The following April General Johnston, who had been given back the shattered remnants of his old command, surrendered them in North Carolina and the war was over. But not until two weeks later did the news reach Tara. There was too much to do at Tara for anyone to waste time traveling abroad and hearing gossip and, as the neighbors were just as busy as they, there was little visiting and news spread slowly.
Spring plowing was at its height and the cotton and garden seed Pork had brought from Macon was being put into the ground. Pork had been almost worthless since the trip, so proud was he of returning safely with his wagon-load of dress goods, seed, fowls, hams, side meat and meal. Over and over, he told the story of his many narrow escapes, of the bypaths and country lanes he had taken on his return to Tara, the unfrequented roads, the old trails, the bridle paths. He had been five weeks on the road, agonizing weeks for Scarlett. But she did not upbraid him on his return, for she was happy that he had made the trip successfully and pleased that he brought back so much of the money she had given him. She had a shrewd suspicion that the reason he had so much money left over was that he had not bought the fowls or most of the food. Pork would have taken shame to himself had he spent her money when there were unguarded hen coops along the road and smokehouses handy.
Now that they had a little food, everyone at Tara was busy trying to restore some semblance of naturalness to life. There was work for every pair of hands, too much work, never-ending work. The withered stalks of last year's cotton had to be removed to make way for this year's seeds and the balky horse, unaccustomed to the plow, dragged unwillingly through the fields. Weeds had to be pulled from the garden and the seeds planted, firewood had to be cut, a beginning had to be made toward replacing the pens and the miles and miles of fences so casually burned by the Yankees. The snares Pork set for rabbits had to be visited twice a day and the fishlines in the river rebaited. There were beds to be made and floors to be swept, food to be cooked and dishes washed, hogs and chickens to be fed and eggs gathered. The cow had to be milked and pastured near the swamp and someone had to watch her all day for fear the Yankees or Frank Kennedy's men would return and take her. Even little Wade had his duties. Every morning he went out importantly with a basket to pick up twigs and chips to start the fires with.
It was the Fontaine boys, the first of the County men home from the war, who brought the news of the surrender. Alex, who still had boots, was walking and Tony, barefooted, was riding on the bare back of a mule. Tony always managed to get the best of things in that family. They were swarthier than ever from four years' exposure to sun and storm, thinner, more wiry, and the wild black beards they brought back from the war made them seem like strangers.
On their way to Mimosa and eager for home, they only stopped a moment at Tara to kiss the girls and give them news of the surrender. It was all over, they said, all finished, and they did not seem to care much or want to talk about it. All they wanted to know was whether Mimosa had been burned. On the way south from Atlanta, they had passed chimney after chimney where the homes of friends had stood and it seemed almost too much to hope that their own house had been spared. They sighed with relief at the welcome news and laughed, slapping their thighs when Scarlett told them of Sally's wild ride and how neatly she had cleared their hedge.
"She's a spunky girl," said Tony, "and it's rotten luck for her, Joe getting killed. You all got any chewing tobacco, Scarlett?"
"Nothing but rabbit tobacco. Pa smokes it in a corn cob."
"I haven't fallen that low yet," said Tony, "but I'll probably come to it."
"Is Dimity Munroe all right?" asked Alex, eagerly but a little embarrassed, and Scarlett recalled vaguely that he had been sweet on Sally's younger sister.
"Oh, yes. She's living with her aunt over in Fayetteville now. You know their house in Lovejoy was burned. And the rest of her folks are in Macon."
"What he means is--has Dimity married some brave colonel in the Home Guard?" jeered Tony, and Alex turned furious eyes upon him.
"Of course, she isn't married," said Scarlett, amused.
"Maybe it would be better if she had," said Alex gloomily. "How the hell--I beg your pardon, Scarlett. But how can a man ask a girl to marry him when his darkies are all freed and his stock gone and he hasn't got a cent in his pockets?"
"You know that wouldn't bother Dimity," said Scarlett. She could afford to be loyal to Dimity and say nice things about her, for Alex Fontaine had never been one of her own beaux.
"Hell's afire-- Well, I beg your pardon again. I'll have to quit swearing or Grandma will sure tan my hide. I'm not asking any girl to marry a pauper. It mightn't bother her but it would bother me."
