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Chapter 23

AFTER PRISSY HAD GONE, Scarlett went wearily into the downstairs hall and lit a lamp. Thehouse felt steamingly hot, as though it held in its walls all the heat of the noontide. Some of herdullness was passing now and her stomach was clamoring for food. She remembered she had hadnothing to eat since the night before except a spoonful of hominy, and picking up the lamp shewent into the kitchen. The fire in the oven had died but the room was stifling hot. She found half apone of hard corn bread in the skillet and gnawed hungrily on it while she looked about for otherfood. There was some hominy left in the pot and she ate it with a big cooking spoon, not waiting toput it on a plate. It needed salt badly but she was too hungry to hunt for it. After four spoonfuls ofit, the heat of the room was too much and, taking the lamp in one hand and a fragment of pone inthe other, she went out into the hall.

  She knew she should go upstairs and sit beside Melanie. If anything went wrong, Melanie wouldbe too weak to call. But the idea of returning to that room where she had spent so many nightmarehours was repulsive to her. Even if Melanie were dying, she couldn’t go back up there. She neverwanted to see that room again. She set the lamp on the candle stand by the window and returned tothe front porch. It was so much cooler here, and even the night was drowned in soft warmth. Shesat down on the steps in the circle of faint light thrown by the lamp and continued gnawing on thecorn bread.

  When she had finished it, a measure of strength came back to her and with the strength cameagain the pricking of fear. She could hear a humming of noise far down the street, but what itportended she did not know. She could distinguish nothing but a volume of sound that rose andfell. She strained forward trying to hear and soon she found her muscles aching from the tension.

  More than anything in the world she yearned to hear the sound of hooves and to see Rhett’scareless, self-confident eyes laughing at her fears. Rhett would take them away, somewhere. Shedidn’t know where. She didn’t care.

  As she sat straining her ears toward town, a faint glow appeared above the trees. It puzzled her.

  She watched it and saw it grow brighter. The dark sky became pink and then dull red, and suddenly above the trees, she saw a huge tongue of flame leap high to the heavens. She jumped to her feet,her heart beginning again its sickening thudding and bumping.

  The Yankees had come! She knew they had come and they were burning the town. The flamesseemed to be off to the east of the center of town. They shot higher and higher and widened rapidlyinto a broad expanse of red before her terrified eyes. A whole block must be burning. A faint hotbreeze that had sprung up bore the smell of smoke to her.

  She fled up the stairs to her own room and hung out the window for a better view. The sky was ahideous lurid color and great swirls of black smoke went twisting up to hand in billowy cloudsabove the flames. The smell of smoke was stronger now. Her mind rushed incoherently here andthere, thinking how soon the flames would spread up Peachtree Street and burn this house, howsoon the Yankees would be rushing in upon her, where she would run, what she would do. All thefiends of hell seemed screaming in her ears and her brain swirled with confusion and panic sooverpowering she clung to the window sill for support.

  “I must think,” she told herself over and over. “I must think.”

  But thoughts eluded her, darting in and out of her mind like frightened humming birds. As shestood hanging to the sill, a deafening explosion burst on her ears, louder than any cannon she hadever heard. The sky was rent with gigantic flame. Then other explosions. The earth shook and theglass in the panes above her head shivered and came down around her.

  The world became an inferno of noise and flame and trembling earth as one explosion followedanother in ear-splitting succession. Torrents of sparks shot to the sky and descended slowly, lazily,through blood-colored clouds of smoke. She thought she heard a feeble call from the next room butshe paid it no heed. She had no time for Melanie now. No time for anything except a fear thatlicked through her veins as swiftly as the flames she saw. She was a child and mad with fright andshe wanted to bury her head in her mother’s lap and shut out this sight. If she were only home!

  Home with Mother.

  Through the nerve-shivering sounds, she heard another sound, that of fear-sped feet coming upthe stairs three at a time, heard a voice yelping like a lost hound. Prissy broke into the room and,flying to Scarlett, clutched her arm in a grip that seemed to pinch out pieces of flesh.

  “The Yankees—” cried Scarlett.

  “No’m, its our gempmums!” yelled Prissy between breaths, digging her nails deeper intoScarlett’s arm. “Dey’s buhnin’ de foun’ry an’ de ahmy supply depots an’ de wa’houses an’, fo’

  Gawd, Miss Scarlett, dey done set off dem sebenty freight cahs of cannon balls an’ gunpowder an’,Jesus, we’s all gwine ter buhn up!”

  She began yelping again shrilly and pinched Scarlett so hard she cried out in pain and fury andshook off her hand.

  The Yankees hadn’t come yet! There was still time to get away! She rallied her frightened forcestogether.

  “If I don’t get a hold on myself,” she thought, “I’ll be squalling like a scalded cat!” and the sightof Prissy’s abject terror helped steady her. She took her by the shoulders and shook her.

  “Shut up that racket and talk sense. The Yankees haven’t come, you fool! Did you see CaptainButler? What did he say? Is he coming?”

  Prissy ceased her yelling but her teeth chattered.

  “Yas’m, Ah finely foun’ him. In a bahroom, lak you told me. He—”

  “Never mind where you found him. Is he coming? Did you tell him to bring his horse?”

  “Lawd, Miss Scarlett, he say our gempmums done tuck his hawse an’ cah’ige fer a amberlance.”

  “Dear God in Heaven!”

  “But he comin’—”

  “What did he say?”

  Prissy had recovered her breath and a small measure of control but her eyes still rolled.

  “Well’m, lak you tole me, Ah foun’ him in a bahroom. Ah stood outside an’ yell fer him an’ hecome out. An’ ter-reckly he see me an’ Ah starts tell him, de sojers tech off a sto’ house downDecatur Street an’ it flame up an’ he say Come on an’ he grab me an’ we runs ter Fibe Points an’ hesay den: What now? Talk fas’. An’ Ah say you say, Cap’n Butler, come quick an’ bring yo’ hawsean’ cah’ige. Miss Melly done had a chile an’ you is bustin’ ter get outer town. An’ he say: Whereall she studyin’ ‘bout goin’? An’ Ah say: Ah doan know, suh, but you is boun’ ter go fo’ de Yankeesgits hyah an’ wants him ter go wid you. An’ he laugh an’ say dey done tuck his hawse.”

  Scarlett’s heart went leaden as the last hope left her. Fool that she was, why hadn’t she thoughtthat the retreating army would naturally take every vehicle and animal left in the city? For amoment she was too stunned to hear what Prissy was saying but she pulled herself together to hearthe rest of the story.

  “An’ den he say, Tell Miss Scarlett ter res’ easy. Ah’ll steal her a hawse outer de ahmy crall effendey’s ary one lef. An’ he say, Ah done stole hawses befo’ dis night. Tell her Ah git her a hawseeffen Ah gits shot fer it. Den ‘he laugh agin an’ say, Cut an’ run home. An’ befo’ Ah gits startedKer-bloom! Off goes a noise an’ Ah lak ter drap in mah tracks an’ he tell me twarnt nuthin’ but deammernition our gempmums blowin’ up so’s de Yankees don’t git it an’—”

  “He is coming? He’s going to bring a horse?”

