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Chapter 26

SCARLETT HAD BEEN AT TARA two weeks since her return from Atlanta when the largestblister on her foot began to fester, swelling until it was impossible for her to put on her shoe or domore than hobble about on her heel. Desperation plucked at her when she looked at the angry soreon her toe. Suppose it should gangrene like the soldiers’ wounds and she should die, far away froma doctor? Bitter as life was now, she had no desire to leave it. And who would look after Tara if sheshould die?

  She had hoped when she first came home that Gerald’s old spirit would revive and he wouldtake command, but in these two weeks that hope had vanished. She knew now that, whether sheliked it or not, she had the plantation and all its people on her two inexperienced hands, for Geraldstill sat quietly, like a man in a dream, so frighteningly absent from Tara, so gentle. To her pleas foradvice he gave as his only answer: “Do what you think best, Daughter.” Or worse still, “Consultwith your mother, Puss.”

  He never would be any different and now Scarlett realized the truth and accepted it withoutemotion—that until he died Gerald would always be waiting for Ellen, always listening for her. Hewas in some dim borderline country where time was standing still and Ellen was always in the nextroom. The mainspring of his existence was taken away when she died and with it had gone hisbounding assurance, his impudence and his restless vitality. Ellen was the audience before whichthe blustering drama of Gerald O’Hara had been played. Now the curtain had been rung downforever, the footlights dimmed and the audience suddenly vanished, while the stunned old actorremained on his empty stage, waiting for his cues.

  That morning the house was still, for everyone except Scarlett, Wade and the three sick girls wasin the swamp hunting the sow. Even Gerald had aroused a little and stumped off across thefurrowed fields, one hand on Pork’s arm and a coil of rope in the other. Suellen and Careen hadcried themselves to sleep, as they did at least twice a day when they thought of Ellen, tears of griefand weakness oozing down their sunken cheeks. Melanie, who had been propped up on pillows forthe first time that day, lay covered with a mended sheet between two babies, the downy flaxenhead of one cuddled in her arm, the kinky black head of Dilcey’s child held as gently in the other.

  Wade sat at the bottom of the bed, listening to a fairy story.

  To Scarlett, the stillness at Tara was unbearable, for it reminded her too sharply of the deathlike stillness of the desolate country through which she had passed that long day on her way home fromAtlanta. The cow and the calf had made no sound for hours. There were no birds twittering outsideher window and even the noisy family of mockers who had lived among the harshly rustling leavesof the magnolia for generations had no song that day. She had drawn a low chair close to the openwindow of her bedroom, looking out on the front drive, the lawn and the empty green pastureacross the road, and she sat with her skirts well above her knees and her chin resting on her armson the window sill. There was a bucket of well water on the floor beside her and every now andthen she lowered her blistered foot into it, screwing up her face at the stinging sensation.

  Fretting, she dug her chin into her arm. Just when she needed her strength most, this toe had tofester. Those fools would never catch the sow. It had taken them a week to capture the pigs, one byone, and now after two weeks the sow was still at liberty. Scarlett knew that if she were just therein the swamp with them, she could tuck up her dress to her knees and take the rope and lasso thesow before you could say Jack Robinson.

  But even after the sow was caught—if she were caught? What then, after she and her litter wereeaten? Life would go on and so would appetites. Winter was coming and there would be no food,not even the poor remnants of the vegetables from the neighbors’ gardens. They must have driedpeas and sorghum and meal and rice and—and—oh, so many things. Corn and cotton seed for nextspring’s planting, and new clothes too. Where was it all to come from and how would she pay forit?

  She had privately gone through Gerald’s pockets and his cash box and all she could find wasstacks of Confederate bonds and three thousand dollars in Confederate bills. That was aboutenough to buy one square meal for them all, she thought ironically, now that Confederate moneywas worth almost less than nothing at all. But if she did have money and could find food, howwould she haul it home to Tara? Why had God let the old horse die? Even that sorry animal Rhetthad stolen would make all the difference in the world to them. Oh, those fine sleek mules whichused to kick up their heels in the pasture across the road, and the handsome carriage horses, herlittle mare, the girls’ ponies and Gerald’s big stallion racing about and tearing up the turf— Oh, forone of them, even the balkiest mule!

  But, no matter—when her foot healed she would walk to Jonesboro. It would be the longestwalk she had ever taken in her life, but walk it she would. Even if the Yankees had burned the towncompletely, she would certainly find someone in the neighborhood who could tell her where to getfood. Wade’s pinched face rose up before her eyes. He didn’t like yams, he repeated; wanted adrumstick and some rice and gravy.

  The bright sunlight in the front yard suddenly clouded and the trees blurred through tears.

  Scarlett dropped her head on her arms and struggled not to cry. Crying was so useless now. Theonly time crying ever did any good was when there was a man around from whom you wished favors.

  As she crouched there, squeezing her eyes tightly to keep back the tears, she was startled bythe sound of trotting hooves. But she did not raise her head. She had imagined that sound too oftenin the nights and days of these last two weeks, just as she had imagined she heard the rustle ofEllen’s skirts. Her heart hammered, as it always did at such moments, before she told herselfsternly: “Don’t be a fool.”

  But the hooves slowed down in a startlingly natural way to the rhythm of a walk and there wasthe measured scrunch-scrunch on the gravel. It was a horse—the Tarletons, the Fontaines! Shelooked up quickly. It was a Yankee cavalryman.

  Automatically, she dodged behind the curtain and peered fascinated at him through the dim foldsof the cloth, so startled that the breath went out of her lungs with a gasp.

  He sat slouched in the saddle, thick, rough-looking with an unkempt black beard stragglingoverhisunbuttonedbraeja(a) cket.Littleclose-seteyes,s(man) quinting in the sun glare, calmlysurveyed the house from beneath the visor of his tight brae cap. As he slowly dismounted andtossed the bridle reins over the hitching post, Scarlett’s breath came back to her as suddenly andpainfully as after a blow in the stomach. A Yankee, a Yankee with a long pistol on his hip! And shewas alone in the house with three sick girls and the babies!

  As he lounged up the walk, hand on holster, beady little eyes glancing to right and left, akaleidoscope of jumbled pictures spun in her mind, stories Aunt Pittypat had whispered of attackson unprotected women, throat cuttings, houses burned over the heads of dying women, childrenbayoneted because they cried, all of the unspeakable horrors that lay bound up in the name of“Yankee.”

  Her first terrified impulse was to hide in the closet, crawl under the bed, fly down the back stairsand run screaming to the swamp, anything to escape him. Then she heard his cautious feet on thefront steps and his stealthy tread as he entered the hall and she knew that escape was cut off. Toocold with fear to move, she heard his progress from room to room downstairs, his steps growinglouder and bolder as he discovered no one. Now he was in the dining room and in a moment hewould walk out into the kitchen.

