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Chapter 27

ON A NOONDAY in mid-November, they all sat grouped about the dinner table, eating the lastof the dessert concocted by Mammy from corn meal and dried huckleberries, sweetened withsorghum. There was a chill in the air, the first chill of the year, and Pork, standing behind Scarlett’schair, rubbed his hands together in glee and questioned: “Ain’ it ‘bout time fer de hawg killin’,Miss Scarlett?”

  “You can taste those chitlins already, can’t you?” said Scarlett with a grin. “Well, I can tastefresh pork myself and if the weather holds for a few days more, we’ll—”

  Melanie interrupted, her spoon at her lips, “Listen, dear! Somebody’s coming!”

  “Somebody hollerin’,” said Pork uneasily.

  On the crisp autumn air came clear the sound of horse’s hooves, thudding as swiftly as afrightened heart, and a woman’s voice, high pitched, screaming: “Scarlett! Scarlett!”

  Eye met eye for a dreadful second around the table before chairs were pushed back andeveryone leaped up. Despite the fear that made it shrill, they recognized the voice of SallyFontaine who, only an hour before, had stopped at Tara for a brief chat on her way to Jonesboro.

  Now, as they all rushed pell-mell to crowd the front door, they saw her coming up the drive like thewind on a lathered horse, her hair streaming behind her, her bonnet dangling by its ribbons. Shedid not draw rein but as she galloped madly toward them, she waved her arm back in the directionfrom which she had come.

  “The Yankees are coming! I saw them! Down the road! The Yankees—”

  She sawed savagely at the horse’s mouth just in time to swerve him from leaping up the frontsteps. He swung around sharply, covered the side lawn in three leaps and she put him across thefour-foot hedge as if she were on the hunting field. They heard the heavy pounding of his hoovesas he went through the back yard and down the narrow lane between the cabins of the quarters andknew she was cutting across the fields to Mimosa.

  For a moment they stood paralyzed and then Suellen and Carreen began to sob and clutch eachother’s fingers. Little Wade stood rooted, trembling, unable to cry. What he had feared since thenight he left Atlanta had happened. The Yankees were coming to get him.

  “Yankees?” said Gerald vaguely. “But the Yankees have already been here.”

  “Mother of God!” cried Scarlett, her eyes meeting Melanie’s frightened eyes. For a swift instantthere went through her memory again the horrors of her last night in Atlanta, the ruined homes thatdotted the countryside, all the stories of rape and torture and murder. She saw again the Yankeesoldier standing in the hall with Ellen’s sewing box in his hand. She thought: “I shall die. I shalldie right here. I thought we were through with all that. I shall die. I can’t stand any more.”

  Then her eyes fell on the horse saddled and hitched and waiting for Pork to ride him to theTarleton place on an errand. Her horse! Her only horse! The Yankees would take him and the cowand the calf. And the sow and her litter— Oh, how many tiring hours it had taken to catch that sowand her agile young! And they’d take the rooster and the setting hens and the ducks the Fontaineshad given her. And the apples and the yams in the pantry bins. And the flour and rice and driedpeas. And the money in the Yankee soldier’s wallet. They’d take everything and leave them tostarve.

  “They shan’t have them!” she cried aloud and they all turned startled faces to her, fearful hermind had cracked under the tidings. “I won’t go hungry! They shan’t have them!”

  “What is it, Scarlett? What is it?”

  “The horse! The cow! The pigs! They shan’t have them! I won’t let them have them!”

  She turned swiftly to the four negroes who huddled in the doorway, their black faces a peculiarlyashen shade.

  “The swamp,” she said rapidly.

  “Whut swamp?”

  “The river swamp, you fools! Take the pigs to the swamp. All of you. Quickly. Pork, you andPrissy crawl under the house and get the pigs out. Suellen, you and Carreen fill the baskets with asmuch food as you can carry and get to the woods. Mammy, put the silver in the well again. AndPork! Pork, listen to me, don’t stand there like that! Take Pa with you. Don’t ask me where! Anywhere!