  “So he say.”

  She drew a long breath of relief. If there was any way of getting a horse, Rhett Butler would getone. A smart man, Rhett. She would forgive him anything if he got them out of this mess. Escape!

  And with Rhett she would have no fear. Rhett would protect them. Thank God for Rhett! Withsafety in view she turned practical.

  “Wake Wade up and dress him and pack some clothes for an of us. Put them in the small trunk.

  And don’t tell Miss Mellie we’re going. Not yet. But wrap the baby in a couple of thick towels andbe sure and pack his clothes.”

  Prissy still dang to her skirts and hardly anything showed in her eyes except the whites. Scarlettgave her a shove and loosened her grip.

  “Hurry,” she cried, and Prissy went off like a rabbit.

  Scarlett knew she should go in and quiet Melanie’s fear, knew Melanie must be frightened out ofher senses by the thunderous noises that continued unabated and the glare that lighted the sky. Itlooked and sounded like the end of the world.

  But she could not bring herself to go back into that room just yet. She ran down the stairs withsome idea of packing up Miss Pittypat’s china and the little silver she had left when she refugeedto Macon. But when she reached the dining room, her hands were shaking so badly she droppedthree plates and shattered them. She ran out onto the porch to listen and back again to the diningroom and dropped the silver clattering to the floor. Everything she touched she dropped. In herhurry she slipped on the rag rug and fell to the floor with a jolt but leaped up so quickly she wasnot even aware of the pain. Upstairs she could hear Prissy galloping about like a wild animal andthe sound maddened her, for she was galloping just as aimlessly.

  For the dozenth time, she ran out onto the porch but this time she did not go back to her futilepacking. She sat down. It was just impossible to pack anything. Impossible to do anything but sitwith hammering heart and wait for Rhett. It seemed hours before he came. At last, far up the road,she heard the protesting screech of unoiled axles and the slow uncertain plodding of hooves. Whydidn’t he hurry? Why didn’t he make the horse trot?

  The sounds came nearer and she leaped to her feet and called Rhett’s name. Then, she saw himdimly as he climbed down from the seat of a small wagon, heard the clicking of the gate as hecame toward her. He came into view and the light of the lamp showed him plainly. His dress wasas debonair as if he were going to a ball, well-tailored white linen coat and trousers, embroideredgray watered-silk waistcoat and a hint of ruffle on his shirt bosom. His wide Panama hat was setdashingly on one side of his head and in the belt of his trousers were thrust two ivory-handled,long-barreled dueling pistols. The pockets of his coat sagged heavily with ammunition.

  He came up the walk with the springy stride of a savage and his fine head was carried like apagan prince. The dangers of the night which had driven Scarlett into panic had affected him likean intoxicant. There was a carefully restrained ferocity in his dark face, a ruthlessness which wouldhave frightened her had she the wits to see it.

  His black eyes danced as though amused by the whole affair, as though the earth-splittingsounds and the horrid glare were merely things to frighten children. She swayed toward him as hecame up the steps, her face white, her green eyes burning.

  “Good evening,” he said, in his drawling voice, as he removed his hat with a sweeping gesture.

  “Fine weather we’re having. I hear you’re going to take a trip.”

  “If you make any jokes, I shall never speak to you again,” she said with quivering voice.

  “Don’t tell me you are frightened!” He pretended to be surprised and smiled in a way that madeher long to push him backwards down the steep steps.

  “Yes, I am! I’m frightened to death and if you had the sense God gave a goat, you’d befrightened too. But we haven’t got time to talk. We must get out of here.”

  “At your service, Madam. But just where were you figuring on going? I made the trip out here for curiosity, just to see where you were intending to go. You can’t go north or east or south orwest The Yankees are all around. There’s just one road out of town which the Yankees haven’t gotyet and the army is retreating by that road. And that road won’t be open long. General Steve Lee’scavalry is fighting a rear-guard action at Rough and Ready to hold it open long enough for thearmy to get away. If you follow the army down the McDonough road, they’ll take the horse awayfrom you and, while it’s not much of a horse, I did go to a lot of trouble stealing it. Just where areyou going?”

  She stood shaking, listening to his words, hardly hearing them. But at his question she suddenlyknew where she was going, knew that all this miserable day she had known where she was going.

  The only place.

  “I’m going home,” she said.

  “Home? You mean to Tara?”

  “Yes, yes! To Tara! Oh, Rhett, we must hurry!”

  He looked at her as if she had lost her mind.

  “Tara? God Almighty, Scarlett! Don’t you know they fought all day at Jonesboro? Fought for tenmiles up and down the road from Rough and Ready even into the streets of Jonesboro? TheYankees may be all over Tara by now, all over the County. Nobody knows where they are butthey’re in that neighborhood. You can’t go home! You can’t go right through the Yankee army!”

  “I will go home!” she cried. “I will! I will!”

  “You little fool,” and his voice was swift and rough. “You can’t go that way. Even if you didn’trun into the Yankees, the woods are full of stragglers and deserters from both armies. And lots ofour troops are still retreating from Jonesboro. They’d take the horse away from you as quickly asthe Yankees would. Your only chance is to follow the troops down the McDonough road and praythat they won’t see you in the dark. “You can’t go to Tara. Even if you got there, you’d probablyfind it burned down. I won’t let you go home. It’s insanity.”

  “I will go home!” she cried and her voice broke and rose to a scream. “I will go home! You can’tstop me! I will go home! I want my mother! I’ll kill you if you try to stop me! I will go home!”

  Tears of fright and hysteria streamed down her face as she finally gave way under the longstrain. She beat on his chest with her fists and screamed again: “I will! I will! If I have to walkevery step of the way!”

  Suddenly she was in his arms, her wet cheek against the starched ruffle of his shirt, her beatinghands stilled against him. His hands caressed her tumbled hair gently, soothingly, and his voicewas gentle too. So gentle, so quiet, so devoid of mockery, it did not seem Rhett Butler’s voice at allbut the voice of some kind strong stranger who smelled of brandy and tobacco and horses,comforting smells because they reminded her of Gerald.

  “There, there, darling,” he said softly. “Don’t cry. You shall go home, my brave little girl. Youshall go home. Don’t cry.”

  She felt something brush her hair and wondered vaguely through her tumult if it were his lips.

  He was so tender, so infinitely soothing, she longed to stay in his arms forever. With such strong arms about her, surely nothing could harm her.

  He fumbled in his pocket and produced a handkerchief and wiped her eyes.

  “Now, blow your nose like a good child,” he ordered, a glint of a smile in his eyes, “and tell mewhat to do. We must work fast.”

  She blew her nose obediently, still trembling, but she could not think what to tell him to do.