  At the thought of the kitchen, rage suddenly leaped up in Scarlett’s breast, so sharply that itjabbed at her heart like a knife thrust, and fear fell away before her overpowering fury. Thekitchen! There, over the open kitchen fire were two pots, one filled with apples stewing and theother with a hodgepodge of vegetables brought painfully from Twelve Oaks and the Macintoshgarden—dinner that must serve for nine hungry people and hardly enough for two. Scarlett hadbeen restraining her appetite for hours, waiting for the return of the others and the thought of theYankee eating their meager meal made her shake with anger.

  God damn them all! They descended like locusts and left Tara to starve slowly and now theywere back again to steal the poor leavings. Her empty stomach writhed within her. By God, thiswas one Yankee who would do no more stealing!

  She slipped off her worn shoe and, barefooted, she pattered swiftly to the bureau, not evenfeeling her festered toe. She opened the top drawer soundlessly and caught up the heavy pistol shehad brought from Atlanta, the weapon Charles had worn but never fired. She fumbled in the leatherbox that hung on the wall below his saber and brought out a cap. She slipped it into place with ahand that did not shake. Quickly and noiselessly, she ran into the upper hall and down the stairs,steadying herself on the banisters with one hand and holding the pistol close to her thigh in thefolds of her skirt.

  “Who’s there?” cried a nasal voice and she stopped on the middle of the stairs, the blood thudding in her ears so loudly she could hardly hear him. “Halt or I’ll shoot!” came the voice.

  He stood in the door of the dining room, crouched tensely, his pistol in one hand and, in theother, the small rosewood sewing box fitted with gold thimble, gold-handled scissors and tinygold-topped acorn of emery. Scarlett’s legs felt cold to the knees but rage scorched her face.

  Ellen’s sewing box in his hands. She wanted to cry: “Put it down! Put it down, you dirty—” butwords would not come. She could only stare over the banisters at him and watch his face changefrom harsh tenseness to a half-contemptuous, half-ingratiating smile.

  “So there is somebody at home,” he said, slipping his pistol back into its holster and moving intothe hall until he stood directly below her. “All alone, little lady?”

  Like lightning, she shoved her weapon over the banisters and into the startled bearded face.

  Before he could even fumble at his belt, she pulled the trigger. The back kick of the pistol madeher reel, as the roar of the explosion filled her ears and the acrid smoke stung her nostrils. The mancrashed backwards to the floor, sprawling into the dining room with a violence that shook thefurniture. The box clattered from his hand, the contents spilling about him. Hardly aware that shewas moving, Scarlett ran down the stairs and stood over him, gazing down into what was left ofthe face above the beard, a bloody pit where the nose had been, glazing eyes burned with powder.

  As she looked, two streams of blood crept across the shining floor, one from his face and one fromthe back of his head.

  Yes, he was dead. Undoubtedly. She had killed a man.

  The smoke curled slowly to the ceiling and the red streams widened about her feet. For atimeless moment she stood there and in the still hot hush of the summer morning every irrelevantsound and scent seemed magnified, the quick thudding of her heart, like, a drumbeat, the slightrough rustling of the magnolia leaves, the far-off plaintive sound of a swamp bird and the sweetsmell of the flowers outside the window.

  She had killed a man, she who took care never to be in at the kill on a hunt, she who could notbear the squealing of a hog at slaughter or the squeak of a rabbit in a snare. Murder! she thoughtdully. I’ve done murder. Oh, this can’t be happening to me! Her eyes went to the stubby hairy handon the floor so close to the sewing box and suddenly she was vitally alive again, vitally glad with acool tigerish joy. She could have ground her heel into the gaping wound which had been his noseand taken sweet pleasure in the feel of his warm blood on her bare feet. She had struck a blow ofrevenge for Tara—and for Ellen.

  There were hurried stumbling steps in the upper hall, a pause and then more steps, weakdragging steps now, punctuated by metallic clankings. A sense of time and reality coming back toher, Scarlett looked up and saw Melanie at the top of the stairs, clad only in the ragged chemisewhich served her as a nightgown, her weak arm weighed down with Charles’ saber. Melanie’s eyestook in the scene below in its entirety, the sprawling blue-clad body in the red pool, the sewing boxbeside him, Scarlett, barefooted and gray-faced, clutching the long pistol.

  In silence her eyes met Scarlett’s. There was a glow of grim pride in her usually gentle face,approbation and a fierce joy in her smile that equaled the fiery tumult in Scarlett’s own bosom.

  “Why—why—she’s like me! She understands how I feel!” thought Scarlett in that long moment “She’d have done the same thing!”

  With a thrill she looked up at the frail swaying girl for whom she had never had any feelings butof dislike and contempt. Now, straggling against hatred for Ashley’s wife, there surged a feeling ofadmiration and comradeship. She saw in a flash of clarity untouched by any petty emotion thatbeneath the gentle voice and the dovelike eyes of Melanie there was a thin flashing blade ofunbreakable steel, felt too that there were banners and bugles of courage in Melanie’s quiet blood.

  “Scarlett! Scarlett!” shrilled the weak frightened voices of Suellen and Carreen, muffled by theirclosed door, and Wade’s voice screamed “Auntee! Auntee!” Swiftly Melanie put her finger to herlips and, laying the sword on the top step, she painfully made her way down the upstairs hall andopened the door of the sick room.

  “Don’t be scared, chickens!” came her voice with teasing gaiety. “Your big sister was trying toclean the rust off Charles’ pistol and it went off and nearly scared her to death!” ... “Now, WadeHampton, Mama just shot off your dear Papa’s pistol! When you are bigger, she will let you shootit.”

  “What a cool liar!” thought Scarlett with admiration. “I couldn’t have thought that quickly. Butwhy lie? They’ve got to know I’ve done it.”

  She looked down at the body again and now revulsion came over her as her rage and frightmelted away, and her knees began to quiver with the reaction. Melanie dragged herself to the topstep again and started down, holding onto the banisters, her pale lower lip caught between herteeth.

  “Go back to bed, silly, you’ll kill yourself!” Scarlett cried, but the half-naked Melanie made herpainful way down into the lower hall.

  “Scarlett,” she whispered, “we must get him out of here and bury him. He may not be alone andif they find him here—” She steadied herself on Scarlett’s arm.

  “He must be alone,” said Scarlett. “I didn’t see anyone else from the upstairs window. He mustbe a deserter.”

  “Even if he is alone, no one must know about it. The negroes might talk and then they’d comeand get you. Scarlett, we must get him hidden before the folks come back from the swamp.”

  Her mind prodded to action by the feverish urgency of Melanie’s voice, Scarlett thought hard.

  “I could bury him in the corner of the garden under the arbor—the ground is soft there wherePork dug up the whisky barrel. But how will I get him there?”

  “We’ll both take a leg and drag him,” said Melanie firmly.

