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Chapter 28

COLD WEATHER set in abruptly with a killing frost Chilling winds swept beneath the doorsills and rattled the loose windowpanes with a monotonous tinkling sound. The last of the leaves fellfrom the bare trees and only the pines stood clothed, black and cold against pale skies. The ruttedred roads were frozen to flintiness and hunger rode the winds through Georgia.

  Scarlett recalled bitterly her conversation with Grandma Fontaine. On that afternoon two monthsago, which now seemed years in the past, she had told the old lady she had already known theworst which could possibly happen to her, and she had spoken from the bottom of her heart. Nowthat remark sounded like schoolgirl hyperbole. Before Sherman’s men came through Tara thesecond time, she had her small riches of food and money, she had neighbors more fortunate thanshe and she had the cotton which would tide her over until spring. Now the cotton was gone, thefood was gone, the money was of no use to her, for there was no food to buy with it, and the neighborswere in worse plight than she. At least, she had the cow and the calf, a few shoats and thehorse, and the neighbors had nothing but the little they had been able to hide in the woods and buryin the ground.

  Fairhill, the Tarleton home, was burned to the foundations, and Mrs. Tarleton and the four girlswere existing in the overseer’s house. The Munroe house near Lovejoy was leveled too. Thewooden wing of Mimosa had burned and only the thick resistant stucco of the main house and thefrenzied work of the Fontaine women and their slaves with wet blankets and quilts had saved itThe Calverts’ house had again been spared, due to the intercession of Hilton, the Yankee overseer,but there was not a head of livestock, not a fowl, not an ear of corn left on the place.

  At Tara and throughout the County, the problem was food. Most of the families had nothing atall but the remains of their yam crops and their peanuts and such game as they could catch in thewoods. What they had, each shared with less fortunate friends, as they had done in moreprosperous days. But the time soon came when there was nothing to share.

  At Tara, they ate rabbit and possum and catfish, if Pork was lucky. On other days a smallamount of milk, hickory nuts, roasted acorns and yams. They were always hungry. To Scarlett itseemed that at every turn she met outstretched hands, pleading eyes. The sight of them drove heralmost to madness, for she was as hungry as they.

  She ordered the calf killed, because he drank so much of the precious milk, and that nighteveryone ate so much fresh veal all of them were ill. She knew that she should kill one of theshoats but she put it off from day to day, hoping to raise them to maturity. They were so small.

  There would be so little of them to eat if they were killed now and so much more if they could besaved a little longer. Nightly she debated with Melanie the advisability of sending Pork abroad onthe horse with some greenbacks to try to buy food. But the fear that the horse might be capturedand the money taken from Pork deterred them. They did not know where the Yankees were. Theymight be a thousand miles away or only across the river. Once, Scarlett, in desperation, started toride out herself to search for food, but the hysterical outbursts of the whole family fearful of theYankees made her abandon the plan.

  Pork foraged far, at times not coming home all night, and Scarlett did not ask him where hewent. Sometimes he returned with game, sometimes with a few ears of corn, a bag of dried peas.

  Once he brought home a rooster which he said he found in the woods. The family ate it with relishbut a sense of guilt, knowing very well Pork had stolen it, as he had stolen the peas and corn. One night soon after this, he tapped on Scarlett’s door long after the house was asleep and sheepishlyexhibited a leg peppered with small shot. As she bandaged it for him, he explained awkwardly thatwhen attempting to get into a hen coop at Fayetteville, he had been discovered. Scarlett did not askwhose hen coop but patted Pork’s shoulder gently, tears in her eyes. Negroes were provokingsometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was loyalty in them that money couldn’t buy, a feeling ofoneness with their white folks which made them risk their lives to keep food on the table.

  In other days Pork’s pilferings would have been serious matter, probably calling for a whipping.Inotherdaysshewouldhavebeenforcedatl(a) east to reprimand him severely. “Alwaysremember, dear,” Ellen had said, “you are responsible for the moral as well as the physical welfareof the darkies God has entrusted to your care. You must realize that they are like children and mustbe guarded from themselves like children, and you must always set them a good example.”