  Go with Pork, Pa. That’s a sweet pa.”

  Even in her frenzy she thought what the sight of bluecoats might do to Gerald’s wavering mind.

  She stopped and wrung her hands and the frightened sobbing of little Wade who was clutchingMelanie’s skirt added to her panic.

  “What shall I do, Scarlett?” Melanie’s voice was calm amid the wailing and tears and scurryingfeet. Though her face was paper white and her whole body trembled, the very quietness of hervoice steadied Scarlett, revealing to her that they all looked to her for commands, for guidance.

  “The cow and the calf,” she said quickly. “They’re in the old pasture. Take the horse and drivethem into the swamp and—”

  Before she could finish her sentence, Melanie shook off Wade’s clutches and was down the frontsteps and running toward the horse, pulling up her wide skirts as she ran. Scarlett caught a flashingglimpse of thin legs, a flurry of skirts and underclothing and Melanie was in the saddle, her feetdangling far above the stirrups. She gathered up the reins and clapped her heels against theanimal’s sides and then abruptly pulled him in, her face twisting with horror.

  “My baby!” she cried. “Oh, my baby! The Yankees will kill him! Give him to me!”

  Her hand was on the pommel and she was preparing to slide off but Scarlett screamed at her.

  “Go on! Go on! Get the cow! I’ll look after the baby! Go on, I tell you! Do you think I’d letthem get Ashley’s baby? Go on!”

  Melly looked despairingly backward but hammered her heels into the horse and, with ascattering of gravel, was off down the drive toward the pasture.

  Scarlett thought: “I never expected to see Melly Hamilton straddling a horse!” and then she raninto the house. Wade was at her heels, sobbing, trying to catch her flying skirts. As she went up thesteps, three at a bound, she saw Suellen and Carreen with split-oak baskets on their arms, runningtoward the pantry, and Pork tugging none too gently at Gerald’s arm, dragging him toward theback porch. Gerald was mumbling querulously and pulling away like a child.

  From the back yard she heard Mammy’s strident voice: “You, Priss! You git unner dat house an’

  han’ me dem shoats! You knows mighty well Ah’s too big ter crawl thoo dem lattices. Dilcey,comyere an’ mek dis wuthless chile—”

  “And I thought it was such a good idea to keep the pigs under the house, so nobody could stealthem,” thought Scarlett, running into her room. “Why, oh, why didn’t I build a pen for them downin the swamp?”

  She tore open her top bureau drawer and scratched about in the clothing until the Yankee’s wallet was in her hand. Hastily she picked up the solitaire ring and the diamond earbobs fromwhere she had hidden them in her sewing basket and shoved them into the wallet. But where tohide it? In the mattress? Up the chimney? Throw it in the well? Put it in her bosom? No, neverthere! The outlines of the wallet might show through her basque and if the Yankees saw it theywould strip her naked and search her.

  “I shall die if they do!” she thought wildly.

  Downstairs there was a pandemonium of racing feet and sobbing voices. Even in her frenzy,Scarlett wished she had Melanie with her, Melly with her quiet voice, Melly who was so brave theday she shot the Yankee. Melly was worth three of the others. Melly—what had Melly said? Oh,yes, the baby!

  Clutching the wallet to her, Scarlett ran across the hall to the room where little Beau wassleeping in the low cradle. She snatched him up into her arms and he awoke, waving small fistsand slobbering sleepily.

  She heard Suellen crying: “Come on, Carreen! Come on! We’ve got enough. Oh, Sister, hurry!”

  There were wild squealings, indignant gruntings in the back yard and, running to the window,Scarlett saw Mammy waddling hurriedly across the cotton field with a struggling young pig undereach arm. Behind her was Pork also carrying two pigs and pushing Gerald before him. Gerald wasstumping across the furrows, waving his cane.