  Seeing how her lip quivered and her eyes looked up at him helplessly, he took command.

  “Mrs. Wilkes has had her child? It will be dangerous to move her—dangerous to drive hertwenty-five miles in that rickety wagon. We’d better leave her with Mrs. Meade.”

  “The Meades aren’t home. I can’t leave her.”

  “Very well. Into the wagon she goes. Where is that simple-minded little wench?”

  “Upstairs packing the trunk.”

  “Trunk? You can’t take any trunk in that wagon. It’s almost too small to hold all of you and thewheels are ready to come off with no encouragement. Call her and tell her to get the smallestfeather bed in the house and put it in the wagon.”

  Still Scarlett could not move. He took her arm in a strong grasp and some of the vitality whichanimated him seemed to flow into her body. If only she could be as cool and casual as he was! Hepropelled her into the hall but she still stood helplessly looking at him. His lip went downmockingly: “Can this be the heroic young woman who assured me she feared neither God norman?”

  He suddenly burst into laughter and dropped her arm. Stung, she glared at him, hating him.

  “I’m not afraid,” she said.

  “Yes, you are. In another moment you’ll be in a swoon and I have no smelling salts about me.”

  She stamped her foot impotently because she could not think of anything else to do—andwithout a word picked up the lamp and started up the stairs. He was close behind her and she couldhear him laughing softly to himself. That sound stiffened her spine. She went into Wade’s nurseryand found him sitting clutched in Prissy’s arms, half dressed, hiccoughing quietly. Prissy waswhimpering. The feather tick on Wade’s bed was small and she ordered Prissy to drag it down thestairs and into the wagon. Prissy put down the child and obeyed. Wade followed her down thestairs, his hiccoughs stilled by his interest in the proceedings.

  “Come,” said Scarlett, turning to Melanie’s door and Rhett followed her, hat in hand.

  Melanie lay quietly with the sheet up to her chin. Her face was deathly white but her eyes,sunken and black circled, were serene. She showed no surprise at the sight of Rhett in her bedroombut seemed to take it as a matter of course. She tried to smile weakly but the smile died before itreached the corners of her mouth.

  “We are going home, to Tara,” Scarlett explained rapidly. “The Yankees are coming. Rhett isgoing to take us. It’s the only way, Melly.”

  Melanie tried to nod her head feebly and gestured toward the baby. Scarlett picked up the small baby and wrapped him hastily in a thick towel. Rhett stepped to the bed.

  “I’ll try not to hurt you,” he said quietly, tucking the sheet about her. “See if you can put yourarms around my neck.”

  Melanie tried but they fell back weakly. He bent, slipped an arm under her shoulders andanother across her knees and lifted her gently. She did not cry out but Scarlett saw her bite her lipand go even whiter. Scarlett held the lamp high for Rhett to see and started toward the door whenMelanie made a feeble gesture toward the wall.

  “What is it?” Rhett asked softly.

  “Please,” Melanie whispered, trying to point. “Charles.”

  Rhett looked down at her as if he thought her delirious but Scarlett understood and was irritated.

  She knew Melanie wanted the daguerreotype of Charles which hung on the wall below his swordand pistol.

  “Please,” Melanie whispered again, “the sword.”

  “Oh, all right,” said Scarlett and, after she had lighted Rhett’s careful way down the steps, shewent back and unhooked the sword and pistol belts. It would be awkward, carrying them as well asthe baby and the lamp. That was just like Melanie, not to be at all bothered over nearly dying andhaving the Yankees at her heels but to worry about Charles’ things.

  As she took down the daguerreotype, she caught a glimpse of Charles’ face. His large browneyes met hers and she stopped for a moment to look at the picture curiously. This man had been herhusband, had lain beside her for a few nights, had given her a child with eyes as soft and brown ashis. And she could hardly remember him.

  The child in her arms waved small fists and mewed softly and she looked down at him. For thefirst time, she realized that this was Ashley’s baby and suddenly wished with all the strength left inher that he were her baby, hers and Ashley’s.

  Prissy came bounding up the stairs and Scarlett handed the child to her. They went hastily down,the lamp throwing uncertain shadows on the wall. In the hall, Scarlett saw a bonnet and put it onhurriedly, tying the ribbons under her chin. It was Melanie’s black mourning bonnet and it did notfit Scarlett’s head but she could not recall where she had put her own bonnet.

  She went out of the house and down the front steps, carrying the lamp and trying to keep thesaber from banging against her legs. Melanie lay full length in the back of the wagon, and, besideher, were Wade and the towel-swathed baby. Prissy climbed in and took the baby in her arms.

  The wagon was very small and the boards about the sides very low. The wheels leaned inward asif their first revolution would make them come off. She took one look at the horse and her heartsank. He was a small emaciated animal and he stood with his head dispiritedly low, almostbetween his forelegs. His back was raw with sores and harness galls and he breathed as no soundhorse should.

  “Not much of an animal, is it?” grinned Rhett. “Looks like he’ll die in the shafts. But he’s thebest I could do. Some day I’ll tell you with embellishments just where and how I stole him andhow narrowly I missed getting shot. Nothing but my devotion to you would make me, at this stage of my career, turn horse thief—and thief of such a horse. Let me help you in.”

  He took the lamp from her and set it on the ground. The front seat was only a narrow plankacross the sides of the wagon. Rhett picked Scarlett up bodily and swung her to it. How wonderfulto be a man and as strong as Rhett, she thought, tucking her wide skirts about her. With Rhettbeside her, she did not fear anything, neither the fire nor the noise nor the Yankees.

  He climbed onto the seat beside her and picked up the reins.

  “Oh, wait!” she cried. “I forgot to lock the front door.”

  He burst into a roar of laughter and slapped the reins upon the horse’s back.

  “What are you laughing at?”

  “At you—locking the Yankees out,” he said and the horse started off, slowly, reluctantly. Thelamp on the sidewalk burned on, making a tiny yellow circle of light which grew smaller andsmaller as they moved away.

  Rhett turned the horse’s slow feet westward from Peachtree and the wobbling wagon jouncedinto the rutty lane with a violence that wrenched an abruptly stilled moan from Melanie. Dark treesinterlaced above their heads, dark silent houses loomed up on either side and the white palings offences gleamed faintly like a row of tombstones. The narrow street was a dim tunnel, but faintlythrough the thick leafy ceiling the hideous red glow of the sky penetrated and shadows chased oneanother down the dark way like mad ghosts. The smell of smoke came stronger and stronger, andon the wings of the hot breeze came a pandemonium of sound from the center of town, yells, thedull rumbling of heavy army wagons and the steady tramp of marching feet. As Rhett jerked thehorse’s head and turned him into another street, another deafening explosion tore the air and amonstrous skyrocket of flame and smoke shot up in the west.