  Reluctantly, Scarlett’s admiration went still higher.

  “You couldn’t drag a cat. I’ll drag him,” she said roughly. “You go back to bed. You’ll killyourself. Don’t dare try to help me either or I’ll carry you upstairs myself.”

  Melanie’s white face broke into a sweet understanding smile. “You are very dear, Scarlett,” shesaid and softly brushed her lips against Scarlett’s cheek. Before Scarlett could recover from hersurprise, Melanie went on: “If you can drag him out, I’ll mop up the—the mess before the folks get home, and Scarlett—”

  “Yes?”

  “Do you suppose it would be dishonest to go through his knapsack? He might have something toeat.”

  “I do not,” said Scarlett, annoyed that she had not thought of this herself. “You take theknapsack and I’ll go through his pockets.”

  Stooping over the dead man with distaste, she unbuttoned the remaining buttons of his jacketand systematically began rifling his pockets.

  “Dear God,” she whispered, pulling out a bulging wallet, wrapped about with a rag. “Melanie—Melly, I think it’s full of money!”

  Melanie said nothing but abruptly sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall.

  “You look,” she said shakily. I’m feeling a little weak.”

  Scarlett tore off the rag and with trembling hands opened the leather folds.

  “Look, Melly—just look!”

  Melanie looked and her eyes dilated. Jumbled together was a mass of bills, United Statesgreenbacks mingling with Confederate money and, glinting from between them, were one ten-dollar gold piece and two five-dollar gold pieces.

  “Don’t stop to count it now,” said Melanie as Scarlett began fingering the bills. “We haven’ttime—”

  “Do you realize, Melanie, that this money means that we’ll eat?”

  “Yes, yes, dear. I know but we haven’t time now. You look in his other pockets and I’ll take theknapsack.”

  Scarlett was loath to put down the wallet. Bright vistas opened before her—real money, theYankee’s horse, food! There was a God after all, and He did provide, even if He did take very oddways of providing. She sat on her haunches and stared at the wallet smiling. Food! Melanieplucked it from her hands—“Hurry!” she said.

  The trouser pockets yielded nothing except a candle end, a jackknife, a plug of tobacco and a bitof twine. Melanie removed from the knapsack a small package of coffee which she sniffed as if itwere the sweetest of perfumes, hardtack and, her face changing, a miniature of a little girl in a goldframe set with seed pearls, a garnet brooch, two broad gold bracelets with tiny dangling goldchains, a gold thimble, a small silver baby’s cup, gold embroidery scissors, a diamond solitaire ringand a pair of earrings with pendant pear-shaped diamonds, which even their unpracticed eyes couldtell were well over a carat each.

  “A thief!” whispered Melanie, recoiling from the still body. “Scarlett, he must have stolen all ofthis!”

  “Of course,” said Scarlett. “And he came here hoping to steal more from us.”

  “I’m glad you killed him,” said Melanie her gentle eyes hard. “Now hurry, darling, and get himout of here.”

  Scarlett bent over, caught the dead man by his boots and tugged. How heavy he was and howweak she suddenly felt. Suppose she shouldn’t be able to move him? Turning so that she backedthe corpse, she caught a heavy boot under each arm and threw her weight forward. He moved andshe jerked again. Her sore foot, forgotten in the excitement, now gave a tremendous throb thatmade her grit her teeth and shift her weight to the heel. Tugging and straining, perspirationdripping from her forehead, she dragged him down the hall, a red stain following her path.

  “If he bleeds across the yard, we can’t hide it,” she gasped. “Give me your shimmy, Melanie,and I’ll wad it around his head.”

  Melanie’s white face went crimson.

  “Don’t be silly, I won’t look at you,” said Scarlett “If I had on a petticoat or pantalets I’d usethem.”

  Crouching back against the wall, Melanie pulled the ragged linen garment over her head andsilently tossed it to Scarlett, shielding herself as best she could with her arms.

  “Thank God, I’m not that modest,” thought Scarlett, feeling rather than seeing Melanie’s agonyof embarrassment, as she wrapped the ragged cloth about the shattered face.

  By a series of limping jerks, she pulled the body down the hall toward the back porch and,pausing to wipe her forehead with the back of her hand, glanced back toward Melanie, sittingagainst the wall hugging her thin knees to her bare breasts. How silly of Melanie to be botheringabout modesty at a time like this, Scarlett thought irritably. It was just part of her nicey-nice way ofacting which had always made Scarlett despise her. Then shame rose in her. After all—after all,Melanie had dragged herself from bed so soon after having a baby and had come to her aid with aweapon too heavy even for her to lift. That had taken courage, the kind of courage Scarlett honestlyknew she herself did not possess, the thin-steel, spun silk courage which had characterizedMelanie on the terrible night Atlanta fell and on the long trip home. It was the same intangible,unspectacular courage that all the Wilkeses possessed, a quality which Scarlett did not understandbut to which she gave grudging tribute.

  “Go back to bed,” she threw over her shoulder. “You’ll be dead if you don’t. I’ll clean up themess after I’ve buried him.”

  “I’ll do it with one of the rag rugs,” whispered Melanie, looking at the pool of blood with a sickface.

  “Well, kill yourself then and see if I care! And if any of the folks come back before I’m finished,keep them in the house and tell them the horse just walked in from nowhere.”

  Melanie sat shivering in the morning sunlight and covered her ears against the sickening seriesof thuds as the dead man’s head bumped down the porch steps.

  No one questioned whence the horse had come. It was so obvious he was a stray from the recentbattle and they were well pleased to have him. The Yankee lay in the shallow pit Scarlett hadscraped out under the scuppernong arbor. The uprights which held the thick vines were rotten and that night Scarlett hacked at them with the kitchen knife until they fell and the tangled mass ranwild over the grave. The replacing of these posts was one bit of repair work Scarlett did notsuggest and, if the negroes knew why, they kept their silence.

  No ghost rose from that shallow grave to haunt her in the long nights when she lay awake, tootired to sleep. No feeling of horror or remorse assailed her at the memory. She wondered why,knowing that even a month before she could never have done the deed. Pretty young Mrs. Hamilton,with her dimple and her jingling earbobs and her helpless little ways, blowing a man’s face toa pulp and then burying him in a hastily scratched-out hole! Scarlett grinned a little grimlythinking of die consternation such an idea would bring to those who knew her.

  “I won’t think about it any more,” she decided. “It’s over and done with and I’d have been aninny not to kill him. I reckon—I reckon I must have changed a little since coming home or else Icouldn’t have done it.”

  She did not think of it consciously but in the back of her mind, whenever she was confronted byan unpleasant and difficult task, the idea lurked giving her strength: I’ve done murder and so I cansurely do this.”

  She had changed more than she knew and the shell of hardness which had begun to form abouther heart when she lay in the slave garden at Twelve Oaks was slowly thickening.