  But now, Scarlett pushed that admonition into the back of her mind. That she was encouragingtheft, and perhaps theft from people worse off than she, was no longer a matter for conscience. Infact the morals of the affair weighed lightly upon her. Instead of punishment or reproof, she onlyregretted he had been shot.

  “You must be more careful, Pork. We don’t want to lose you. What would we do without you?

  You’ve been mighty good and faithful and when we get some money again, I’m going to buy you abig gold watch and engrave on it something out of the Bible. ‘Well done, good and faithfulservant.’ ”

  Pork beamed under the praise and gingerly rubbed his bandaged leg.

  “Dat soun’ mighty fine, Miss Scarlett. W’en you speckin’ ter git dat money?”

  “I don’t know, Pork, but I’m going to get it some time, somehow.” She bent on him an unseeingglance that was so passionately bitter he stirred uneasily, “Some day, when this war is over, I’mgoing to have lots of money, and when I do I’ll never be hungry or cold again. None of us will everbe hungry or cold. We’ll all wear fine clothes and have fried chicken every day and—”

  Then she stopped. The strictest rule at Tara, one which she herself had made and which sherigidly enforced, was that no one should ever talk of the fine meals they had eaten in the past orwhat they would eat now, if they had the opportunity.

  Pork slipped from the room as she remained staring moodily into the distance. In the old days,now dead and gone, life had been so complex, so full of intricate and complicated problems. Therehad been the problem of trying to win Ashley’s love and trying to keep a dozen other beauxdangling and unhappy. There had been small breaches of conduct to be concealed from her elders,jealous girls to be flouted or placated, styles of dresses and materials to be chosen, differentcoiffures to be tried and, oh, so many, many other matters to be decided! Now life was soamazingly simple. Now all that mattered was food enough to keep off starvation, clothing enoughto prevent freezing and a roof overhead which did not leak too much.

  It was during these days that Scarlett dreamed and dreamed again the nightmare which was tohaunt her for years. It was always the same dream, the details never varied, but the terror of itmounted each time it came to her and the fear of experiencing it again troubled even her wakinghours. She remembered so well the incidents of the day when she had first dreamed it.

  Cold rain had fallen for days and the house was chill with drafts and dampness. The logs in thefireplace were wet and smoky and gave little heat. There had been nothing to eat except milk sincebreakfast, for the yams were exhausted and Pork’s snares and fishlines had yielded nothing. One ofthe shoats would have to be killed the next day if they were to eat at all. Strained and hungry faces,black and white, were staring at her, mutely asking her to provide food. She would have to risklosing the horse and send Pork out to buy something. And to make matters worse, Wade was illwith a sore throat and a raging fever and there was neither doctor nor medicine for him.

  Hungry, weary with watching her child, Scarlett left him to Melanie’s care for a while and laydown on her bed to nap. Her feet icy, she twisted and turned, unable to sleep, weighed down withfear and despair. Again and again, she thought: “What shall I do? Where shall I turn? Isn’t thereanybody in the world who can help me?” Where had all the security of the world gone? Whywasn’t there someone, some strong wise person to take the burdens from her? She wasn’t made tocarry them. She did not know how to carry them. And then she fell into an uneasy doze.

  She was in a wild strange country so thick with swirling mist she could not see her hand beforeher face. The earth beneath her feet was uneasy. It was a haunted land, still with a terrible stillness,and she was lost in it, lost and terrified as a child in the night. She was bitterly cold and hungry andso fearful of what lurked in the mists about her that she tried to scream and could not. There werethings in the fog reaching out fingers to pluck at her skirt, to drag her down into the uneasyquaking earth on which she stood, silent, relentless, spectral hands. Then, she knew thatsomewhere in the opaque gloom about her there was shelter, help, a heaven of refuge and warmth.

  But where was it? Could she reach it before the hands clutched her and dragged her down into thequicksands?

  Suddenly she was running, running through the mist like a mad thing, crying and screaming,throwing out her arms to clutch only empty air and wet mist Where was the haven? It eluded herbut it was there, hidden, somewhere. If she could only reach it! If she could only reach it shewould be safe! But terror was weakening her legs, hunger making her faint. She gave onedespairing cry and awoke to find Melanie’s worried face above her and Melanie’s hand shaking herto wakefulness.