  Leaning out of the window Scarlett yelled: “Get the sow, Dilcey! Make Prissy drive her out Youcan chase her across the fields!”

  Dilcey looked up, her bronzed face harassed. In her apron was a pile of silver tableware. Shepointed under the house.

  “The sow done bit Prissy and got her penned up unner the house.”

  “Good for the sow,” thought Scarlett. She hurried back into her room and hastily gathered fromtheir hiding place the bracelets, brooch, miniature and cup she had found on the dead Yankee. Butwhere to hide them? It was awkward, carrying little Beau in one arm and the wallet and the trinketsin the other. She started to lay him on the bed.

  He set up a wail at leaving her arms and a welcome thought came to her. What better hidingplace could there be than a baby’s diaper? She quickly turned him over, pulled up his dress andthrust the wallet down the diaper next to his backside. He yelled louder at this treatment and shehastily tightened the triangular garment about his threshing legs.

  “Now,” she thought, drawing a deep breath, “now for the swamp!”

  Tucking him screaming under one arm and clutching the jewelry to her with the other, she racedinto the upstairs hall. Suddenly her rapid steps paused, fright weakening her knees. How silent thehouse was! How dreadfully still! Had they all gone off and left her? Hadn’t anyone waited for her?

  She hadn’t meant for them to leave her here alone. These days anything could happen to a lonewoman and with the Yankees coming—She jumped as a slight noise sounded and, turning quickly, saw crouched by the banisters herforgotten son, his eyes enormous with terror. He tried to speak but his throat only worked silently.

  “Get up, Wade Hampton,” she commanded swiftly. “Get up and walk. Mother can’t carry younow.”

  He ran to her, like a small frightened animal, and clutching her wide skirt, buried his face in it.

  She could feel his small hands groping through the folds for her legs. She started down the stairs,each step hampered by Wade’s dragging hands and she said fiercely: “Turn me loose, Wade! Turnme loose and walk!” But the child only clung the closer.

  As she reached the landing, the whole lower floor leaped up at her. All the homely, well-lovedarticles of furniture seemed to whisper: “Good-by! Good-by!” A sob rose in her throat. There wasthe open door of the office where Ellen had labored so diligently and she could glimpse a corner ofthe old secretary. There was the dining room, with chairs pushed awry and food still on the plates.

  There on the floor were the rag rugs Ellen had dyed and woven herself. And there was the oldportrait of Grandma Robillard, with bosoms half bared, hair piled high and nostrils cut so deeply asto give her face a perpetual well-bred sneer. Everything which had been part of her earliestmemories, everything bound up with the deepest roots in her: “Good-by! Good-by, ScarlettO’Hara!”

  The Yankees would burn it all—all!

  This was her last view of home, her last view except what she might see from the cover of thewoods or the swamp, the tall chimneys wrapped in smoke, the roof crashing in flame.

  “I can’t leave you,” she thought and her teeth chattered with fear. “I can’t leave you. Pawouldn’t leave you. He told them they’d have to burn you over his head. Then, they’ll burn youover my head for I can’t leave you either. You’re all I’ve got left.”

  With the decision, some of her fear fell away and there remained only a congealed feeling in herbreast, as if all hope and fear had frozen. As she stood there, she heard from the avenue the soundof many horses’ feet, the jingle of bridle bits and sabers rattling in scabbards and a harsh voicecrying a command: “Dismount!” Swiftly she bent to the child beside her and her voice was urgentbut oddly gentle.

  “Turn me loose, Wade, honey! You run down the stairs quick and through the back yard towardthe swamp. Mammy will be there and Aunt Melly. Run quickly, darling, and don’t be afraid.”

  At the change in her tone, the boy looked up and Scarlett was appalled at the look in his eyes,like a baby rabbit in a trap.

  “Oh, Mother of God!” she prayed. “Don’t let him have a convulsion! Not—not before theYankees. They mustn’t know we are afraid.” And, as the child only gripped her skirt the tighter,she said clearly: “Be a little man, Wade. They’re only a passel of damn Yankees!”