  That must be the last of the ammunition trains,” Rhett said calmly. “Why didn’t they get themout this morning, the fools! There was plenty of time. Well, too bad for us. I thought by circlingaround the center of town, we might avoid the fire and that drunken mob on Decatur Street and getthrough to the southwest part of town without any danger. But we’ve got to cross Marietta Streetsomewhere and that explosion was near Marietta Street or I miss my guess.”

  “Must—must we go through the fire?” Scarlett quavered.

  “Not if we hurry,” said Rhett and, springing from the wagon, he disappeared into the darkness ofa yard. When he returned he had a small limb of a tree in his hand and he laid it mercilessly acrossthe horse’s galled back. The animal broke into a shambling trot, his breath panting and labored,and the wagon swayed forward with a jolt that threw them about like popcorn in a popper. Thebaby wailed, and Prissy and Wade cried out as they bruised themselves against the sides of thewagon. But from Melanie there was no sound.

  As they neared Marietta Street, the trees thinned out and the tall flames roaring up above thebuildings threw street and houses into a glare of light brighter than day, casting monstrous shadowsthat twisted as wildly as torn sails flapping in a gale on a sinking ship.

  Scarlett’s teeth chattered but so great was her terror she was not even aware of it. She was cold and she shivered, even though the heat of the flames was already hot against their faces. This washell and she was in it and, if she could only have conquered her shaking knees, she would haveleaped from the wagon and run screaming back the dark road they had come, back to the refuge ofMiss Pittypat’s house. She shrank closer to Rhett, took his arm in fingers that trembled and lookedup at him for words, for comfort, for something reassuring. In the unholy crimson glow that bathedthem, his dark profile stood out as clearly as the head on an ancient coin, beautiful, cruel anddecadent. At her touch he turned to her, his eyes gleaming with a light as frightening as the fire. ToScarlett, he seemed as exhilarated and contemptuous as if he got strong pleasure from the situation,as if he welcomed the inferno they were approaching.

  “Here,” he said, laying a hand on one of the long-barreled pistols in his belt. “If anyone, black orwhite, comes up on your side of the wagon and tries to lay hand on the horse, shoot him and we’llask questions later. But for God’s sake, don’t shoot the nag in your excitement.”

  “I—I have a pistol,” she whispered, clutching the weapon in her lap, perfectly certain that ifdeath stared her in the face, she would be too frightened to pull the trigger.

  “You have? Where did you get it?”

  “It’s Charles’.”

  “Charles?”

  “Yes, Charles—my husband.”

  “Did you ever really have a husband, my dear?” he whispered and laughed softly.

  If he would only be serious! If he would only hurry!

  “How do you suppose I got my boy?” she cried fiercely.

  “Oh, there are other ways than husbands—”

  “Will you hush and hurry?”

  But he drew rein abruptly, almost at Marietta Street, in the shadow of a warehouse not yettouched by the flames.

  “Hurry!” It was the only word in her mind. Hurry! Hurry!

  “Soldiers,” he said.

  The detachment came down Marietta Street, between the burning buildings, walking at routestep, tiredly, rifles held any way, heads down, too weary to hurry, too weary to care if timbers werecrashing to right and left and smoke billowing about them. They were all ragged, so ragged thatbetween officers and men there were no distinguishing insignia except here and there a torn hatbrim pinned up with a wreathed “C.S.A.” Many were barefooted and here and there a dirtybandage wrapped a head or arm. They went past, looking neither to left nor right, so silent that hadit not been for the steady tramp of feet they might all have been ghosts.

  “Take a good look at them,” came Rhett’s gibing voice, “so you can tell your grandchildren yousaw the rear guard of the Glorious Cause in retreat.”

  Suddenly she hated him, hated him with a strength that momentarily overpowered her fear, made it seem petty and small. She knew her safety and that of the others in the back of the wagondepended on him and him alone, but she hated him for his sneering at those ragged ranks. Shethought of Charles who was dead and Ashley who might be dead and all the gay and gallant youngmen who were rotting in shallow graves and she forgot that she, too, had once thought them fools.

  She could not speak, but hatred and disgust burned in her eyes as she stared at him fiercely.

  As the last of the soldiers were passing, a small figure in the rear rank, his rifle butt dragging theground, wavered, stopped and stared after the others with a dirty face so dulled by fatigue helooked like a sleepwalker. He was as small as Scarlett, so small his rifle was almost as tall as hewas, and his grime-smeared face was unbearded. Sixteen at the most, thought Scarlett irrelevantly,must be one of the Home Guard or a runaway schoolboy.

  As she watched, the boy’s knees buckled slowly and he went down in the dust. Without a word,two men fell out of the last rank and walked back to him. One, a tall spare man with a black beardthat hung to his belt, silently handed his own rifle and that of the boy to the other. Then, stooping,he jerked the boy to his shoulders with an ease that looked like sleight of hand. He started offslowly after the retreating column, his shoulders bowed under the weight, while the boy, weak,infuriated like a child teased by its elders, screamed out: Put me down, damn you! Put me down! Ican walk!”

  The bearded man said nothing and plodded on out of sight around the bend of the road.

  Rhett sat still, the reins lax in his hands, looking after them, a curious moody look on hisswarthy face. Then, there was a crash of falling timbers near by and Scarlett saw a thin tongue offlame lick up over the roof of the warehouse in whose sheltering shadow they sat. Then pennonsand battle flags of flame flared triumphantly to the sky above them. Smoke burnt her nostrils andWade and Prissy began coughing. The baby made soft sneezing sounds.

  “Oh, name of God, Rhett! Are you crazy? Hurry! Hurry!”

  Rhett made no reply but brought the tree limb down on the horse’s back with a cruel force thatmade the animal leap forward. With all the speed the horse could summon, they jolted andbounced across Marietta Street. Ahead of them was a tunnel of fire where buildings were blaringon either side of the short, narrow street that led down to the railroad tracks. They plunged into it.

  A glare brighter than a dozen suns dazzled their eyes, scorching heat seared their skins and theroaring, crackling and crashing beat upon their ears in painful waves. For an eternity, it seemed,they were in the midst of flaming torment and then abruptly they were in semidarkness again.

  As they dashed down the street and bumped over the railroad tracks, Rhett applied the whipautomatically. His face looked set and absent, as though he had forgotten where he was. His broadshoulders were hunched forward and his chin jutted out as though the thoughts in his mind werenot pleasant. The heat of the fire made sweat stream down his forehead and cheeks but he did notwipe it off.

  They pulled into a side street, then another, then turned and twisted from one narrow street toanother until Scarlett completely lost her bearings and the roaring of the flames died behind them.

  Still Rhett did not speak. He only laid on the whip with regularity. The red glow in the sky wasfading now and the road became so dark, so frightening, Scarlett would have welcomed words, any words from him, even jeering, insulting words, words that cut. But he did not speak.

  Silent or not, she thanked Heaven for the comfort of his presence. It was so good to have a manbeside her, to lean close to him and feel the hard swell of his arm and know that he stood betweenher and unnamable terrors, even though he merely sat there and stared.

