for he’s a great strategist He always manages to get places before theYankees do. But he’ll have to keep falling back if he wants to protect the railroad; and mark mywords, when they push him out of the mountains and onto the flatter land around here, he’s goingto be butchered.”

  “Around here?” cried Scarlett. “You know mighty well the Yankees will never get this far!”

  “Kennesaw is only twenty-two miles away and I’ll wager you—”

  “Rhett, look, down the street! That crowd of men! They aren’t soldiers. What on earth... ? Why,they’re darkies!”

  There was a great cloud of red dust coming up the street and from the cloud came the sound ofthe tramping of many feet and a hundred or more negro voices, deep throated, careless, singing ahymn. Rhett pulled the carriage over to the curb, and Scarlett looked curiously at the sweatingblack men, picks and shovels over their shoulders, shepherded along by an officer and a squad ofmen wearing the insignia of the engineering corps.

  “What on earth … ?” she began again.

  Then her eyes lighted on a singing black buck in the front rank. He stood nearly six and a halffeet tall, a giant of a man, ebony black, stepping along with the lithe grace of a powerful animal,his white teeth flashing as he led the gang in “Go Down, Moses.” Surely there wasn’t a negro onearth as tall and loud voiced as this one except Big Sam, the foreman of Tara. But what was BigSam doing here, so far away from home, especially now that there was no overseer on the plantation and he was Gerald’s right-hand man?

  As she half rose from her seat to look closer, the giant caught sight of her and his black face splitin a grin of delighted recognition. He halted, dropped his shovel and started toward her, calling tothe negroes nearest him: “Gawdlmighty! It’s Miss Scarlett! You, ‘Lige! ‘Postle! Prophet! Dar’sMiss Scarlett!”

  There was confusion in the ranks. The crowd halted uncertainly, grinning, and Big Sam,followed by three other large negroes, ran across the road to the carriage, closely followed by theharried, shouting officer.

  “Get back in line, you fellows! Get back, I tell you or I’ll—-Why it’s Mrs. Hamilton. Goodmorning, Ma’m, and you, too, sir. What are you up to inciting mutiny and insubordination? Godknows, I’ve had trouble enough with these boys this morning.”

  “Oh, Captain Randall, don’t scold them! They are our people. This is Big Sam our foreman, andElijah and Apostle and Prophet from Tara. Of course, they had to speak to me. How are you,boys?”

  She shook hands all around, her small white hand disappearing into their huge black paws andthe four capered with delight at the meeting and with pride at displaying before their comradeswhat a pretty Young Miss they had.

  “What are you boys doing so far from Tara? You’ve run away, I’ll be bound. Don’t you knowthe patterollers will get you sure?”

  They bellowed pleasedly at the badinage.

  “Runned away?” answered Big Sam. “No’m, us ain’ runned away. Dey done sont an’ tuck us,kase us wuz de fo’ bigges’ an’ stronges’ han’s at Tara.” His white teeth showed proudly. “Deyspecially sont fer me, kase Ah could sing so good. Yas’m, Mist’ Frank Kennedy, he come by an’

  tuck us.”

  “But why, Big Sam?”

  “Lawd, Miss Scarlett! Ain’ you heerd? Us is ter dig de ditches fer de wite gempmums ter hide inw’en de Yankees comes.”

  Captain Randall and the occupants of the carriage smothered smiles at this naive explanation ofrifle pits.

  “Cose, Mis’ Gerald might’ nigh had a fit w’en dey tuck me, an’ he say he kain run de placewidout me. But Miss Ellen she say; Tek him, Mist’ Kennedy. De Confedrutsy need Big Sam mo’

  dan us do.’ An’ she gib me a dollar an’ tell me ter do jes’ whut de w’ite gempmums tell me. Sohyah us is.”

  “What does it all mean, Captain Randall?”

  “Oh, it’s quite simple. We have to strengthen the fortifications of Atlanta with more miles ofrifle pits, and the General can’t spare any men from the front to do it. So we’ve been impressingthe strongest bucks in the countryside for the work.”

  “But—”

  A cold little fear was beginning to throb in Scarlett’s breast. More miles of rifle pits! Whyshould they need more? Within the last year, a series of huge earth redoubts with batteryemplacements had been built all around Atlanta, one mile from the center of town. These greatearthworks were connected with rifle pits and they ran, mile after mile, completely encircling thecity. More rifle pits!