  The dream returned again and again, whenever she went to sleep with an empty stomach. Andthat was frequently enough. It so frightened her that she feared to sleep, although she feverishlytold herself there was nothing in such a dream to be afraid of. There was nothing in a dream aboutfog to scare her so. Nothing at all—yet the thought of dropping off into that mist-filled country soterrified her she began sleeping with Melanie, who would wake her up when her moaning andtwitching revealed that she was again in the clutch of the dream.

  Under the strain she grew white and thin. The pretty roundness left her face, throwing her cheekbones into prominence, emphasizing her slanting green eyes and giving her the look of a prowling,hungry cat.

  “Daytime is enough like a nightmare without my dreaming things,” she thought desperately andbegan hoarding her daily ration to eat it just before she went to sleep.

  At Christmas time Frank Kennedy and a small troop from the commissary department jogged upto Tara on a futile hunt for grain and animals for the army. They were a ragged and ruffianlyappearing crew, mounted on lame and heaving horses which obviously were in too bad conditionto be used for more active service. Like their animals the men had been invalided out of the frontlineforces and, except for Frank, all of them had an arm missing or an eye gone or stiffened joints.

  Most of them wore blue overcoats of captured Yankees and, for a brief instant of horror, those atTara thought Sherman’s men had returned.

  They stayed the night on the plantation, sleeping on the floor in the parlor, luxuriating as theystretched themselves on the velvet rug, for it had been weeks since they had slept under a roof oron anything softer than pine needles and hard earth. For all their dirty beards and tatters they werea well-bred crowd, full of pleasant small talk, jokes and compliments and very glad to be spendingChristmas Eve in a big house, surrounded by pretty women as they had been accustomed to do indays long past. They refused to be serious about the war, told outrageous lies to make the girlslaugh and brought to the bare and looted house the first lightness, the first hint of festivity it hadknown in many a day.

  “It’s almost like the old days when we had house parties, isn’t it?” whispered Suellen happily toScarlett. Suellen was raised to the skies by having a beau of her own in the house again and shecould hardly take her eyes off Frank Kennedy. Scarlett was surprised to see that Suellen could bealmost pretty, despite the thinness which had persisted since her illness. Her cheeks were flushedand there was a soft luminous look in her eyes.

  “She really must care about him,” thought Scarlett in contempt. “And I guess she’d be almosthuman if she ever had a husband of her own, even if her husband was old fuss-budget Frank.”

  Carreen had brightened a little too, and some of the sleep-walking look left her eyes that night.

  She had found that one of the men had known Brent Tarleton and had been with him the day hewas killed, and she promised herself a long private talk with him after supper.

  At supper Melanie surprised them all by forcing herself out of her timidity and being almostvivacious. She laughed and joked and almost but not quite coquetted with a one-eyed soldier whogladly repaid her efforts with extravagant gallantries. Scarlett knew the effort this involved bothmentally and physically, for Melanie suffered torments of shyness in the presence of anythingmale. Moreover she was far from well. She insisted she was strong and did more work even thanDilcey but Scarlett knew she was sick. When she lifted things her face went white and she had away of sitting down suddenly after exertions, as if her legs would no longer support her. Buttonight she, like Suellen and Carreen, was doing everything possible to make the soldiers enjoytheir Christmas Eve. Scarlett alone took no pleasure in the guests.

  The troop had added their ration of parched corn and side meat to the supper of dried peas,stewed dried apples and peanuts which Mammy set before them and they declared it was the bestmeal they had had in months. Scarlett watched them eat and she was uneasy. She not onlybegrudged them every mouthful they ate but she was on tenterhooks lest they discover somehowthat Pork had slaughtered one of the shoats the day before. It now hung in the pantry and she hadgrimly promised her household that she would scratch out the eyes of anyone who mentioned theshoat to their guests or the presence of the dead pig’s sisters and brothers, safe in their pen in the swamp. These hungry men could devour the whole shoat at one meal and, if they knew of the livehogs, they could commandeer them for the army. She was alarmed, too, for the cow and the horseand wished they were hidden in the swamp, instead of tied in the woods at the bottom of thepasture. If the commissary took her stock, Tara could not possibly live through the winter. Therewould be no way of replacing them. As to what this army would eat, she did not care. Let the armyfeed the army—if it could. It was hard enough for her to feed her own.