  Now that she had a horse, Scarlett could find out for herself what had happened to theirneighbors. Since she came home she had wondered despairingly a thousand times: “Are we theonly folks left in the County? Has everybody else been burned out? Have they all refugeed toMacon?” With the memory of the ruins of Twelve Oaks, the Macintosh place and the Slatteryshack fresh in her mind, she almost dreaded to discover the truth. But it was better to know theworst than to wonder. She decided to ride to the Fontaines’ first, not because they were the nearestneighbors but because old Dr. Fontaine might be there. Melanie needed a doctor. She was notrecovering as she should and Scarlett was frightened by her white weakness.

  So on the first day when her foot had healed enough to stand a slipper, she mounted theYankee’s horse. One foot in the shortened stirrup and the other leg crooked about the pommel in anapproximation of a side saddle, she set out across the fields toward Mimosa, steeling herself to findit burned.

  To her surprise and pleasure, she saw the faded yellow-stucco house standing amid the mimosatrees, looking as it had always looked. Warm happiness, happiness that almost brought tears,flooded her when the three Fontaine women came out of the house to welcome her with kisses andcries of joy.

  But when the first exclamations of affectionate greeting were over and they all had trooped intothe dining room to sit down, Scarlett felt a chill. The Yankees had not reached Mimosa because itwas far off the main road. And so the Fontaines still had their stock and their provisions, butMimosa was held by the same strange silence that hung over Tara, over the whole countryside. Allthe slaves except four women house servants had run away, frightened by the approach of theYankees. There was not a man on the place unless Sally’s little boy, Joe, hardly out of diapers, could be counted as a man. Alone in the big house were Grandma Fontaine, in her seventies, herdaughter-in-law who would always be known as Young Miss, though she was in her fifties, andSally, who had barely turned twenty. They were far away from neighbors and unprotected, but ifthey were afraid it did not show on their faces. Probably, thought Scarlett, because Sally andYoung Miss were too afraid of the porcelain-frail but indomitable old Grandma to dare voice anyqualms. Scarlett herself was afraid of the old lady, for she had sharp eyes and a sharper tongue andScarlett had felt them both in the past.

  Though unrelated by blood and far apart in age, there was a kinship of spirit and experiencebinding these women together. All three wore home-dyed mourning, all were worn, sad, worried,all bitter with a bitterness that did not sulk or complain but, nevertheless, peered out from behindtheir smiles and their words of welcome. For their slaves were gone, their money was worthless,Sally’s husband, Joe, had died at Gettysburg and Young Miss was also a widow, for young Dr.

  Fontaine had died of dysentery at Vicksburg. The other two boys, Alex and Tony, were somewherein Virginia and nobody knew whether they were alive or dead; and old Dr. Fontaine was offsomewhere with Wheeler’s cavalry.

  “And the old fool is seventy-three years old though he tries to act younger and he’s as full ofrheumatism as a hog is of fleas,” said Grandma, proud of her husband, the light in her eyes belyingher sharp words.

  “Have you all had any news of what’s been happening in Atlanta?” asked Scarlett when theywere comfortably settled. “We’re completely buried at Tara.”

  “Law, child,” said Old Miss, taking charge of the conversation, as was her habit, “we’re in thesame fix as you are. We don’t know a thing except that Sherman finally got the town.”

  “So he did get it. What’s he doing now? Where’s the fighting now?”

  “And how would three lone women out here in the country know about the war when wehaven’t seen a letter or a newspaper in weeks?” said the old lady tartly. “One of our darkies talkedto a darky who’d seen a darky who’d been to Jonesboro, and except for that we haven’t heardanything. What they said was that the Yankees were just squatting in Atlanta resting up their menand their horses, but whether it’s true or not you’re as good a judge as I am. Not that they wouldn’tneed a rest, after the fight we gave them.”

  To think you’ve been at Tara all this time and we didn’t know!” Young Miss broke in. “Oh, howI blame myself for not riding over to see! But there’s been so much to do here with most all thedarkies gone that I just couldn’t get away. But I should have made time to go. It wasn’t neighborlyof me. But, of course, we thought the Yankees had burned Tara like they did Twelve Oaks and theMacintosh house and that your folks had gone to Macon. And we never dreamed you were home,Scarlett.”

  “Well, how were we to know different when Mr. O’Hara’s darkies came through here so scaredthey were popeyed and told us the Yankees were going to burn Tara?” Grandma interrupted.

  “And we could see—” Sally began.

  “I’m telling this, please,” said Old Miss shortly. “And they said the Yankees were camped allover Tara and your folks were fixing to go to Macon. And then that night we saw the glare of fire over toward Tara and it lasted for hours and it scared our fool darkies so bad they all ran off. Whatburned?”

  “All our cotton—a hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth,” said Scarlett bitterly.

  “Be thankful it wasn’t your house,” said Grandma, leaning her chin on her cane. “You canalways grow more cotton and you can’t grow a house. By the bye, had you all started picking yourcotton?”

  “No,” said Scarlett, “and now most of it is ruined. I don’t imagine there’s more than three balesleft standing, in the far field in the creek bottom, and what earthly good will it do? All our fieldhands are gone and there’s nobody to pick it.”

  “Mercy me, all our field hands are gone and there’s nobody to pick it!” mimicked Grandma andbent a satiric glance on Scarlett “What’s wrong with your own pretty paws, Miss, and those of yoursisters?”

  “Me? Pick cotton?” cried Scarlett aghast, as if Grandma had been suggesting some repulsivecrime. “Like a field hand? Like white trash? Like the Slattery women?”

  “White trash, indeed! Well, isn’t this generation soft and ladylike! Let me tell you, Miss, when Iwas a girl my father lost all his money and I wasn’t above doing honest work with my hands and inthe fields too, till Pa got enough money to buy some more darkies. I’ve hoed my row and I’vepicked my cotton and I can do it again if I have to. And it looks like I’ll have to. White trash,indeed!”

  “Oh, but Mama Fontaine,” cried her daughter-in-law, casting imploring glances at the two girls,urging them to help her smooth the old lady’s feathers. “That was so long ago, a different dayentirely, and times have changed.”

  “Times never change when there’s a need for honest work to be done,” stated the sharp-eyed oldlady, refusing to be soothed. “And I’m ashamed for your mother, Scarlett, to hear you stand thereand talk as though honest work made white trash out of nice people. ‘When Adam delved and Evespan’—”

  To change the subject, Scarlett hastily questioned: “What about the Tarletons and the Calverts?

  Were they burned out? Have they refugeed to Macon?”

  “The Yankees never got to the Tarletons. They’re off the main road, like we are, but they did getto the Calverts and they stole all their stock and poultry and got all the darkies to run off with them—” Sally began.

  Grandma interrupted.