  “But—why should we be fortified any more than we are already fortified? We won’t need whatwe’ve got. Surely, the General won’t let—”

  “Our present fortifications are only a mile from town,” said Captain Randall shortly. “And that’stoo close for comfort—or safety. These new ones are going to be farther away. You see, anotherretreat may bring our men into Atlanta.”

  Immediately he regretted his last remark, as her eyes widened with fear.

  “But, of course there won’t be another retreat,” he added hastily. “The lines around KennesawMountain are impregnable. The batteries are planted all up the mountain sides and they commandthe roads, and the Yankees can’t possibly get by.”

  But Scarlett saw him drop his eyes before the lazy, penetrating look Rhett gave him, and she wasfrightened. She remembered Rhett’s remark: “When the Yankees push him out of the mountainsand onto the flatter land, he’ll be butchered.”

  “Oh, Captain, do you think—”

  “Why, of not! Don’t fret your mind one minute. Old Joe just believes in taking precautions.That’s(course) the only reason we’re digging more entrenchments. ... But I must be goingnow. It’s been pleasant, talking to you. ... Say good-by to your mistress, boys, and let’s get going.”

  “Good-by, boys. Now, if you get sick or hurt or in trouble, let me know. I live right downPeachtree Street, down there in almost the last house at the end of town. Wait a minute—” Shefumbled in her reticule. “Oh, dear, I haven’t a cent. Rhett, give me a few shinplasters. Here, BigSam, buy some tobacco for yourself and the boys. And be good and do what Captain Randall tellsyou.”

  The straggling line re-formed, the dust arose again in a red cloud as they moved off and BigSam started up the singing again.

  “Go do-ow, Mos-es! Waaa-ay, do-own, in Eeejup laa-an!

  An’ te-el O-le Faa-ro-oTer let mah—peee-pul go!”

  “Rhett, Captain Randall was lying to me, just like all the men do—trying to keep the truth fromus women for fear well faint. Or was he lying? Oh, Rhett, if there’s no danger, why are theydigging these new breastworks? Is the army so short of men they’ve got to use darkies?”

  Rhett clucked to the mare.

  “The army is damned short of men. Why else would the Home Guard be called out? And as forthe entrenchments, well, fortifications are supposed to be of some value in case of a siege. TheGeneral is preparing to make his final stand here.”

  “A siege! Oh, turn the horse around. I’m going home, back home to Tara, right away.”

  “What ails you?”

  “A siege! Name of God, a siege! I’ve heard about sieges! Pa was in one or maybe it was his Pa,and Pa told me—”

  “What siege?”

  “The siege at Drogheda when Cromwell had the Irish, and they didn’t have anything to eat andPa said they starved and died in the streets and finally they ate all the cats and rats and even thingslike cockroaches. And he said they ate each other too, before they surrendered, though I never didknow whether to believe that or not. And when Cromwell took the town all the women were— Asiege! Mother of God!”

  “You are the most barbarously ignorant young person I ever saw. Drogheda was in sixteenhundred and something and Mr. O’Hara couldn’t possibly have been alive then. Besides, Shermanisn’t Cromwell.”

  “No, but he’s worse! They say—”

  “And as for the exotic viands the Irish ate at the siege—personally I’d as soon eat a nice juicyrat as some of the victuals they’ve been serving me recently at the hotel. I think I shall have to goback to Richmond. They have good food there, if you have the money to pay for it.” His eyesmocked the fear in her face.

  Annoyed that she had shown her trepidation, she cried: “I don’t see why you’ve stayed here thislong! All you think about is being comfortable and eating and—and things like that.”

  “I know no more pleasant way to pass the time than in eating and er—things like that,” he said.

  “And as for why I stay here—well, I’ve read a good deal about sieges, beleaguered cities and thelike, but I’ve never seen one. So I think I’ll stay here and watch. I won’t get hurt because I’m anoncombatant and besides I want the experience. Never pass up new experiences, Scarlett. Theyenrich the mind.”

  “My mind’s rich enough.”

  “Perhaps you know best about that, but I should say— But that would be ungallant. Andperhaps, I’m staying here to rescue you when the siege does come. I’ve never rescued a maiden indistress. That would be a new experience, too.”

  She knew he was teasing her but she sensed a seriousness behind his words. She tossed herhead.

  “I won’t need you to rescue me. I can take care of myself, thank you.”

  “Don’t say that, Scarlett! Think of it, if you like, but never, never say it to a man. That’s thetrouble with Yankee girls. They’d be most charming if they weren’t always telling you that theycan take care of themselves, thank you. Generally they are telling the truth, God help them. And so men let them take care of themselves.”