  “Oh, Rhett,” she whispered clasping his arm, “What would we ever have done without you? I’mso glad you aren’t in the army!”

  He turned his head and gave her one look, a look that made her drop his arm and shrink back.

  There was no mockery in his eyes now. They were naked and there was anger and something likebewilderment in them. His lip curled down and he turned his head away. For a long time theyjounced along in a silence unbroken except for the faint wails of the baby and sniffles from Prissy.

  When she was able to bear the sniffling noise no longer, Scarlett turned and pinched her viciously,causing Prissy to scream in good earnest before she relapsed into frightened silence.

  Finally Rhett turned the horse at right angles and after a while they were on a wider, smootherroad. The dim shapes of houses grew farther and farther apart and unbroken woods loomed wall-like on either side.

  “We’re out of town now,” said Rhett briefly, drawing rein, “and on the main road to Rough andReady.”

  “Hurry. Don’t stop!”

  “Let the animal breathe a bit.” Then turning to her, he asked slowly: “Scarlett, are you stilldetermined to do this crazy thing?”

  “Do what?’

  “Do you still want to try to get through to Tara? It’s suicidal. Steve Lee’s cavalry and the YankeeArmy are between you and Tara.”

  Oh, Dear God! Was he going to refuse to take her home, after all she’d gone through this terribleday?

  “Oh, yes! Yes! Please, Rhett, let’s hurry. The horse isn’t tired.”

  “Just a minute. You can’t go down to Jonesboro on this road. You can’t follow the train tracks.

  They’ve been fighting up and down mere all day from Rough and Ready on south. Do you knowany other roads, small wagon roads or lanes that don’t go through Rough and Ready orJonesboro?”

  “Oh, yes,” cried Scarlett in relief. “If we can just get near to Rough and Ready, I know a wagontrace that winds off from the main Jonesboro road and wanders around for miles. Pa and I used toride it. It comes out right near the Macintosh place and that’s only a mile from Tara.”

  “Good. Maybe you can get past Rough and Ready all right. General Steve Lee was there duringthe afternoon covering the retreat Maybe the Yankees aren’t there yet. Maybe you can get throughthere, if Steve Lee’s men don’t pick up your horse.”

  “I can get through?”

  “Yes, you.” His voice was rough.

  “But Rhett— You—Aren’t going to take us?”

  “No. I’m leaving you here.”

  She looked around wildly, at the livid sky behind them, at the dark trees on either hand hemmingthem in like a prison wall, at the frightened figures in the back of the wagon—and finally at him.

  Had she gone crazy? Was she not hearing right?

  He was grinning now. She could just see his white teeth in the faint light and the old mockerywas back in his eyes.

  “Leaving us? Where—where are you going?”

  “I am going, dear girl, with the army.”

  She sighed with relief and irritation. Why did he joke at this time of all times? Rhett in thearmy! After all he’d said about stupid fools who were enticed into losing their lives by a roll ofdrums and brave words from orators—fools who killed themselves that wise men might makemoney!

  “Oh, I could choke you for scaring me so! Let’s get on.”

  I’m not joking, my dear. And I am hurt, Scarlett that you do not take my gallant sacrifice withbetter spirit. Where is your patriotism, your love for Our Glorious Cause? Now is your chance totell me to return with my shield or on it. But, talk fast, for I want time to make a brave speechbefore departing for the wars.”

  His drawling voice gibed in her ears. He was jeering at her and, somehow, she knew he wasjeering at himself too. What was he talking about? Patriotism, shields, brave speeches? It wasn’tpossible that he meant what he was saying. It just wasn’t believable that he could talk so blithely ofleaving her here on this dark road with a woman who might be dying, a new-born infant, a foolishblack wench and a frightened child, leaving her to pilot them through miles of battle fields andstragglers and Yankees and fire and God knows what.

  Once, when she was six years old, she had fallen from a tree, flat on her stomach. She could stillrecall that sickening interval before breath came back into her body. Now, as she looked at Rhett,she felt the same way she had felt then, breathless, stunned, nauseated.

  “Rhett, you are joking!”

  She grabbed his arm and felt her tears of fright splash down her wrist. He raised her hand andkissed it arily.

  “Selfish to the end, aren’t you, my dear? Thinking only of your own precious hide and not of thegallant Confederacy. Think how our troops will be heartened by my eleventh-hour appearance.”

  There was a malicious tenderness in his voice.

  “Oh, Rhett,” she wailed, “how can you do this to me? Why are you leaving me?”

  “Why?” he laughed jauntily. “Because, perhaps, of the betraying sentimentality that lurks in allof us Southerners. Perhaps—perhaps because I am ashamed. Who knows?”

  “Ashamed? You should die of shame. To desert us here, alone, helpless—”

  “Dear Scarlett! You aren’t helpless. Anyone as selfish and determined as you are is neverhelpless. God help the Yankees if they should get you.”

  He stepped abruptly down from the wagon and, as she watched him, stunned with bewilderment,he came around to her side of the wagon.

  “Get out,” he ordered.

  She stared at him. He reached up roughly, caught her under the arms and swung her to theground beside him. With a tight grip on her he dragged her several paces away from the wagon.

  She felt the dust and gravel in her slippers hurting her feet. The still hot darkness wrapped her likea dream.

  “I’m not asking you to understand or forgive. I don’t give a damn whether you do either, for Ishall never understand or forgive myself for this idiocy. I am annoyed at myself to find that somuch quixoticism still lingers in me. But our fair Southland needs every man. Didn’t our braveGovernor Brown say just that? Not matter. I’m off to the wars.” He laughed suddenly, a ringing,free laugh that startled the echoes in the dark woods.

  “ ‘I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not Honour more.’ That’s a pat speech, isn’t it?

  Certainly better than anything I can think up myself, at the present moment. For I do love you,Scarlett, in spite of what I said that night on the porch last month.”

  His drawl was caressing and his hands slid tip her bare arms, warm strong hands. I love you,Scarlett, because we are so much alike, renegades, both of us, dear, and selfish rascals. Neither ofus cares a rap if the whole world goes to pot so long as we are safe and comfortable.”

  His voice went on in the darkness and she heard words, but they made no sense to her. Her mindwas tiredly trying to take in the harsh truth that he was leaving her here to face the Yankees alone.

  Her mind said: “He’s leaving me. He’s leaving me.” But no emotion stirred.

  Then his arms went around her waist and shoulders and she felt the hard muscles of his thighsagainst her body and the buttons of his coat pressing into her breast A warm tide of feeling,bewildering, frightening, swept over her, carrying out of her mind the time and place and circumstances.

  She felt as limp as a rag doll, warm, weak and helpless, and his supporting arms wereso pleasant.

  “You don’t want to change your mind about what I said last month? There’s nothing like dangerand death to give an added fillip. Be patriotic, Scarlett Think how you would be sending a soldierto his death with beautiful memories.”