  “Hah! They promised all the black wenches silk dresses and gold earbobs—that’s what they did.

  And Cathleen Calvert said some of the troopers went off with the black fools behind them on theirsaddles. Well, all they’ll get will be yellow babies and I can’t say that Yankee blood will improvethe stock.”

  “Oh, Mama Fontaine!”

  “Don’t pull such a shocked face, Jane. We’re all married, aren’t we? And, God knows, we’ve seen mulatto babies before this.”

  “Why didn’t they burn the Calverts’ house?”

  “The house was saved by the combined accents of the second Mrs. Calvert and that Yankeeoverseer of hers, Hilton,” said Old Miss, who always referred to the ex-governess as the “secondMrs. Calvert,” although the first Mrs. Calvert had been dead twenty years.

  “ ‘We are staunch Union sympathizers,’ ” mimicked the old lady, twanging the words throughher long thin nose. “Cathleen said the two of them swore up hill and down dale that the wholepassel of Calverts were Yankees. And Mr. Calvert dead in the Wilderness! And Raiford at Gettysburgand Cade in Virginia with the army! Cathleen was so mortified she said she’d rather thehouse had been burned. She said Cade would bust when he came home and heard about it. Butthen, that’s what a man gets for marrying a Yankee woman—no pride, no decency, always thinkingabout their own skins. … How come they didn’t burn Tara, Scarlett?”

  For a moment Scarlett paused before answering. She knew the very next question would be:

  “And how are all your folks? And how is your dear mother?” She knew she could not tell themEllen was dead. She knew that if she spoke those words or even let herself think of them in thepresence of these sympathetic women, she would burst into a storm of tears and cry until she wassick. And she could not let herself cry. She had not really cried since she came home and she knewthat if she once let down the floodgates, her closely husbanded courage would all be gone. But sheknew, too, looking with confusion at the friendly faces about her, that if she withheld the news ofEllen’s death, the Fontaines would never forgive her. Grandma in particular was devoted to Ellenand there were very few people in the County for whom the old lady gave a snap of her skinnyfingers.

  “Well, speak up,” said Grandma, looking sharply at her. “Don’t you know, Miss?”

  “Well, you see, I didn’t get home till the day after the battle,” she answered hastily. The Yankeeswere all gone then. Pa— Pa told me that—that he got them not to burn the house because Suellenand Carreen were so ill with typhoid they couldn’t be moved.”

  “That’s the first time I ever heard of a Yankee doing a decent thing,” said Grandma, as if sheregretted hearing anything good about the invaders. “And how are the girls now?”

  “Oh, they are better, much better, almost well but quite weak,” answered Scarlett. Then, seeingthe question she feared hovering on the old lady’s lips, she cast hastily about for some other topicof conversation.

  “I—I wonder if you could lend us something to eat? The Yankees cleaned us out like a swarm oflocusts. But, if you are on short rations, just tell me so plainly and—”

  “Send over Pork with a wagon and you shall have half of what we’ve got, rice, meal, ham, somechickens,” said Old Miss, giving Scarlett a sudden keen look.

  “Oh, that’s too much! Really, I—”

  “Not a word! I won’t hear it. What are neighbors for?”

  “You are so kind that I can’t— But I have to be going now. The folks at home will be worryingabout me.”

  Grandma rose abruptly and took Scarlett by the arm.

  “You two stay here,” she commanded, pushing Scarlett toward the back porch. “I have a privateword for this child. Help me down the steps, Scarlett.”

  Young Miss and Sally said good-by and promised to come calling soon. They were devoured bycuriosity as to what Grandma had to say to Scarlett but unless she chose to tell them, they wouldnever know. Old ladies were so difficult, Young Miss whispered to Sally as they went back to theirsewing.

  Scarlett stood with her hand on the horse’s bridle, a dull feeling at her heart.

  “Now,” said Grandma, peering into her face, “what’s wrong at Tara? What are you keepingback?”

  Scarlett looked up into the keen old eyes and knew she could tell the truth, without tears. No onecould cry in the presence of Grandma Fontaine without her express permission.

  “Mother is dead,” she said flatly.

  The hand on her arm tightened until it pinched and the wrinkled lids over the yellow eyesblinked.

  “Did the Yankees kill her?”

  “She died of typhoid. Died—the day before I came home.”

  “Don’t think about it,” said Grandma sternly and Scarlett saw her swallow. “And your Pa?”

  “Pa is—Pa is not himself.”

  “What do you mean? Speak up. Is he ill?”

  “The shock—he is so strange—he is not—”

  “Don’t tell me he’s not himself. Do you mean his mind is unhinged?”

  It was a relief to hear the truth put so baldly. How good the old lady was to offer no sympathythat would make her cry.

  “Yes,” she said dully, “he’s lost his mind. He acts dazed and sometimes he can’t seem toremember that Mother is dead. Oh, Old Miss, it’s more than I can stand to see him sit by the hour,waiting for her and so patiently too, and he used to have no more patience than a child. But it’sworse when he does remember that she’s gone. Every now and then, after he’s sat still with his earcocked listening for her, he jumps up suddenly and stamps out of the house and down to theburying ground. And then he comes dragging back with the tears all over his face and he says overand over till I could scream: ‘Katie Scarlett, Mrs. O’Hara is dead. Your mother is dead,’ and it’sjust like I was hearing it again for the first time. And sometimes, late at night, I hear him callingher and I get out of bed and go to him and tell him she’s down at the quarters with a sick darky.

  And he fusses because she’s always tiring herself out nursing people. And it’s so hard to get himback to bed. He’s like a child. Oh, I wish Dr. Fontaine was here! I know he could do something forPa! And Melanie needs a doctor too. She isn’t getting over her baby like she should—”

  “Melly—a baby? And she’s with you?”

  “Yes.”

  “What’s Melly doing with you? Why isn’t she in Macon with her aunt and her kinfolks? I neverthought you liked her any too well, Miss, for all she was Charles’ sister. Now, tell me all about it.”

  “It’s a long story, Old Miss. Don’t you want to go back in the house and sit down?”

  “I can stand,” said Grandma shortly. “And if you told your story in front of the others, they’d bebawling and making you feel sorry for yourself. Now, let’s have it.”

  Scarlett began haltingly with the siege and Melanie’s condition, but as her story progressedbeneath the sharp old eyes which never faltered in their gaze, she found words, words of powerand horror. It all came back to her, the sickeningly hot day of the baby’s birth, the agony of fear,the flight and Rhett’s desertion. She spoke of the wild darkness of the night, the blazing camp fireswhich might be friends or foes, the gaunt chimneys which met her gaze in the morning sun, thedead men and horses along the road, the hunger, the desolation, the fear that Tara had been burned.

  “I thought if I could just get home to Mother, she could manage everything and I could lay downthe weary load. On the way home I thought the worst had already happened to me, but when Iknew she was dead I knew what the worst really was.”