  “How you do run on,” she said coldly, for there was no insult worse than being likened to aYankee girl. “I believe you’re lying about a siege. You know the Yankees will never get toAtlanta.”

  “I’ll bet you they will be here within the month. I’ll bet you a box of bonbons against—” Hisdark eyes wandered to her lips. “Against a kiss.”

  For a last brief moment, fear of a Yankee invasion clutched her heart but at the word “kiss,” sheforgot about it. This was familiar ground and far more interesting than military operations. Withdifficulty she restrained a smile of glee. Since the day when he gave her the green bonnet, Rhetthad made no advances which could in any way be construed as those of a lover. He could never beinveigled into personal conversations, try though she might, but now with no angling on her part,he was talking about kissing.

  “I don’t care for such personal conversation,” she said coolly and managed a frown. “Besides,I’d just as soon kiss a pig.”

  “There’s no accounting for tastes and I’ve always heard the Irish were partial to pigs—kept themunder their beds, in fact. But, Scarlett, you need kissing badly. That’s what’s wrong with you. Allyour beaux have respected you too much, though God knows why, or they have been too afraid ofyou to really do right by you. The result is that you are unendurably uppity. You should be kissedand by someone who knows how.”

  The conversation was not going the way she wanted it. It never did when she was with him.

  Always, it was a duel in which she was worsted.

  “And I suppose you think you are the proper person?” she asked with sarcasm, holding hertemper in check with difficulty.

  “Oh, yes, if I cared to take the trouble,” he said carelessly. “They say I kiss very well.”

  “Oh,” she began, indignant at the slight to her charms. “Why, you …” But her eyes fell insudden confusion. He was smiling, but in the dark depths of his eyes a tiny light flickered for abrief moment, like a small raw flame.

  “Of course, you’ve probably wondered why I never tried to follow up that chaste peck I gaveyou, the day I brought you that bonnet—”

  “I have never—”

  “Then you aren’t a nice girl, Scarlett, and I’m sorry to hear it. All really nice girls wonder whenmen don’t try to kiss them. They know they shouldn’t want them to and they know they must actinsulted if they do, but just the same, they wish the men would try. … Well, my dear, take heartSome day, I will kiss you and you will like it. But not now, so I beg you not to be too impatient.”

  She knew he was teasing but, as always, his teasing maddened her. There was always too muchtruth in the things he said. Well, this finished him. If ever, ever he should be so ill bred as to try totake any liberties with her, she would show him.

  “Will you kindly turn the horse around, Captain Butler? I wish to go back to the hospital.”

  “Do you indeed, my ministering angel? Then lice and slops are preferable to my conversation?

  Well, far be it from me to keep a pair of willing hands from laboring for Our Glorious Cause.” Heturned the horse’s head and they started back toward Five Points.

  “As to why I have made no further advances,” he pursued blandly, as though she had notsignified that the conversation was at an end, “I’m waiting for you to grow up a little more. Yousee, it wouldn’t be much fun for me to kiss you now and I’m quite selfish about my pleasures. Inever fancied kissing children.”

  He smothered a grin, as from the corner of his eye he saw her bosom heave with silent wrath.

  “And then, too,” he continued softly, “I was waiting for the memory of the estimable AshleyWilkes to fade.”

  At the mention of Ashley’s name, sudden pain went through her, sudden hot tears stung her lids.

  Fade? The memory of Ashley would never fade, not if he were dead a thousand years. She thoughtof Ashley wounded, dying in a far-off Yankee prison, with no blankets over him, with no one wholoved him to hold his hand, and she was filled with hate for the well-fed man who sat beside her,jeers just beneath the surface of his drawling voice.

  She was too angry to speak and they rode along in silence for some while.

  “I understand practically everything about you and Ashley, now,” Rhett resumed. “I began withyour inelegant scene at Twelve Oaks and, since then, I’ve picked up many things by keeping myeyes open. What things? Oh, that you still cherish a romantic schoolgirl passion for him which hereciprocates as well as his honorable nature will permit him. And that Mrs. Wilkes knows nothingand that, between the two of you, you’ve done her a pretty trick. I understand practicallyeverything, except one thing that piques my curiosity. Did the honorable Ashley ever jeopardizehis immortal soul by kissing you?”

  A stony silence and an averted head were his answers.

  “Ah, well, so he did kiss you. I suppose it was when he was here on furlough. And now that he’sprobably dead you are cherishing it to your heart. But I’m sure you’ll get over it and when you’veforgotten his kiss, I’ll—”

  She turned in fury.