  The men added as dessert some “ramrod rolls” from their knapsacks, and this was the first timeScarlett had ever seen this Confederate article of diet about which there were almost as many jokesas about lice. They were charred spirals of what appeared to be wood. The men dared her to take abite and, when she did, she discovered that beneath the smoke-blackened surface was unsaltedcorn bread. The soldiers mixed their ration of corn meal with water, and salt too when they couldget it, wrapped the thick paste about their ramrods and roasted the mess over camp fires. It was ashard as rock candy and as tasteless as sawdust and after one bite Scarlett hastily handed it backamid roars of laughter. She met Melanie’s eyes and the same thought was plain in both faces. ...

  “How can they go on fighting if they have only this stuff to eat?”

  The meal was gay enough and even Gerald, presiding absently at the head of the table, managedto evoke from the back of his dim mind some of the manner of a host and an uncertain smile. Themen talked, the women smiled and flattered—but Scarlett turning suddenly to Frank Kennedy toask him news of Miss Pittypat, caught an expression on his face which made her forget what sheintended to say.

  His eyes had left Suellen’s and were wandering about the room, to Gerald’s childlike puzzledeyes, to the floor, bare of rugs, to the mantelpiece denuded of its ornaments, the sagging springsand torn upholstery into which Yankee bayonets had ripped, the cracked mirror above the sideboard,the unfaded squares on the wall where pictures had hung before the looters came, the scanttable service, the decently mended but old dresses of the girls, the flour sack which had been madeinto a kilt for Wade.

  Frank was remembering the Tara he had known before the war and on his face was a hurt look, alook of tired impotent anger. He loved Suellen, liked her sisters, respected Gerald and had agenuine fondness for the plantation. Since Sherman had swept through Georgia, Frank had seenmany appalling sights as he rode about the state trying to collect supplies, but nothing had gone tohis heart as Tara did now. He wanted to do something for the O’Haras, especially Suellen, andthere was nothing he could do. He was unconsciously wagging his whiskered head in pity andclicking his tongue against his teeth when Scarlett caught his eye. He saw the flame of indignantpride in them and he dropped his gaze quickly to his plate in embarrassment.

  The girls were hungry for news. There had been no mail service since Atlanta fell, now fourmonths past, and they were in complete ignorance as to where the Yankees were, how theConfederate Army was faring, what had happened to Atlanta and to old friends. Frank, whose worktook him all over the section, was as good as a newspaper, better even, for he was kin to or knewalmost everyone from Macon north to Atlanta, and he could supply bits of interesting personalgossip which the papers always omitted. To cover his embarrassment at being caught by Scarlett,he plunged hastily into a recital of news. The Confederates, he told them, had retaken Atlanta afterSherman marched out, but it was a valueless prize as Sherman had burned it completely.

  “But I thought Atlanta burned the night I left,” cried Scarlett, bewildered. “I thought our boysburned it!”

  “Oh, no, Miss Scarlett!” cried Frank, shocked. “We’d never burn one of our own towns with ourown folks in it! What you saw burning was the warehouses and the supplies we didn’t want theYankees to capture and the foundries and the ammunition. But that was all. When Sherman tookthe town the houses and stores were standing there as pretty as you please. And he quartered hismen in them.”

  “But what happened to the people? Did he—did he kill them?”

  “He killed some—but not with bullets,” said the one-eyed soldier grimly. “Soon’s he marchedinto Atlanta he told the mayor that all the people in town would have to move out, every livingsoul. And there were plenty of old folks that couldn’t stand the trip and sick folks that ought not tohave been moved and ladies who were—well, ladies who hadn’t ought to be moved either. And hemoved them out in the biggest rainstorm you ever saw, hundreds and hundreds of them, anddumped them in the woods near Rough and Ready and sent word to General Hood to come and getthem. And a plenty of the folks died of pneumonia and not being able to stand that sort of treatment.”