  She dropped her eyes to the ground and waited for Grandma to speak. The silence was soprolonged she wondered if Grandma could have failed to comprehend her desperate plight. Finallythe old voice spoke and her tones were kind, kinder than Scarlett had ever heard her use inaddressing anyone.

  “Child, it’s a very bad thing for a woman to face the worst that can happen to her, because aftershe’s faced the worst she can’t ever really fear anything again. And it’s very bad for a woman notto be afraid of something. You think I don’t understand what you’ve told me—what you’ve beenthrough? Well, I understand very well. When I was about your age I was in the Creek uprising,right after the Fort Mims massacre—yes,” she said in a far-away voice, “just about your age forthat was fifty-odd years ago. And I managed to get into the bushes and hide and I lay there and sawour house burn and I saw the Indians scalp my brothers and sisters. And I could only lie there andpray that the light of the flames wouldn’t show up my hiding place. And they dragged Mother outand killed her about twenty feet from where I was lying. And scalped her too. And ever so oftenone Indian would go back to her and sink his tommyhawk into her skull again. I—I was mymother’s pet and I lay there and saw it all. And in the morning I set out for the nearest settlementand it was thirty miles away. It took me three days to get there, through the swamps and theIndians, and afterward they thought I’d lose my mind. … That’s where I met Dr. Fontaine. Helooked after me. ... Ah, well, that’s been fifty years ago, as I said, and since that time I’ve neverbeen afraid of anything or anybody because I’d known the worst that could happen to me. And thatlack of fear has gotten me into a lot of trouble and cost me a lot of happiness. God intended womento be timid frightened creatures and there’s something unnatural about woman who isn’t afraid. ... Scarlett, always save something to fear— even as you save something (a) to love. ...”

  Her voice trailed off and she stood silent with eyes looking back over half a century to the daywhen she had been afraid. Scarlett moved impatiently. She had thought Grandma was going tounderstand and perhaps show her some way to solve her problems. But like all old people she’d gotten to talking about things that happened before anyone was born, things no one was interestedin. Scarlett wished she had not confided in her.

  “Well, go home, child, or they’ll be worrying about you,” she said suddenly. “Send Pork withthe wagon this afternoon. ... And don’t think you can lay down the load, ever. Because you can’t. Iknow.”

  Indian summer lingered into November that year and the warm days were bright days for thoseat Tara. The worst was over. They had a horse now and they could ride instead of walk. They hadfried eggs for breakfast and fried ham for supper to vary the monotony of the yams, peanuts anddried apples, and on one festal occasion they even had roast chicken. The old sow had finally beencaptured and she and her brood rooted and grunted happily under the house where they werepenned. Sometimes they squealed so loudly no one in the house could talk but it was a pleasantsound. It meant fresh pork for the white folks and chitterlings for the negroes when cold weatherand hog-killing time should arrive, and it meant food for the winter for all.

  Scarlett’s visit to the Fontaines had heartened her more than she realized. Just the knowledgethat she had neighbors, that some of the family friends and old homes had survived, drove out theterrible loss and alone feeling which had oppressed her in her first weeks at Tara. And theFontaines and Tarletons, whose plantations had not been in the path of the army, were mostgenerous in sharing what little they had. It was the tradition of the County that neighbor helpedneighbor and they refused to accept a penny from Scarlett, telling her that she would do the samefor them and she could pay them back, in kind, next year when Tara was again producing.

  Scarlett now had food for her household, she had a horse, she had the money and jewelry takenfrom the Yankee straggler, and the greatest need was new clothing. She knew it would be riskybusiness sending Pork south to buy clothes, when the horse might be captured by either Yankees orConfederates. But, at least, she had the money with which to buy the clothes, a horse and wagonfor the trip, and perhaps Pork could make the trip without getting caught. Yes, the worst was over.

  Every morning when Scarlett arose she thanked God for the pale-blue sky and the warm sun, foreach day of good weather put off the inevitable time when warm clothing would be needed. Andeach warm day saw more and more cotton piling up in the empty slave quarters, the only storageplace left on the plantation. There was more cotton in the fields than she or Pork had estimated,probably four bales, and soon the cabins would be full.

  Scarlett had not intended to do any cotton picking herself, even after Grandma Fontaine’s tartremark. It was unthinkable that she, an O’Hara lady, now the mistress of Tara, should work in thefields. It put her on the same level with the snarly haired Mrs. Slattery and Emmie. She hadintended that the negroes should do the field work, while she and the convalescent girls attended tothe house, but here she was confronted with a caste feeling even stronger than her own. Pork,Mammy and Prissy set up outcries at the idea of working in the fields. They reiterated that theywere house niggers, not field hands. Mammy, in particular, declared vehemently that she had nevereven been a yard nigger. She had been born in the Robillard great house, not in the quarters, andhad been raised in Ole Miss’ bedroom, sleeping on a pallet at the foot of the bed. Dilcey alone saidnothing and she fixed her Prissy with an unwinking eye that made her squirm.

  Scarlett refused to listen to the protests and drove them all into the cotton rows. But Mammyand Pork worked so slowly and with so many lamentations that Scarlett sent Mammy back to thekitchen to cook and Pork to the woods and the river with snares for rabbits and possums and linesfor fish. Cotton picking was beneath Pork’s dignity but hunting and fishing were not.

  Scarlett next had tried her sisters and Melanie in the fields, but that had worked no better.

  Melanie had picked neatly, quickly and willingly for an hour in the hot sun and then fainted quietlyand had to stay in bed for a week. Suellen, sullen and tearful, pretended to faint too, but came backto consciousness spitting like an angry cat when Scarlett poured a gourdful of water in her face. Finallyshe refused point-blank.

  “I won’t work in the fields like a darky! You can’t make me. What if any of our friends everheard of it? What if—if Mr. Kennedy ever knew? Oh, if Mother knew about this—”

  “You just mention Mother’s name once more, Suellen O’Hara, and I’ll slap you flat,” criedScarlett. “Mother worked harder than any darky on this place and you know it, Miss Fine Airs!”

  “She did not! At least, not in the fields. And you can’t make me. I’ll tell Papa on you and hewon’t make me work!”

  “Don’t you dare go bothering Pa with any of our troubles!” cried Scarlett, distracted betweenindignation at her sister and fear for Gerald.

  “I’ll help you, Sissy,” interposed Carreen docilely. “I’ll work for Sue and me too. She isn’t wellyet and she shouldn’t be out in the sun.”

  Scarlett said gratefully: “Thank you, Sugarbaby,” but looked worriedly at her younger sister.