While Scarlett talked to the boys on the front porch, Melanie, Suellen and Carreen slipped silently into the house as soon as they heard the news of the surrender. After the boys had gone, cutting across the back fields of Tara toward home, Scarlett went inside and heard the girls sobbing together on the sofa in Ellen's little office. It was all over, the bright beautiful dream they had loved and hoped for, the Cause which had taken their friends, lovers, husbands and beggared their families. The Cause they had thought could never fall had fallen forever.
But for Scarlett, there were no tears. In the first moment when she heard the news she thought: Thank God! Now the cow won't be stolen. Now the horse is safe. Now we can take the silver out of the well and everybody can have a knife and fork. Now I won't be afraid to drive round the country looking for something to eat.
What a relief! Never again would she start in fear at the sound of hooves. Never again would she wake in the dark nights, holding her breath to listen, wondering if it were reality or only a dream that she heard in the yard the rattle of bits, the stamping of hooves and the harsh crying of orders by the Yankees. And, best of all, Tara was safe! Now her worst nightmare would never come true. Now she would never have to stand on the lawn and see smoke billowing from the beloved house and hear the roar of flames as the roof fell in.
Yes, the Cause was dead but war had always seemed foolish to her and peace was better. She had never stood starry eyed when the Stars and Bars ran up a pole or felt cold chills when "Dixie" sounded. She had not been sustained through privations, the sickening duties of nursing, the fears of the siege and the hunger of the last few months by the fanatic glow which made all these things endurable to others, if only the Cause prospered. It was all over and done with and she was not going to cry about it.
All over! The war which had seemed so endless, the war which, unbidden and unwanted, had cut her life in two, had made so clean a cleavage that it was difficult to remember those other care-free days. She could look back, unmoved, at the pretty Scarlett with her fragile green morocco slippers and her flounces fragrant with lavender but she wondered if she could be that same girl. Scarlett O'Hara, with the County at her feet, a hundred slaves to do her bidding, the wealth of Tara like a wall behind her and doting parents anxious to grant any desire of her heart. Spoiled, careless Scarlett who had never known an ungratified wish except where Ashley was concerned.
Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers had slipped away and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she stood.
As she stood in the hall, listening to the girls sobbing, her mind was busy.
"We'll plant more cotton, lots more. I'll send Pork to Macon tomorrow to buy more seed. Now the Yankees won't burn it and our troops won't need it. Good Lord! Cotton ought to go sky high this fall!"
She went into the little office and, disregarding the weeping girls on the sofa, seated herself at the secretary and picked up a quill to balance the cost of more cotton seed against her remaining cash.
"The war is over," she thought and suddenly she dropped the quill as a wild happiness flooded her. The war was over and Ashley--if Ashley was alive he'd be coming home! She wondered if Melanie, in the midst of mourning for the lost Cause, had thought of this.
"Soon we'll get a letter--no, not a letter. We can't get letters. But soon--oh, somehow he'll let us know!"
But the days passed into weeks and there was no news from Ashley. The mail service in the South was uncertain and in the rural districts there was none at all. Occasionally a passing traveler from Atlanta brought a note from Aunt Pitty tearfully begging the girls to come back. But never news of Ashley.
After the surrender, an ever-present feud over the horse smoldered between Scarlett and Suellen. Now that there was no danger of Yankees, Suellen wanted to go calling on the neighbors. Lonely and missing the happy sociability of the old days, Suellen longed to visit friends, if for no other reason than to assure herself that the rest of the County was as bad off as Tara. But Scarlett was adamant. The horse was for work, to drag logs from the woods, to plow and for Pork to ride in search of food. On Sundays he had earned the right to graze in the pasture and rest. If Suellen wanted to go visiting she could go afoot.
Before the last year Suellen had never walked a hundred yards in her life and this prospect was anything but pleasing. So she stayed at home and nagged and cried and said, once too often: "Oh, if only Mother was here!" At that, Scarlett gave her the long- promised slap, hitting her so hard it knocked her screaming to the bed and caused great consternation throughout the house. Thereafter, Suellen whined the less, at least in Scarlett's presence.
Scarlett spoke truthfully when she said she wanted the horse to rest but that was only half of the truth. The other half was that she had paid one round of calls on the County in the first month after the surrender and the sight of old friends and old plantations had shaken her courage more than she liked to admit.