  “Oh, but why did he do that? They couldn’t have done him any harm,” cried Melanie.

  “He said he wanted the town to rest his men and horses in,” said Frank. “And he rested themthere till the middle of November and then he lit out. And he set fire to the whole town when heleft and burned everything.”

  “Oh, surely not everything!” cried the girls in dismay.

  It was inconceivable that the bustling town they knew, so full of people, so crowded withsoldiers, was gone. All the lovely homes beneath shady trees, all the big stores and the fine hotels—surely they couldn’t be gone! Melanie seemed ready to burst into tears, for she had been bornthere and knew no other home. Scarlett’s heart sank because she had come to love the place secondonly to Tara.

  “Well, almost everything,” Frank amended hastily, disturbed by the expressions on their faces.

  He tried to look cheerful, for he did not believe in upsetting ladies. Upset ladies always upset himand made him feel helpless. He could not bring himself to tell them the worst. Let them find outfrom some one else.

  He could not tell them what the army saw when it marched back into Atlanta, the acres and acresof chimneys standing blackly above ashes, piles of half-burned rubbish and tumbled heaps of brickclogging the streets, old trees dying from fire, their charred limbs tumbling to the ground in thecold wind. He remembered how the sight had turned him sick, remembered the bitter curses of theConfederates when they saw the remains of the town. He hoped the ladies would never hear of thehorrors of the looted cemetery, for they’d never get over that. Charlie Hamilton and Melanie’smother and father were buried there. The sight of that cemetery still gave Frank nightmares.

  Hoping to find jewelry buried with the dead, the Yankee soldiers had broken open vaults, dug upgraves. They had robbed the bodies, stripped from the coffins gold and silver name plates, silvertrimmings and silver handles. The skeletons and corpses, flung helter-skelter among their splintered caskets, lay exposed and so pitiful.

  And Frank couldn’t tell them about the dogs and the cats. Ladies set such a store by pets. But thethousands of starving animals, left homeless when their masters had been so rudely evacuated, hadshocked him almost as much as the cemetery, for Frank loved cats and dogs. The animals had beenfrightened, cold, ravenous, wild as forest creatures, the strong attacking the weak, the weak waitingfor the weaker to die so they could eat them. And, above the ruined town, the buzzards splotchedthe wintry sky with graceful, sinister bodies.

  Frank cast about in his mind for some mitigating information that would make the ladies feelbetter.

  “There’s some houses still standing,” he said, “houses that set on big lots away from otherhouses and didn’t catch fire. And the churches and the Masonic hall are left And a few stores too.

  But the business section and all along the railroad tracks and at Five Points—well, ladies, that partof town is flat on the ground.”

  “Then,” cried Scarlett-bitterly, “that warehouse Charlie left me, down on the tracks, it’s gonetoo?”

  “If it was near the tracks, it’s gone, but—” Suddenly he smiled. Why hadn’t he thought of itbefore? “Cheer up, ladies! Your Aunt Pitty’s house is still standing. It’s kind of damaged but thereit is.”

  “Oh, how did it escape?”

  “Well, it’s made of brick and it’s got about the only slate roof in Atlanta and that kept the sparksfrom setting it afire, I guess. And then it’s about the last house on the north end of town and the firewasn’t so bad over that way. Of course, the Yankees quartered there tore it up aplenty. They evenburned the baseboard and the mahogany stair rail for firewood, but shucks! It’s in good shape.

  When I saw Miss Pitty last week in Macon—”

  “You saw her? How is she?”

  “Just fine. Just fine. When I told her her house was still standing, she made up her mind to comehome right away. That is—if that old darky, Peter, will let her come. Lots of the Atlanta peoplehave already come back, because they got nervous about Macon. Sherman didn’t take Macon buteverybody is afraid Wilson’s raiders will get there soon and he’s worse than Sherman.”

  “But how silly of them to come back if there aren’t any houses! Where do they live?”