  Carreen, who had always been as delicately pink and white as the orchard blossoms that arescattered by the spring wind, was no longer pink but still conveyed in her sweet thoughtful face ablossomlike quality. She had been silent, a little dazed since she came back to consciousness andfound Ellen gone, Scarlett a termagant, the world changed and unceasing labor the order of thenew day. It was not in Carreen’s delicate nature to adjust herself to change. She simply could notcomprehend what had happened and she went about Tara like a sleepwalker, doing exactly whatshe was told. She looked, and was, frail but she was willing, obedient and obliging. When she wasnot doing Scarlett’s bidding, her rosary beads were always in her hands and her lips moving inprayers for her mother and for Brent Tarleton. It did not occur to Scarlett that Carreen had takenBrent’s death so seriously and that her grief was unhealed. To Scarlett, Carreen was still “babysister,” far too young to have had a really serious love affair.

  Scarlett, standing in the sun in the cotton rows, her back breaking from the eternal bending andher hands roughened by the dry bolls, wished she had a sister who combined Suellen’s energy andstrength with Carreen’s sweet disposition. For Carreen picked diligently and earnestly. But, aftershe had labored for an hour it was obvious that she, and not Suellen, was the one not yet wellenough for such work. So Scarlett sent Carreen back to the house too.

  There remained with her now in the long rows only Dilcey and Prissy. Prissy picked lazily,spasmodically, complaining of her feet, her back, her internal miseries, her complete weariness,until her mother took a cotton stalk to her and whipped her until she screamed. After that sheworked a little better, taking care to stay far from her mother’s reach.

  Dilcey worked tirelessly, silently, like a machine, and Scarlett, with her back aching and hershoulder raw from the tugging weight of the cotton bag she carried, thought that Dilcey was worthher weight in gold.

  “Dilcey,” she said, “when good times come back, I’m not going to forget how you’ve acted.

  You’ve been mighty good.”

  The bronze giantess did not grin pleasedly or squirm under praise like the other negroes. Sheturned an immobile face to Scarlett and said with dignity: “Thankee, Ma’m. But Mist’ Gerald andMiss Ellen been good to me. Mist’ Gerald buy my Prissy so I wouldn’ grieve and I doan forgit it. Iis part Indian and Indians doan forgit them as is good to them. I sorry ‘bout my Prissy. She mightyworthless. Look lak she all nigger lak her pa. Her pa was mighty flighty.”

  In spite of Scarlett’s problem of getting help from the others in the picking and in spite of theweariness of doing the labor herself, her spirits lifted as the cotton slowly made its way from thefields to the cabins. There was something about cotton that was reassuring, steadying. Tara hadrisen to riches on cotton, even as the whole South had risen, and Scarlett was Southerner enough tobelieve that both Tara and the South would rise again out of the red fields.

  Of course, this little cotton she had gathered was not much but it was something. It would bringa little in Confederate money and that little would help her to save the hoarded greenbacks andgold in the Yankee’s wallet until they had to be spent. Next spring she would try to make theConfederate government send back Big Sam and the other field hands they had commandeered,and if the government wouldn’t release them, she’d use the Yankee’s money to hire field handsfrom the neighbors. Next spring, she would plant and plant. ... She straightened her tired back and,looking over the browning autumn fields, she saw next year’s crop standing sturdy and green, acreupon acre.

  Next spring! Perhaps by next spring the war would be over and good times would be back. Andwhether the Confederacy won or lost, times would be better. Anything was better than the constantdanger of raids from both armies. When the war was over, a plantation could earn an honest living.

  Oh, if the war were only over! Then people could plant crops with some certainty of reaping them!

  There was hope now. The war couldn’t last forever. She had her little cotton, she had food, shehad a horse, she had her small but treasured hoard of money. Yes, the worst was over!