  He was kissing her now and his mustache tickled her mouth, kissing her with slow, hot lips thatwere so leisurely as though he had the whole night before him. Charles had never kissed her likethis. Never had the kisses of the Tarleton and Calvert boys made her go hot and cold and shaky likethis. He bent her body backward and his lips traveled down her throat to where the cameo fastenedher basque.

  “Sweet,” he whispered. “Sweet.”

  She saw the wagon dimly in the dark and heard the treble piping of Wade’s voice.

  “Muvver! Wade fwightened!”

  Into her swaying, darkened mind, cold sanity came back with a rush and she remembered whatshe had forgotten for the moment—that she was frightened too, and Rhett was leaving her, leavingher, the damned cad. And on top of it all, he had the consummate gall to stand here in the road andinsult her with his infamous proposals. Rage and hate flowed into her and stiffened her spine andwith one wrench she tore herself loose from his arms.

  “Oh, you cad!” she cried and her mind leaped about, trying to think of worse things to call him,things she had heard Gerald call Mr. Lincoln, the Macintoshes and balky mules, but the wordswould not come. “You low-down, cowardly, nasty, stinking thing!” And because she could notthink of anything crushing enough, she drew back her arm and slapped him across the mouth withall the force she had left. He took a step backward, his hand going to his face.

  “Ah,” he said quietly and for a moment they stood facing each other in the darkness. Scarlettcould hear his heavy breathing, and her own breath came in gasps as if she had been running hard.

  “They were right! Everybody was right! You aren’t a gentleman!”

  “My dear girl,” he said, “how inadequate.”

  She knew he was laughing and the thought goaded her.

  “Go on! Go on now! I want you to hurry. I don’t want to ever see you again. I hope a cannonball lands right on you. I hope it blows you to a million pieces. I—”

  “Never mind the rest. I follow your general idea. When I’m dead on the altar of my country, Ihope your conscience hurts you.”

  She heard him laugh as he turned away and walked back toward the wagon. She saw him standbeside it, heard him speak and his voice was changed, courteous and respectful as it always waswhen he spoke to Melanie.

  “Mrs. Wilkes?”

  Prissy’s frightened voice made answer from the wagon.

  “Gawdlmighty. Cap’n Butler! Miss Melly done fainted away back yonder.”

  “She’s not dead? Is she breathing?”

  “Yassuh, she breathin’.”

  “Then she’s probably better off as she is. If she were conscious, I doubt if she could live throughall the pain. Take good care of her, Prissy. Here’s a shinplaster for you. Try not to be a bigger foolthan you are.”

  “Yassuh. Thankee suh.”

  “Good-by, Scarlett.”

  She knew he had turned and was facing her but she did not speak. Hate choked all utterance. Hisfeet ground on the pebbles of the road and for a moment she saw his big shoulders looming up inthe dark. Then he was gone. She could hear the sound of his feet for a while and then they diedaway. She came slowly back to the wagon, her knees shaking.

  Why had he gone, stepping off into the dark, into the war, into a Cause that was lost, into aworld that was mad? Why had he gone, Rhett who loved the pleasures of women and liquor, thecomfort of good food and soft beds, the feel of fine linen and good leather, who hated the Southand jeered at the fools who fought for it? Now he had set his varnished boots upon a bitter roadwhere hunger tramped with tireless stride and wounds and weariness and heartbreak ran likeyelping wolves. And the end of the road was death. He need not have gone. He was safe, rich,comfortable. But he had gone, leaving her alone in a night as black as blindness, with the YankeeArmy between her and home.

  Now she remembered all the bad names she had wanted to call him but it was too late. Sheleaned her head against the bowed neck of the horse and cried.