  “You go to—Halifax,” she said tensely, her green eyes slits of rage. “And let me out of thiscarriage before I jump over the wheels. And I don’t ever want to speak to you again.”

  He stopped the carriage, but before he could alight and assist her she sprang down. Her hoopcaught on the wheel and for a moment the crowd at Five Points had a flashing view of petticoatsand pantalets. Then Rhett leaned over and swiftly released it She flounced off without a word,without even a backward look, and he laughed softly and clicked to the horse.

 1864年的五月来到了,那是个又热又干燥的五月,花蕾还来不及绽放就枯萎了。谢尔曼将军指挥下的北军又一次进入佐治亚,到了多尔顿北边,在亚特兰大西北一百英里处。传说佐治亚和田纳西的边界附近将爆发一场恶战。北方佬正在调集军队,准备发动一次对西部的亚特兰大铁路的进攻,这条铁路是亚特兰大通往田纳西和西部的要道,去年秋天南军就是沿着它迅速赶来取得奇卡莫加大捷的。
  不过,大多数亚特兰大人对于在多尔顿发生大战的可能性都不怎么感到惊慌,因为北军集中的地点就在奇卡莫加战场东南部数英里处。他们上次企图打通那个地区的山间小道既然被击退了,那么这次也必然会被击退。
  亚特兰大和整个佐治亚州的人民知道,这个州对南部联盟实在太重要了,乔·约翰斯顿将军是不会让北方佬长久留在州界以内的。老约和他的军队连一个北方佬也不会让越过多尔顿南进一步,因为要保持佐治亚的功能不受干扰,对于全局关系极大。这个至今仍保持完整的州是南部联盟的一个巨大粮仓,同时也是机器厂和贮藏库,它生产军队所使用的大量弹药和武器,以及大部分的棉毛织品,在亚特兰大和多尔顿之间,是拥有大炮铸造厂和其他工业的罗姆城,以及拥有里士满以南最大炼铁厂的埃托瓦和阿拉图纳。而且,亚特兰大不仅有制造手枪、鞍套、帐篷和军火的工厂,还有南方规模最大的碾压厂,主要的铁路器材厂和宏大的医院。亚特兰大还是四条铁路和交汇点,这些铁路无疑是南部联盟的命脉。
  因此,谁都不着急。毕竟,多尔顿将近田纳西,还远着呢,在田纳西州战争已打了三年,人们已习惯于把那里当作一个遥远的战场,几乎跟弗吉尼亚或密西西比河一样遥远。何况老约将军和他的部队驻守在北方佬和亚特兰大之间,人人都知道除了李将军本人,加之斯·杰克逊已经去世,当今再没有哪位将领比老约更伟大的了。
  一个炎热的五月黄昏,米德大夫在皮蒂姑妈住宅的走廊上谈论当前的形势,说亚特兰大用不着担心,因为约翰斯顿将军像一堵铜铁壁耸立在山区,他的这种看法代表了亚特兰大市民的普遍观点。听他谈论的听众坐在逐渐朦胧的暮色中轻轻摇动着,看着夏季第一批萤火虫迎着昏暗奇妙地飞来飞去,但他们都满怀沉重的心事,情绪也在不断变化。米德太太抓住费尔的胳臂,希望大夫说的话是真实可靠的。因为一旦战争逼近,她的费尔就不得不上前线了。他现在16岁,已参加了乡团。范妮·埃尔辛自从葛底斯堡战役以来变得面容憔悴、眼睛凹陷了,她正努力回避那幅可怕的图景----那就是这几个月一直在她心里翻腾着的----垂死的达拉斯·麦克卢尔中尉躺在一辆颠簸的牛车上,冒着大雨长途跋涉,撤回到马里兰来。
  凯里·阿什伯恩队长那只已经残废的胳臂又在折磨他了,而且他觉得他对思嘉的追求已处于停顿状态,因此心情十分沮丧。这种局面在艾希礼被俘的消息传来之后就出现了,虽然他并没有意识到这两者之间的什么联系。思嘉和媚兰两人都在想念艾希礼;她们只要没有什么紧急任务在身,或者因必须与别人谈话而转移了注意力时,便总是这样想念他的。