  “Miss Scarlett, they’re living in tents and shacks and log cabins and doubling up six and sevenfamilies in the few houses still standing. And they’re trying to rebuild. Now, Miss Scarlett, don’tsay they are silly. You know Atlanta folks as well as I do. They are plumb set on that town, most asbad as Charlestonians are about Charleston, and it’ll take more than Yankees and a burning to keepthem away. Atlanta folks are—begging your pardon, Miss Melly—as stubborn as mules aboutAtlanta. I don’t know why, for I always thought that town a mighty pushy, impudent sort of place.

  But then, I’m a countryman born and I don’t like any town. And let me tell you, the ones who aregetting back first are the smart ones. The ones who come back last won’t find a stick or stone orbrick of their houses, because everybody’s out salvaging things all over town to rebuild their houses. Just day before yesterday, I saw Mrs. Merriwether and Miss Maybelle and their old darkywoman out collecting brick in a wheelbarrow. And Mrs. Meade told me she was thinking aboutbuilding a log cabin when the doctor comes back to help her. She said she lived in a log cabinwhen she first came to Atlanta, when it was Marthasville, and it wouldn’t bother her none to do itagain. ‘Course, she was only joking but that shows you how they feel about it.”

  “I think they’ve got a lot of spirit,” said Melanie proudly. “Don’t you, Scarlett?”

  Scarlett nodded, a grim pleasure and pride in her adopted town filling her. As Frank said, it wasa pushy, impudent place and that was why she liked it. It wasn’t hidebound and stick-in-themuddishlike the older towns and it had a brash exuberance that matched her own. “I’m likeAtlanta,” she thought. “It takes more than Yankees or a burning to keep me down.”

  “If Aunt Pitty is going back to Atlanta, we’d better go back and stay with her, Scarlett,” saidMelanie, interrupting her train of thought. “She’ll die of fright alone.”

  “Now, how can I leave here, Melly?” Scarlett asked crossly. “If you are so anxious to go, go. Iwon’t stop you.”

  “Oh, I didn’t mean it that way, darling,” cried Melanie, flushing with distress. “How thoughtlessof me! Of course, you can’t leave Tara and—and I guess Uncle Peter and Cookie can take care ofAuntie.”

  “There’s nothing to keep you from going,” Scarlett pointed out, shortly.

  “You know I wouldn’t leave you,” answered Melanie. “And I—I would be just frightened todeath without you.”

  “Suit yourself. Besides, you wouldn’t catch me going back to Atlanta. Just as soon as they get afew houses up, Sherman will come back and burn it again.”

  “He won’t be back,” said Frank and, despite his efforts, his face drooped. “He’s gone on throughthe state to the coast. Savannah was captured this week and they say the Yankees are going on upinto South Carolina.”

  “Savannah taken!”

  “Yes. Why, ladies, Savannah couldn’t help but fall. They didn’t have enough men to hold it,though they used every man they could get—every man who could drag one foot after another. Doyou know that when the Yankees were marching on Milledgeville, they called out all the cadetsfrom the military academies, matter how young they were, and even opened the state penitentiarytogetfreshtroops?Ye(no) s, sir, they turned loose every convict who was willing to fightand promised him a pardon if he lived through the war. It kind of gave me the creeps to see thoselittle cadets in the ranks with thieves and cutthroats.”

  “They turned loose the convicts on us!”

  “Now, Miss Scarlett, don’t you get upset. They’re a long way off from here, and furthermorethey’re making good soldiers. I guess being a thief don’t keep a man from being a good soldier,does it?”

  “I think it’s wonderful,” said Melanie softly.

  “Well, I don’t,” said Scarlett flatly. “There’s thieves enough running around the country anyway,what with the Yankees and—” She caught herself in time but the men laughed.

  “What with Yankees and our commissary department,” they finished and she flushed.

  “But where’s General Hood’s army?” interposed Melanie hastily. “Surely he could have heldSavannah.”

  “Why, Miss Melanie,” Frank was startled and reproachful, “General Hood hasn’t been down inthat section at all. He’s been fighting up in Tennessee, trying to draw the Yankees out of Georgia.”