  And she went down the steps to meet them.

  Sherman was marching through Georgia, from Atlanta to the sea. Behind him lay the smokingruins of Atlanta to which the torch had been set as the blue army tramped out. Before him lay threehundred miles of territory virtually undefended save by a few state militia and the old men andyoung boys of the Home Guard.

  Here lay the fertile state, dotted with plantations, sheltering the women and children, the veryold and the negroes. In a swath eighty miles wide the Yankees were looting and burning. Therewere hundreds of homes in flames, hundreds of homes resounding with their footsteps. But, toScarlett, watching the bluecoats pour into the front hall, it was not a countrywide affair. It wasentirely personal, a malicious action aimed directly at her and hers.

  She stood at the foot of the stairs, the baby in her arms, Wade pressed tightly against her, hishead hidden in her skirts as the Yankees swarmed through the house, pushing roughly past her upthe stairs, dragging furniture onto the front porch, running bayonets and knives into upholstery anddigging inside for concealed valuables. Upstairs they were ripping open mattresses and featherbeds until the air in the hall was thick with feathers that floated softly down on her head. Impotentrage quelled what little fear was left in her heart as she stood helpless while they plundered andstole and ruined.

  The sergeant in charge was a bow-legged, grizzled little man with a large wad of tobacco in hischeek. He reached Scarlett before any of his men and, spitting freely on the floor and her skirts,said briefly:

  “Lemme have what you got in yore hand, lady.”

  She had forgotten the trinkets she had intended to hide and, with a sneer which she hoped was aseloquent as that pictured on Grandma Robillard’s face, she flung the articles to the floor and almostenjoyed the rapacious scramble that ensued.

  “I’ll trouble you for thet ring and them earbobs.”

  Scarlett tucked the baby more securely under her arm so that he hung face downward, crimsonand screaming, and removed the garnet earrings which had been Gerald’s wedding present toEllen. Then she stripped off the large sapphire solitaire which Charles had given her as an engagementring.

  “Don’t throw um. Hand um to me,” said the sergeant, putting out his hands. “Them bastards gotenough already. What else have you got?” His eyes went over her basque sharply.

  For a moment Scarlett went faint, already feeling rough hands thrusting themselves into herbosom, fumbling at her garters.

  “That is all, but I suppose it is customary to strip your victims?”

  “Oh, I’ll take your word,” said the sergeant good naturedly, spitting again as he turned away.

  Scarlett righted the baby and tried to soothe him, holding her hand over the place on the diaperwhere the wallet was hidden, thanking God that Melanie had a baby and that baby had a diaper.

  Upstairs she could hear heavy boots trampling, the protesting screech of furniture pulled acrossthe floor, the crashing of china and mirrors, the curses when nothing of value appeared. From theyard came loud cries: “Head um off! Don’t let um get away!” and the despairing squawks of thehens and quacking and honking of the ducks and geese. A pang went through her as she heard anagonized squealing which was suddenly stilled by a pistol shot and she knew that the sow wasdead. Damn Prissy! She had run off and left her. If only the shoats were safe! If only the familyhad gotten safely to the swamp! But there was no way of knowing.

  She stood quietly in the hall while the soldiers boiled about her, shouting and cursing. Wade’sfingers were in her skirt in a terrified grip. She could feel his body shaking as he pressed againsther but she could not bring herself to speak reassuringly to him. She could not bring herself to utterany word to the Yankees, either of pleading, protest or anger. She could only thank God that herknees still had the strength to support her, that her neck was still strong enough to hold her headhigh. But when a squad of bearded men came lumbering down the steps, laden with an assortmentof stolen articles and she saw Charles’ sword in the hands of one, she did cry out.