  百里茜走了以后,思嘉回到楼下过厅里,点上一盏灯。屋里热得像个蒸笼,仿佛把中午的热气全都关在里面了似的。她那迟钝的感觉已在逐渐消失,肚子开始闹着要吃东西了。她记起自己从昨夜到现在一直没吃过什么,只喝了一勺玉米粥,于是端灯走进厨房。那儿炉子里的火已经灭了,但还是闷热得很。她发现长柄浅锅里还有半张硬玉米饼,便拿起来大口大口地啃着,一面寻找别的食物。盆里还剩下一点玉米粥,她等不及把它倒进碟子里,便随手用大钓舀着吃起来。那是应当放盐的,可是她饿急了,懒得寻找,接连吃了四勺,她这才觉得厨房里实在太热,便一手拿灯一手抓一块玉米饼到过厅里去了。
  她知道她应当上楼去陪伴媚兰。要是出什么事,媚兰也没有那个力气叫人呢。可是一想起要回到那间房里,那间她已经待过许多恶梦般钟点的房里,她就厌烦得很。哪怕媚兰就要死了,她也不能再回到那里去。她永远也不要再见那个房间了。她把灯放在窗边的烛台上,然后又回到前面走廊上去。这里凉快得多,尽管夜里的气温仍然是相当热的。她坐在台阶上,在灯火投过来的暗淡的光圈中,又啃起玉米饼来。
  她啃完玉米饼,体力恢复了些,揪心的恐惧也随之而来了。她听得见街上远处嗡嗡的嘈杂声,但不明白这意味着什么。她只觉得有种洪大的声响在时期时伏,但压根儿听不清楚。她聚精会神地向前倾着身子细听,很快就因为过于紧张而腰酸背疼起来。这时,世界上再没有别的事情叫她如此渴望的了,像现在渴望听到马蹄声、渴望看到瑞德那毫不在意和充满自信的眼光来嘲笑她的恐惧模样。瑞德会把她们带走,带到某个地方去。她不知道去哪里。她也不去管它。
  她坐在那里侧耳倾听市区的声音,这时树顶上升起一片隐隐的火光,使她觉得奇怪。她望着望着,那火光愈来愈亮。
  黑暗的天空发红了,先是粉红,随即变成深红,接着她突然看见一条巨大的火舌从树顶上蹿而起,高高地升到半空中。她猛地跳起来,心又开始发紧了!怦怦地跳个不停。
  北方佬已经来了!她知道他们来了,正在那里烧毁市区。
  那些火焰好像在距市中心不远的东边。它们升得越来越高,同时迅速展成一大片红光,她看了十分害怕。一定是一整条大街烧起来了。一阵略带些热的微风从那边迎面吹来。她闻到了烟火味。
  她跑到楼上自己的房间里,把半个身子探出窗外,想更好地看看整个情况。天空呈一片可怖的殷红色,大团大团的黑烟像云涛似的旋转着挂在火焰上空。现在烟火味更浓了。思嘉心乱如麻,时而认为这火焰会很快蔓延到桃树街,把这幢房子烧掉,时而设想北方佬会向她冲过来,她要往哪里逃跑,她要怎么对付。好像地狱里所有的魔鬼都在她耳边喊叫,她的脑子在极度的惶惑和惊恐中旋转起来,她不得不紧紧抓住窗棂,否则就要跌下去了。
  “我得好好想想,"她在心里反复告诫自己。"我一定得想一想。"可是思绪躲避她,像只受惊的蜂鸟在她心头掠过去。她俯靠着窗棂站在那里,忽然一个震耳欲聋的爆炸声飞来,比她前几天听到过的大炮声都要响得多。天空被巨大的火焰撕裂了。接着又是几声巨响。大地震撼着,她头上的窗玻璃被震碎了,纷纷落在周围。
  一声又一声震耳的爆炸声不断传来,世界变成了一个充满喧声、火焰和浑身颤抖的地狱。火星汇成一股股激流蹿入天空,然后缓缓地、懒懒地穿过血红的烟云降落下来。这时她仿佛听到隔壁房里无力的呼唤声,但是她不去管它。她现在没有工夫去顾媚兰了。现在除了恐惧,那种如她所见的火焰般迅速流遍全身血脉的恐惧,再也没别的东西要顾及的了。
  她像一个吓得发疯的孩子,要把自己的头钻进母亲怀里,躲避眼前的情景。如果她是在家里,跟母亲一起,那多好埃从这些惊心动魄的响声中她听到另一种声音,一种三步并作一步惊惶地奔上楼来的脚步声,同时还听到一个像迷路的猎狗狂叫的声音。百里茜冲进来了,她奔到思嘉跟前,像要把骨头也捏碎似的。一把紧紧地抓住她的胳臂。
  “北方佬----"思嘉首先嚷起来。
  “不,太太。是咱们自己人!"百里茜上气不接下气地喊着,指甲在思嘉的胳臂上掐得更深了。"他们在烧铁厂和军需站和仓库,还有,上帝,思嘉小姐,他们还把七十卡车的大炮炮弹和火药爆炸了,而且,耶稣,咱们都会被烧光呢!"百里茜又尖叫起来,一面紧紧抓住思嘉的手臂,使她又痛又恼,忍不住要哭了。最后思嘉使劲甩掉她的那只手。
  还来得及逃跑呀!原来北方佬还没来呢!于是她把惊散了的全身力气重整起来。
  她想:“如果我不能控制住自己,我就会像只烫坏了的猫儿似的拼命号叫了!”同时百里茜那副可怜的惶恐相也帮助着她镇定下来,她抓住百里茜的肩膀使劲摇晃。
  “还是谈正经的吧。别管那些乱哄哄的事了,北方佬还没来呢,你这傻瓜!你见到巴特勒船长了吗?他是怎么说的?他会不会来?"百里茜不再号叫了,但是她的牙床还在打颤。
  “是的,太太。俺后来找到他。像你吩咐的,在一个酒吧间。他----”“他会来吗?别管在哪里找到的。你告诉他要把马带来吗?”“上帝,思嘉小姐,他说咱们的军队把他的马和马车拉去当救护车了。”“啊,我的天啊!”“不过,他会来----”“他怎么说的?"这时百里茜不太喘了,已能稍稍控制自己,但她的两个眼珠子还在紧张地转动。
  “是这样,太太,正像你说的,俺在一家酒吧间找到了他。
  俺站在外面喊他,他就出来了。他奇怪地看着俺,俺刚要跟他说话时,大兵就把迪凯特街那头的一家妻子拆倒并放弃火来。他说来吧,就一把拽着俺跑到五点镇。后来他说:什么事?快讲。俺说你说的,巴特勒船长,请赶快来,带着你的马和马车来。媚兰小姐生了个娃娃,思嘉小姐急着要离开这个城市。他说,她打算到哪里去呀?俺说,俺不知道,先生,不过你一定得去,因为北方佬就要来了,要他陪你一起走。他笑着说他们把他的马拉走了。"思嘉的心情沉重起来,觉得最后一线希望也消失了。她真傻呀,干吗没有想到军队撤退时必然会把留在城里的所有车辆和骡马都拉走呢?她一时吓得目瞪口呆,也没听见百里茜还在说些什么,不过她很快又恢复过来,继续听下半截的故事。
  “后来他说,告诉思嘉小姐,叫她放心吧。我要到军队里去替她偷骑马来,哪怕只剩下一匹也好。他还说,在这以前我就偷过马呢。告诉她,我哪怕丢了性命也要给她弄骑马来。
  后来他又笑着说,赶快回家去吧。可是俺刚要动身,就普通一声响起来了!俺吓得几乎倒下了,这时他说这没有什么,只不过咱们自己人把火药炸了,免得落到北方佬手里,还有----”“他会来吗?他在设法弄一骑马来?”“他是这么说的。”她长长地舒了口气,觉得轻松了些。瑞德是个能干的人,只要还有办法弄到一骑马,瑞德·巴特勒是一定会弄到的。要是他把她们从这片混乱中救出去了,她就饶恕他一切的过错。
  逃跑呀!只要跟瑞德在一起,她就什么也不怕了。瑞德会保护她们。感谢上帝赐予了这个瑞德啊!她现在纯粹从安全着眼,变得很实际了。
  “把韦德叫醒,给他穿好衣裳,替我们打点一包常用的衣裳。把它们装进箱子。别告诉媚兰我们要走了。还不到时候呢。不过要用两条厚毛巾小心地把婴儿裹好,把他的衣服也包起来。"百里茜还是拉着她的裙子不放,她除了翻白眼没有一点表情。思嘉推她一把,把她那紧抓着的手摆脱掉。