  “And didn’t his little scheme work well!” cried Scarlett sarcastically. “He left the damn Yankeesto go through us with nothing but schoolboys and convicts and Home Guards to protect us.”

  “Daughter,” said Gerald rousing himself, “you are profane. Your mother will be grieved.”

  “They are damn Yankees!” cried Scarlett passionately. “And I never expect to call themanything else.”

  At the mention of Ellen everyone felt queer and conversation suddenly ceased. Melanie againinterposed.

  “When you were in Macon did you see India and Honey Wilkes? Did they—had they heardanything of Ashley?”

  “Now, Miss Melly, you know if I’d had news of Ashley, I’d have ridden up here from Maconright away to tell you,” said Frank reproachfully. “No, they didn’t have any news but—now, don’tyou fret about Ashley, Miss Melly. I know it’s been a long time since you heard from him, but youcan’t expect to hear from a fellow when he’s in prison, can you? And things aren’t as bad inYankee prisons as they are in ours. After all, the Yankees have plenty to eat and enough medicinesand blankets. They aren’t like we are—not having enough to feed ourselves, much less ourprisoners.”

  “Oh, the Yankees have got plenty,” cried Melanie, passionately bitter. “But they don’t givethings to the prisoners. You know they don’t, Mr. Kennedy. You are just saying that to make mefeel better. You know that our boys freeze to death up there and starve too and die without doctorsand medicine, simply because the Yankees hate us so much! Oh, if we could just wipe everyYankee off the face of the earth! Oh, I know that Ashley is—”

  “Don’t say it!” cried Scarlett, her heart in her throat. As long as no one said Ashley was dead,there persisted in her heart a faint hope that he lived, but she felt that if she heard the wordspronounced, in that moment he would die.

  “Now, Mrs. Wilkes, don’t you bother about your husband,” said the one-eyed man soothingly. “Iwas captured after first Manassas and exchanged later and when I was in prison, they fed me offthe fat of the land, fried chicken and hot biscuits—”

  “I think you are a liar,” said Melanie with a faint smile and the first sign of spirit Scarlett hadever seen her display with a man. “What do you think?”

  “I think so too,” said the one-eyed man and slapped his leg with a laugh.

  “If you’ll all come into the parlor, I’ll sing you some Christmas carols,” said Melanie, glad to change the subject. “The piano was one thing the Yankees couldn’t carry away. Is it terribly out oftune, Suellen?”

  “Dreadfully,” answered Suellen, happily beckoning with a smile to Frank.

  But as they all passed from the room, Frank hung back, tugging at Scarlett’s sleeve.

  “May I speak to you alone?”

  For an awful moment she feared he was going to ask about her livestock and she braced herselffor a good lie.

  When the room was cleared and they stood by the fire, all the false cheerfulness which hadcolored Frank’s face in front of the others passed and she saw that he looked like an old man. Hisface was as dried and brown as the leaves that were blowing about the lawn of Tara and his ginger-colored whiskers were thin and scraggly and streaked with gray. He clawed at them absently andcleared his throat in an annoying way before he spoke.

  “I’m mighty sorry about your ma, Miss Scarlett.”

  “Please don’t talk about it.”

  “And your pa— Has he been this way since—?”

  “Yes—he’s—he’s not himself, as you can see.”

  “He sure set a store by her.”

  “Oh, Mr. Kennedy, please don’t let’s talk—”

  “I’m sorry, Miss Scarlett,” and he shuffled his feet nervously. “The truth is I wanted to take upsomething with your pa and now I see it won’t do any good.”

  “Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Kennedy. You see—I’m the head of the house now.”

  “Well, I,” began Frank and again clawed nervously at his beard. “The truth is— Well, MissScarlett, I was aiming to ask him for Miss Suellen.”

  “Do you mean to tell me,” cried Scarlett in amused amazement, “that you haven’t yet asked Pafor Suellen? And you’ve been courting her for years!”

  He flushed and grinned embarrassedly and in general looked like a shy and sheepish boy.

  “Well, I—I didn’t know if she’d have me. I’m so much older than she is and—there were somany good-looking young bucks hanging around Tara—”

  “Hump!” thought Scarlett, “they were hanging around me, not her!”