  That sword was Wade’s. It had been his father’s and his grandfather’s sword and Scarlett hadgiven it to the little boy on his last birthday. They had made quite a ceremony of it and Melaniehad cried, cried with tears of pride and sorrowful memory, and kissed him and said he must growup to be a brave soldier like his father and his grandfather. Wade was very proud of it and oftenclimbed upon the table beneath where it hung to pat it. Scarlett could endure seeing her ownpossessions going out of the house in hateful alien hands but not this—not her little boy’s pride.

  Wade, peering from the protection of her skirts at the sound of her cry, found speech and couragein a mighty sob. Stretching out one hand he cried:

  “Mine!”

  “You can’t take that!” said Scarlett swiftly, holding out her hand too.

  “I can’t, hey?” said the little soldier who held it, grinning impudently at her. “Well, I can! It’s aRebel sword!”

  “It’s—it’s not. It’s a Mexican War sword. You can’t take it. It’s my little boy’s. It was hisgrandfather’s! Oh, Captain,” she cried, turning to the sergeant, “please make him give it to me!”

  The sergeant, pleased at his promotion, stepped forward.

  “Lemme see thet sword, Bub,” he said. Reluctantly, the little trooper handed it to him. “It’s got asolid-gold hilt,” he said.

  The sergeant turned it in his hand, held the hilt up to the sunlight to read the engravedinscription.

  “ ‘To Colonel William R. Hamilton,’ ” he deciphered. “ ‘From His Staff. For Gallantry. BuenaVista. 1847.’ ”

  “Ho, lady,” he said, “I was at Buena Vista myself.”

  “Indeed,” said Scarlett icily.

  “Was I? Thet was hot fightin’, lemme tell you. I ain’t seen such hot fightin’ in this war as weseen in thet one. So this sword was this little tyke’s grandaddy’s?”

  “Yes.”

  “Well, he can have it,” said the sergeant, who was satisfied enough with the jewelry and trinketstied up in his handkerchief.

  “But it’s got a solid-gold hilt,” insisted the little trooper.

  “We’ll leave her thet to remember us by,” grinned the sergeant.

  Scarlett took the sword, not even saying “Thank you.” Why should she thank these thieves forreturning her own property to her? She held the sword against her while the little cavalrymanargued and wrangled with the sergeant.

  “By God, I’ll give these damn Rebels something to remember me by,” shouted the privatefinally when the sergeant, losing his good nature, told him to go to hell and not talk back. The littleman went charging toward the back of the house and Scarlett breathed more easily. They had saidnothing about burning the house. They hadn’t told her to leave so they could fire it. Perhaps—perhaps— The men came rambling into the hall from the upstairs and the out of doors.

  “Anything?” questioned the sergeant.

  “One hog and a few chickens and ducks.”

  “Some corn and a few yams and beans. That wildcat we saw on the horse must have given thealarm, all right.”

  “Regular Paul Revere, eh?”

  “Well, there ain’t much here, Sarge. You got the pickin’s. Let’s move on before the wholecountry gets the news we’re comin’.”

  “Didja dig under the smokehouse? They generally buries things there.”

  “Ain’t no smokehouse.”

  “Didja dig in the nigger cabins?”

  “Nothin’ but cotton in the cabins. We set fire to it.”

  For a brief instant Scarlett saw the long hot days in the cotton field, felt again the terrible ache inher back, the raw bruised flesh of her shoulders. All for nothing. The cotton was gone.

  “You ain’t got much, for a fac’, have you, lady?”

  “Your army has been here before,” she said coolly.

  “That’s a fac’. We were in this neighborhood in September,” said one of the men, turningsomething in his hand. “I’d forgot.”

  Scarlett saw it was Ellen’s gold thimble that he held. How often she had seen it gleaming in andout of Ellen’s fancy work. The sight of it brought back too many hurting memories of the slenderhand which had worn it. There it lay in this stranger’s calloused duly palm and soon it would findits way North and onto the finger of some Yankee woman who would be proud to wear stolenthings. Ellen’s thimble!

  Scarlett dropped her head so the enemy could not see her cry and the tears fell slowly down onthe baby’s head. Throu