  “快去,"她喊道。这时百里茜才像兔子似的悄悄走开了。
  思嘉知道她应当进屋去安慰安慰媚兰,知道媚兰一定被连续不断的轰轰巨响和映红了整个天空火光吓昏了。那光景简直就像世界的末日到了!
  但是,她此刻还下不了决心回那间屋去。她跑下楼来,有意要把皮蒂姑妈逃往梅肯时留下的那些瓷器和银器收拾一下。可是等她走进饭厅时,她的一双手却哆嗦颤抖起来,把三只碟子掉在地下打碎了。她跑到走廊上细听外面的动静,随即又回到饭厅里,把些银器当啷一声掉在地板上。不知怎的,她碰到什么就掉落什么。她慌慌张张行走时还在旧地毯上滑了一跤,普通跌倒了呢,不过她即刻跳起来,一点也没有感觉到痛。她听得见百里茜在楼上像只野兽似的到处奔跑,那声音使她怕极了,因为她自己也同样在盲目地跑来跑去。
  她跑到走廊上去有十来次了,不过这次她绝不再回来打那个费力不讨好的包裹了。要想收拾一点东西简直是不可能的。她在走廊上坐下。除了怀着一颗忐忑不安的心在这里等待瑞德,看来什么也做不成了。可是左等右等,他就是不来。
  最后,从大路前头很远的地方,她听见一种没有上油的车轴的吱吱嘎嘎和缓慢而隐约不清的得得马蹄声。他干吗不快点走呀?他干吗不鞭打着马跑起来呀?
  那声音近了,她一跃而起,呼喊瑞德的名字。然后,她隐约看见他从一辆小货车的座位上爬下来,接着大门喀嚓一声,他朝她走过来了。他来到灯光下,才叫思嘉看清楚了。他穿得整整齐齐,像要去参加跳舞会似的。雪白的亚麻布外衣和裤子熨得笔挺,绣边的灰色水绸背心,衬衫胸口镶着一点点褶边。他那顶宽边巴拿马帽时髦地歪戴在头上,裤腰皮带上插着两支象牙柄的长筒决斗手枪。外衣口袋里塞满了沉甸甸的弹药。
  他像个野人似的从走道上轻快地大步走来,漂亮的脑袋微微扬起,神气得像个异教徒王子。那种思嘉下了黑夜的恐怖,却像一贴兴奋剂似的使他显得更强悍了。他那黝黑的脸上有一丝勉强掩饰着的残暴无情的神色,这一点如果思嘉头脑清楚,看出来了是会把她吓倒的。
  他那对黑眼睛眉飞色舞,仿佛觉得眼前这整个局面倒很有趣,仿佛这震天动地的爆炸声和一派恐怖的火光只不过是吓吓小孩子罢了。他走上台阶时她摇摇晃晃地迎上前去,这时她脸色惨白,那双绿眼睛像在冒火似的。
  “晚上好,"他拖长音调说,同时刷地一下摘下了帽子。
  “咱们碰上了好天气啦。我听说你要旅行去呢。”“你要是再开玩笑,我就永远不再理睬你了,"她用颤抖的声音说。
  “你不见得真的被吓坏了吧!"他装出一副吃惊的样子诡秘地微笑着,她真想把他推回到台阶下去。
  “是的,我害怕得要死,我就是被吓坏了。而且如果你也有上帝给山羊的那点意识,你照样会害怕的。不过咱们没时间闲扯了。咱们必须马上离开这里。”“听你的吩咐,太太。不过你琢磨到哪里去好呢?我是怀着好奇心跑到这儿来的,无非想看看你们打算往哪儿去。你们不能往北也不能往东,不能往南也不能往西。四面八方都有北方佬。只有一条出城的路北方佬还没拿到手。咱们的军队就是由这条路撤退的。可这条路也通不了多久了。史蒂夫·李将军的骑兵正在拉甫雷迪打一场后卫战来维持这条通路,以保证部队撤退,部队一撤完,这条通路也就完了。你如果跟随部队沿麦克藺诺公路走,他们就会把马拉去,这匹马尽管不怎么样,可我是费了不少力气才偷到手的呢。你究竟要到哪里去呀?"听他说了这许多话,她站在那里浑身哆嗦,几乎什么也没听见。不过,经他这一问,她却突然明白地要到哪儿去了,她明白在这悲惨的整整一天里她都是知道要到什么地方去的。那唯一的地方呀!
  “我要回家去,"她说。
  “回家?你的意思是回塔拉?”
  “是的,是的!回塔拉去!啊,瑞德,我们得赶紧走呀!"他瞧着她,好像她神志不清了似的。
  “塔拉?我的天,思嘉!难道你不知道他们整天在琼斯博罗打吗?就是为了抢夺在拉甫雷迪前后十英里的那段大路打呀,甚至打到琼斯博罗的街上去了。此刻北方佬可能已经占领了整个塔拉,占领整个县了。谁也不清楚他们到了哪里,只知道他们就在那一带。你不能回家!你不能从北方佬军队中间穿过去呀!”“我一定要回去!"她大喊道。"我一定要!我一定要!”“你这小傻瓜,"他的声音又粗又急。"你不能走那条路嘛。
  即使你不碰上北方佬,那树林中也到处是双方军队的散兵游勇。而且咱们的许多部队还在陆续从琼斯博罗撤退。他们会像北方佬一样即刻把你的马拉走。你唯一的办法是跟着部队沿麦克诺公路走,上帝保佑,黑夜里他们可能不会看见你。
  但是你不能到塔拉去。即使你到了那里,你也很可能会发现它已经被烧光了。那样做简直是发疯。我不让你回家去。”“我一定要回去!"她大声嚷着,嗓子高得尖叫起来了。
  “你不能阻拦我!我一定要回去!我要回去!我要我的母亲!
  你要是阻拦我,我就杀了你!我要回去!"恐惧和歇斯底里的眼泪从她脸上淌下来,她在长时间紧张的刺激下终于忍不住了。她挥舞着拳头猛击他的胸部,一面继续尖叫:“我要!我要!哪怕得一步步走回去也行!"她突然被他抱在怀里了,她那泪淋淋的胸脸紧贴在他胸前浆过的衬衫褶边上,那捶击他的两个拳头也安静地搁在那里。他用两手轻柔地、安慰地抚摩着她的一头乱发,他的声音也是柔和的。那么柔和,那么宁静,不带丝毫嘲讽意味,好像根本不是瑞德·巴特勒的声音,而一个温和强壮的陌生人的声音了,这个陌生人满身是白兰地、烟草和马汗味,使思嘉不由得想起自己的父亲来。
  “好了,好了,亲爱的,"他温柔地说。"别哭,你会回去的,我勇敢的小姑娘。你会回去的。别哭了。"她感到什么东西在触弄她的头发,心中微觉骚动,并模糊地意识到那可能是他的嘴唇。他那么温柔,那么令人无限地欣慰,她简直渴望永远在他怀里。他用那么强壮的胳膊搂抱着她,她觉得什么也不用害怕了。
  他从口袋里摸出一条手绢,替她揩掉脸上的泪水。
  “来,乖乖地擤擤鼻子,"他用命令的口气说,眼里闪着一丝笑意,"我们得赶快行动了。告诉我该怎么办。”
  她顺从地擤擤鼻子,身上仍在哆嗦,可是不知要吩咐他干什么。他见她颤抖着嘴唇仰望着说不出话来,便索性自作主张了。
  “威尔克斯太太已经分娩了?可不能随便动她呀!那可太危险了。要让她坐这辆摇摇晃晃的货车颠簸二十几英里,咱们最好让她跟米德太太一起留下来。”“我不能丢开她不管。米德夫妇都不在家呢。”“那很好。让她上车去。那个傻乎乎的小妻子哪儿去了?”“在楼上收拾箱子呢。”“箱子?那车上可什么箱子也不能放。车厢很小,能装下你们几个人就不错了,而且轮子随时就可能掉的。叫她一声,让她把屋里最小的那个羽绒床垫拿出来,搬到车上去。"思嘉仍然不能动弹。他紧紧抓住她的胳臂,他那浑身充溢着的活力部分地流注到她身上。她想:要是她也像他这样冷静,什么也不在乎,那就好了!他扶着推着她走进过厅,可是她仍然站在那里可怜巴巴地望着他。他敝着下嘴唇嘲弄地说:“难道这就是那个向我保证既不怕上帝也不怕人的年轻英雄吗?”他突然哈哈大笑,同时放开了她的胳臂。她好像被刺痛了似的,瞪大眼



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