  “And I don’t know yet if she’ll have me. I’ve never asked her but she must know how I feel. I—I thought I’d ask Mr. O’Hara’s permission and tell him the truth. Miss Scarlett, I haven’t got a centnow. I used to have a lot of money, if you’ll forgive me mentioning it, but right now all I own ismy horse and the clothes I’ve got on. You see, when I enlisted I sold most of my land and I put allmy money in Confederate bonds and you know what they’re worth now. Less than the paperthey’re printed on. And anyway, I haven’t got them now, because they burned up when the Yankeesburned my sister’s house. I know I’ve got gall asking for Miss Suellen now when I haven’t a cent but—well, it’s this way. I got to thinking that we don’t know how things are going to turn outabout this war. It sure looks like the end of the world for me. There’s nothing we can be sure of and—and I thought it would be a heap of comfort to me and maybe to her if we were engaged. Thatwould be something sure. I wouldn’t ask to marry her till I could take care of her, Miss Scarlett,and I don’t know when that will be. But if true love carries any weight with you, you can becertain Miss Suellen will be rich in that if nothing else.”

  He spoke the last words with a simple dignity that touched Scarlett, even in her amusement. Itwas beyond her comprehension that anyone could love Suellen. Her sister seemed to her a monsterof selfishness, of complaints and of what she could only describe as pure cussedness.

  “Why, Mr. Kennedy,” she said kindly, “it’s quite all right. I’m sure I can speak for Pa. He alwaysset a store by you and he always expected Suellen to marry you.”

  “Did he now?” cried Frank, happiness in his face.

  “Indeed yes,” answered Scarlett, concealing a grin as she remembered how frequently Geraldhad rudely bellowed across the supper table to Suellen: “How now, Missy! Hasn’t your ardent beaupopped the question yet? Shall I be asking him his intentions?”

  “I shall ask her tonight,” he said, his face quivering, and he clutched her hand and shook it.

  “You’re so kind, Miss Scarlett.”

  “I’ll send her to’ you,” smiled Scarlett, starting for the parlor. Melanie was beginning to play.

  The piano was sadly out of tune but some of the chords were musical and Melanie was raising hervoice to lead the others in “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!”

  Scarlett paused. It did not seem possible that war had swept over them twice, that they wereliving in a ravaged country, close to the border of starvation, when this old sweet Christmas hymnwas being sung. Abruptly she turned to Frank.

  “What did you mean when you said it looked like the end of the world to you?”

  “I’ll talk frankly,” he said slowly, “but I wouldn’t want you to be alarming the other ladies withwhat I say. The war can’t go on much longer. There arent any fresh men to fill the ranks and thedesertions are running high—higher than the army likes to admit You see, the men can’t stand tobe away from their families when they know they’re starving, so they go home to try to provide forthem. I can’t blame them but it weakens the army. And the army can’t fight without food and thereisn’t any food. I know because, you see, getting food is my business. I’ve been all up and downthis section since we retook Atlanta and there isn’t enough to feed a jaybird. It’s the same way forthree hundred miles south to Savannah. The folks are starving and the railroads are torn up andthere aren’t any new rifles and the ammunition is giving out and there’s no leather at all forshoes. ... So, you see, the end is almost here.”

  But the fading hopes of the Confederacy weighed less heavily on Scarlett than his remark aboutthe scarcity of food. It had been her intention to send Pork out with the horse and wagon, the goldpieces and the United States money to scour the countryside for provisions and material forclothes. But if what Frank said was true—But Macon hadn’t fallen. There must be food in Macon. Just as soon as the commissary department was safely on its way, she’d start Pork for Macon and take the chance of having theprecious horse picked up by the army. She’d have to risk it.

  “Well, let’s don’t talk about unpleasant things tonight, Mr. Kennedy,” she said. “You go and sitin Mother’s little office and I’ll send Suellen to you so you can—well, so you’ll have a littleprivacy.”

  Blushing, smiling, Frank slipped out of the room and Scarlett watched him go.

  “What a pity he can’t marry her now,” she thought. “That would be one less mouth to feed.”



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