The Fontaines had fared best of any, thanks to Sally's hard ride, but it was flourishing only by comparison with the desperate situation of the other neighbors. Grandma Fontaine had never completely recovered from the heart attack she had the day she led the others in beating out the flames and saving the house. Old Dr. Fontaine was convalescing slowly from an amputated arm. Alex and Tony were turning awkward hands to plows and hoe handles. They leaned over the fence rail to shake hands with Scarlett when she called and they laughed at her rickety wagon, their black eyes bitter, for they were laughing at themselves as well as her. She asked to buy seed corn from them and they promised it and fell to discussing farm problems. They had twelve chickens, two cows, five hogs and the mule they brought home from the war. One of the hogs had just died and they were worried about losing the others. At hearing such serious words about hogs from these ex-dandies who had never given life a more serious thought than which cravat was most fashionable, Scarlett laughed and this time her laugh was bitter too.
They had all made her welcome at Mimosa and had insisted on giving, not selling, her the seed corn. The quick Fontaine tempers flared when she put a greenback on the table and they flatly refused payment. Scarlett took the corn and privately slipped a dollar bill into Sally's hand. Sally looked like a different person from the girl who had greeted her eight months before when Scarlett first came home to Tara. Then she had been pale and sad but there had been a buoyancy about her. Now that buoyancy had gone, as if the surrender had taken all hope from her.
"Scarlett," she whispered as she clutched the bill, "what was the good of it all? Why did we ever fight? Oh, my poor Joe! Oh, my poor baby!"
"I don't know why we fought and I don't care," said Scarlett. "And I'm not interested. I never was interested. War is a man's business, not a woman's. All I'm interested in now is a good cotton crop. Now take this dollar and buy little Joe a dress. God knows, he needs it. I'm not going to rob you of your corn, for all Alex and Tony's politeness."
The boys followed her to the wagon and assisted her in, courtly for all their rags, gay with the volatile Fontaine gaiety, but with the picture of their destitution in her eyes, she shivered as she drove away from Mimosa. She was so tired of poverty and pinching. What a pleasure it would be to know people who were rich and not worried as to where the next meal was coming from!
Cade Calvert was at home at Pine Bloom and, as Scarlett came up the steps of the old house in which she had danced so often in happier days, she saw that death was in his face. He was emaciated and he coughed as he lay in an easy chair in the sunshine with a shawl across his knees, but his face lit up when he saw her. Just a little cold which had settled in his chest, he said, trying to rise to greet her. Got it from sleeping so much in the rain. But it would be gone soon and then he'd lend a hand in the work.
Cathleen Calvert, who came out of the house at the sound of voices, met Scarlett's eyes above her brother's head and in them Scarlett read knowledge and bitter despair. Cade might not know but Cathleen knew. Pine Bloom looked straggly and overgrown with weeds, seedling pines were beginning to show in the fields and the house was sagging and untidy. Cathleen was thin and taut.
The two of them, with their Yankee stepmother, their four little half-sisters, and Hilton, the Yankee overseer, remained in the silent, oddly echoing house. Scarlett had never liked Hilton any more than she liked their own overseer Jonas Wilkerson, and she liked him even less now, as he sauntered forward and greeted her like an equal. Formerly he had the same combination of servility and impertinence which Wilkerson possessed but now, with Mr. Calvert and Raiford dead in the war and Cade sick, he had dropped all servility. The second Mrs. Calvert had never known how to compel respect from negro servants and it was not to be expected that she could get it from a white man.
"Mr. Hilton has been so kind about staying with us through these difficult times," said Mrs. Calvert nervously, casting quick glances at her silent stepdaughter. "Very kind. I suppose you heard how he saved our house twice when Sherman was here. I'm sure I don't know how we would have managed without him, with no money and Cade--"
A flush went over Cade's white face and Cathleen's long lashes veiled her eyes as her mouth hardened. Scarlett knew their souls were writhing in helpless rage at being under obligations to their Yankee overseer. Mrs. Calvert seemed ready to weep. She had somehow made a blunder. She was always blundering. She just couldn't understand Southerners, for all that she had lived in Georgia twenty years. She never knew what not to say to her stepchildren and, no matter what she said or did, they were always so exquisitely polite to her. Silently she vowed she would go North to her own people, taking her children with her, and leave these puzzling stiff-necked strangers.
After these visits, Scarlett had no desire to see the Tarletons. Now that the four boys were gone, the house burned and the family cramped in the overseer's cottage, she could not bring herself to go. But Suellen and Carreen begged and Melanie said it would be unneighborly not to call and welcome Mr. Tarleton back from the war, so one Sunday they went.