  思嘉想得既痛苦又悲伤:他一定是死了,否则我们不会听不到信息的。媚兰则始终在迎着恐惧的激流一次又一次地搏击,心里暗暗对自己说:“他不可能死。要是他死了,我会知道的----我会感觉到的。"瑞德·巴特勒懒懒地斜倚在黑影中,穿着漂亮皮靴的两条长腿随意交叉着,那张黑黝黝的脸孔上毫无表情,谁也不知道他在想些什么。韦德在他怀里安然睡着了,小手里拿着一根剔得干干净净的如意骨,每当瑞德来访时,思嘉总是允许韦德坐到很晚才睡,因为这个腼腆的孩子很喜欢他,同时瑞德也很怪,竟高兴同他亲近。思嘉通常不乐意让韦德在身边打扰她,但是他一到瑞德怀里就变得很乖了。至于皮蒂姑妈,她正神经质地强忍着不要打出嗝来,因为他们那天晚餐吃的是一只硬邦邦的老公鸡。
  那天早晨,皮蒂姑妈遗憾地作出决定,最好把这只老公鸡宰掉,省得它继续为那只早被吃掉的老伴伤心,直到自己老死为止。好多天来,它总耷拉着脑袋在空荡荡的鸡场上发闷,也提不起精神来啼叫了。当彼得大叔扭断它的脖子时,皮蒂姑妈忽然想起她的许多朋友都好几个星期没尝到鸡味了;如果自己一家关起门来享用这顿美餐,那是良心过不去的,因此她建议请些客人来吃饭。媚兰怀孕到了第五个月,已经有好几个星期既不出外参加活动,也不在家接待宾客,所以对这个主意感到很不安。可是皮蒂姑妈这次很坚决,一家人单独吃这只公鸡,毕竟太自私了吧?何况媚兰的胸部本来就那么平板,她只要把最上面的那个裙圈稍稍提高一点,便没有人会看出来了。
  “唔,我不想见人,姑妈,因为艾希礼----”“其实艾希礼----他并不是已经不在了呀!"皮蒂姑妈用颤抖的声音说,因为她心里已经断定艾希礼是死了。"他还像你那样活得好好的,而你呢,多跟人来往来往对你只有好处,我还想请范妮·埃尔辛也来呢。埃尔辛太太央求我设法让她振作起来,劝她见见客----”“唔,达拉斯刚死不久,姑妈,你要是强迫她这样做,那可太残忍了。”“怎么,媚兰,你再这样跟我争下去,我可要气哭了。不管怎么说,我总是你的姑妈,也不是不明事理。我一定要请客吃饭。"于是,皮蒂姑妈请客了,而且到最后一分钟来了一位她没有请也不希望他来的客人,恰好屋子里充满了烤鸡的香味,瑞德·巴特勒不知从哪里鬼使神差地回来了,在外面敲门。他腑下夹着一大盒用花纸包着的糖果,满口伶俐的奉承话。这就毫无办法,只好把他留下了,尽管皮蒂姑妈知道大夫和米德太太对他没有好感,而范妮是不喜欢任何不穿军服的男人的。本来,无论米德家还是埃尔辛家里的人,在街上从不跟瑞德打招呼,可如今是在朋友家里,他们当然就得以礼相待了。何况他现在受到了媚兰比以前更加坚决的庇护。因为自从他替媚兰出力打听艾希礼的消息以后,她便公开宣布,只要他活着,他便永远是她家受欢迎的客人,无论别人怎样说他的坏话都不在乎。
  皮蒂姑妈发现瑞德的言谈举止都彬彬有礼,便渐渐放心了。他一心用同情而尊重的态度对待范妮,范妮因此也高兴起来,于是这顿饭吃得十分愉快。可以说是一顿丰厚的美宴。
  凯里·阿什伯恩带来了一点茶叶,那是从一个到安德森维尔去的北军俘虏的烟叶袋里找到的,给每人都泡了一杯,可惜略略有点烟草味。每人都分到一小块老公鸡肉,一份相当多的用玉米片加葱头制作的调味田,一碗干豆,以及大量的米饭和肉汤,尽管肉汤由于没有面粉掺和而显得稀了些。点心和甘薯馅饼,外加瑞德带来的糖果。当瑞德把真正的哈瓦那雪茄拿出来,供男客们一面喝黑莓酒和一面抽雪茄时,大家异口同声说这简直是一次卢库勒斯家的盛宴了。
  然后男客们来到前廊上的女士们中间,谈话就传到了战争这个问题上。近来人们的谈话总是离不开战争。无论什么话题都要从战争谈起,最后又回到战争上去----有时谈伤心事,更多的时候是愉快的,但常常同战争有关。战时传奇呀,战时婚礼呀,在医院里的战场上的死亡呀,驻营、打仗和行军中的故事呀,关于英勇、怯懦、幽默、悲惨、沮丧和希望的故事呀,等等,等等。希望,经常是希望,永远是希望。尽管去年夏季打了



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