  思嘉从亚特兰大回到塔拉已两个星期,脚上的血泡已开始化脓,脚肿得没法穿鞋,只能踮着脚跟蹒跚地行走。她瞧着脚尖上的痛处,一种绝望之情便在她心头涌起。没法找到医生,要是它像士兵的创伤那样溃烂起来,就得等死了?尽管现在生活这样艰难,可她还想活下去呢。如果他死了,谁来照管塔拉农场呀?
  她刚回到家时,曾经希望杰拉尔德往常的精神依然存在,他会主持家政,可是两周以来这个希望逐渐幻灭了。现在她已十分清楚,不管她乐意与否,这个农场和它所有的人口都得依靠她这双毫无经验的手去安排呢。因为杰拉尔德仍坐在那里一动不动,像个梦中人似的,那么毫不关心塔拉,那么温厚随和。每当她征求他的意见时,他总是这样回答:“你认为最好怎么办就怎么办吧,女儿。"要不便回答更糟,居然说,"孩子,跟你妈商量呀。"他再也不会有什么两样了,这个事实现在思嘉已经心安理得地承认,那就是说杰拉尔德将永远等待爱伦,永远注意倾听有没有她的动静。他是在某个边境地区,那儿时间静止不动,而爱伦始终在隔壁房间里等着他。他的生存的主发条已经在爱伦去世那天被拆掉了,同时消失的还有他那充分的自信,他的鲁莽和无穷的活力。爱伦是杰拉尔德·奥哈拉平生演出过的那场闹剧的观众,现在台前的帷幕永远降落了,脚灯熄了,观众也突然消失,而这个吓呆了的老演员还留在空空的舞台上等待着别人给他提词呢。
  那天早晨屋子里很安静,因为除了思嘉、韦德和三个生病的姑娘,大家都到沼泽地里找母猪去了。就连杰拉尔德也来了点劲儿,一手扶着波克的肩膀,一手拿着绳子,在翻过的田地里艰难地向那里走去。苏伦和卡琳哭了一阵睡着了,她们每天至少要来这么两次,因为一想起母亲便感到悲伤,觉得自己孤苦无依,眼泪使簌簌地从深陷的两腮上往下流。媚兰那天头一次支撑着上身靠在枕头上,盖着一条补过的床单夹在两个婴儿中间,一只臂弯里偎着一个浅黄色毛茸茸的头,另一只同样温柔地搂着一个黑色卷发的小脑袋,那是迪尔茜的孩子。韦德坐在床脚边,在听一个童话故事。
  对思嘉来说,塔拉的寂静是难以忍受的,因为这使她清楚地想起她从亚特兰大回来那天一路经过的那些寂寞荒凉的地带。母牛和小牛犊已很久没出声了。她卧室的窗外也没有鸟雀啁啾,连那个在木兰树瑟瑟不停的树叶中繁衍了好几代的模仿鸟家族这天也不再歌唱了。她拉过一把矫椅放在敞开的窗口一眺望着屋前的车道、大路那边的草地和碧绿而空旷的牧常她把裙子擦过膝盖,将下巴搁在胳臂肘上,伏在窗口寻思。她身边地板上放着一桶井水,她不时把起泡的脚伸进水里,一面皱着眉头忍受那刺痛的感觉。
  她心里烦躁起来,下巴钻进了臂弯里。恰好在她需要拿出最大力气的时候,这只脚尖却溃烂起来了。那些笨蛋是抓不到母猪的。为了把小猪一只只捉回来,他们已经花了一星期,现在又过了两星期,可母猪还没抓到。思嘉知道,如果她跟他们一起在沼泽地里,她就会拿起绳索,高高卷起裤脚,很快把母猪套祝可是把母猪抓到以后----要是真的抓到了,又怎么样呢?
  好,你就把它和那窝小崽子吃掉,可是再往后呢?生活还得过下去,食欲也不会减弱呀。冬天快到了,食物眼看就要吃光,连从邻园子里找来的那些蔬菜也所余无几了。他们必须弄到干豆和高粱,玉米糁和大米,还有----啊,还有许许多多东西。明年春播的玉米和棉花种子,新衣服,都需要啊,所有这些东西从哪儿来,她又怎么买得起呢?
  她已经偷偷看过杰拉尔德的口袋和钱柜,唯一能找到的只有一堆联盟政府的债券和三千元联盟的钞票了。这大约够他们吃一顿丰盛的午餐吧,她带讽刺意味地想,因为现在联盟的妻子已经一文不值啦。不过,即使她有钱,也能买到食物,她又怎么把它拉回塔拉来呢?上帝为什么让那匹老马也死掉了?要是瑞德偷来的那个可怜的畜生还在,那也会使他们的生活大为改观的。啊,那些皮毛光滑的惯于在大路对面牧场上尥蹶子的骡子,那些漂亮的用来驾车的高头大马,她自己那匹小骡马,姑娘们的马驹子,以及杰拉尔德的到处风驰雷动般飞奔的大公马----啊,哪怕是倔强的骡子,只要它们还有一起留下来,该多好啊!
  但是,也不要紧----一旦她的脚好起来,她就要步行到琼斯博罗去一趟。那将是她有生以来最远的一次步行,不过她愿意走着去。即使北方佬把那个城市完全烧毁了,她也一定要在那里找到一个能教她怎样弄到食物的人。这时韦德那张痛苦的小脸浮现在她眼前。他又一次嚷着他不爱吃山芋;他要一只鸡腿,一点米饭和肉汤呢。
  前院里灿烂的阳光仿佛忽然被云翳遮住,树影也模糊起来,思嘉眼里已经泪汪汪的了。她紧紧抱着头,强忍着不要哭出声来。如今哭也没有用。只有你身边有个疼爱你的人,哭才有点意思。于是她伏在那里使劲抿着眼皮不让泪水掉下来,但这时忽然听见得得的马蹄声,不免暗暗惊讶。不过她并没有抬起头来。在过去两星期里,无论黑夜白天,就像觉得听见了母亲衣裙的悉卒声那样,她不时觉得听见了什么声响,这已经不足为怪了。她的心在急跳,这也是每逢这种时刻都有的,她随即便断然告诫自己:“别犯傻了。"但是马蹄声很自然地缓慢下来,渐渐变成从容不迫的漫步,在石子路上喀嚓喀嚓地响着。这是一骑马----塔尔顿家或方丹家的!她连忙抬起头来看看。原来是个北方佬骑兵。
  她本能地躲到窗帘后面,同时急忙从帘子的褶缝中窥探那人,心情十分紧张,呼吸急促,快要喘不过起来了。
  他垂头弓背坐在马鞍上,是个强悍粗暴的家伙,一脸蓬乱的黑胡须披散在没有钮扣子的蓝军服上。他在阳光里眯着一双小眼睛,从帽檐下冷冷地打量这幢房子。他不慌不忙地下了马,把缰绳撂在拴马桩上。这时思嘉突然痛苦地缓过气来,好像肚子上挨了一拳似的。一个北方佬,腰上挎着长筒手枪的北方佬!而且,她是单独跟三个病人和几个孩子在家里呢!
  他懒洋洋地从人行道上走来,一只手放在手枪套上,两只小眼睛左顾右盼。这时思嘉心中象万花筒般闪映着一幅幅杂乱的图景,主要是皮蒂姑妈悄悄说过的关于坏人袭击孤单妇女的故事,比如,用刀子割喉咙呀,把病危的女人烧死在屋里呀,拿刺刀把哭叫的孩子捅死呀,种种难以言喻的恐怖场面,都因北方佬缘故而紧紧联在一起了。
  她的头一个恐惧的想法是躲到壁橱里去,或者钻到床底下,或者从后面飞跑下楼,一路惊叫着奔向沼泽地,反正只要逃得掉就行。接着她听见他小心翼翼地走上台阶,偷偷地进了过厅,她才知道已经逃不出去了。她吓得浑身发抖,无法动弹,只听见他在楼下从一个房间进入另一个房间,步子愈来愈响,愈来愈胆大,因为他发现屋里一个人也没有。现在他进了饭厅,眼看马上要从饭厅出来,到厨房去了。
  思嘉一想到厨房,便仿佛有把刀子扎进她的心窝,顿时怒火万丈,把恐惧都驱散得无影无踪了。厨房啊!厨房的炉火正炖着两锅吃的,一锅是苹果,另一锅是千辛万苦从“十二橡树”和麦金托什村园子里弄来的各种菜蔬的大杂烩,这些尽管不一定够两个人吃,可是要给九个挨饿的人当午餐呢。
  思嘉忍着饥饿等待别的人回来,已经好几个小时,现在想到这个北方佬会一口气吃光,难怪她气得全身哆嗦了。
  让这些家伙通通见鬼去吧!他们像蚯虫般洗劫了塔拉,让它只好慢慢地饿死,可现在又回来偷这点剩余的东西。思嘉肚子里饥肠辘辘,心想:凭上帝作证,这个北方佬休想再偷东西了!
  她轻轻脱掉脚上的破鞋,光着脚匆匆向衣柜走去,连脚尖上的肿痛也不觉得了。她悄悄地拉开最上面的那个抽屉,抓起那把她从亚特兰大带来的笨重手枪,这是查尔斯生前佩带但从没使用过的武器。她把手伸进那个挂在墙上军刀下面的皮盒子里摸了一会,拿出一粒火帽子弹来。她竭力镇静着把子弹装进枪膛里。接着,她蹑手蹑脚跑进楼上过厅,跑下楼梯,一手扶着栏杆定了定神,另一只手抓住手枪紧紧贴在大腿后面的裙褶里。
  “谁在那里?"一个带鼻音的声音喊道。这时她在楼梯当中站住,血脉在耳朵里轰轰地跳,她几乎听不见他在说什么。
  “站住,要不我就开枪了。"那声音在接着喊叫。
  那个人站在饭厅里面的门口,紧张地弓着身子,一手瞄着手枪,另一只手拿着那个木针线盒,里面装满了金顶针、金柄剪刀和金镶小钻石之类的东西。思嘉觉得



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