This was the worst of all.
As they drove up by the ruins of the house, they saw Beatrice Tarleton dressed in a worn riding habit, a crop under her arm, sitting on the top rail of the fence about the paddock, staring moodily at nothing. Beside her perched the bow-legged little negro who had trained her horses and he looked as glum as his mistress. The paddock, once full of frolicking colts and placid brood mares, was empty now except for one mule, the mule Mr. Tarleton had ridden home from the surrender.
"I swear I don't know what to do with myself now that my darlings are gone," said Mrs. Tarleton, climbing down from the fence. A stranger might have thought she spoke of her four dead sons, but the girls from Tara knew her horses were in her mind. "All my beautiful horses dead. And oh, my poor Nellie! If I just had Nellie! And nothing but a damned mule on the place. A damned mule," she repeated, looking indignantly at the scrawny beast. "It's an insult to the memory of my blooded darlings to have a mule in their paddock. Mules are misbegotten, unnatural critters and it ought to be illegal to breed them."
Jim Tarleton, completely disguised by a bushy beard, came out of the overseer's house to welcome and kiss the girls and his four red-haired daughters in mended dresses streamed out behind him, tripping over the dozen black and tan hounds which ran barking to the door at the sound of strange voices. There was an air of studied and determined cheerfulness about the whole family which brought a colder chill to Scarlett's bones than the bitterness of Mimosa or the deathly brooding of Pine Bloom.
The Tarletons insisted that the girls stay for dinner, saying they had so few guests these days and wanted to hear all the news. Scarlett did not want to linger, for the atmosphere oppressed her, but Melanie and her two sisters were anxious for a longer visit, so the four stayed for dinner and ate sparingly of the side meat and dried peas which were served them.
There was laughter about the skimpy fare and the Tarleton girls giggled as they told of makeshifts for clothes, as if they were telling the most amusing of jokes. Melanie met them halfway, surprising Scarlett with her unexpected vivacity as she told of trials at Tara, making light of hardships. Scarlett could hardly speak at all. The room seemed so empty without the four great Tarleton boys, lounging and smoking and teasing. And if it seemed empty to her, what must it seem to the Tarletons who were offering a smiling front to their neighbors?
Carreen had said little during the meal but when it was over she slipped over to Mrs. Tarleton's side and whispered something. Mrs. Tarleton's face changed and the brittle smile left her lips as she put her arm around Carreen's slender waist. They left the room, and Scarlett, who felt she could not endure the house another minute, followed them. They went down the path through the garden and Scarlett saw they were going toward the burying ground. Well, she couldn't go back to the house now. It would seem too rude. But what on earth did Carreen mean dragging Mrs. Tarleton out to the boys' graves when Beatrice was trying so hard to be brave?
There were two new marble markers in the brick-inclosed lot under the funereal cedars--so new that no rain had splashed them with red dust.
"We got them last week," said Mrs. Tarleton proudly. "Mr. Tarleton went to Macon and brought them home in the wagon."
Tombstones! And what they must have cost! Suddenly Scarlett did not feel as sorry for the Tarletons as she had at first. Anybody who would waste precious money on tombstones when food was so dear, so almost unattainable, didn't deserve sympathy. And there were several lines carved on each of the stones. The more carving, the more money. The whole family must be crazy! And it had cost money, too, to bring the three boys' bodies home. They had never found Boyd or any trace of him.
Between the graves of Brent and Stuart was a stone which read: "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided."
On the other stone were the names of Boyd and Tom with something in Latin which began "Dulce et--" but it meant nothing to Scarlett who had managed to evade Latin at the Fayetteville Academy.
All that money for tombstones! Why, they were fools! She felt as indignant as if her own money had been squandered.
Carreen's eyes were shining oddly.
"I think it's lovely," she whispered pointing to the first stone.
Carreen would think it lovely. Anything sentimental stirred her.
"Yes," said Mrs. Tarleton and her voice was soft, "we thought it very fitting--they died almost at the same time. Stuart first and then Brent who caught up the flag he dropped."
As the girls drove back to Tara, Scarlett was silent for a while, thinking of what she had seen in the various homes, remembering against her will the County in its glory, with visitors at all the big houses and money plentiful, negroes crowding the quarters and the well-tended fields glorious with cotton.
"In another year, there'll be little pines all over these fields," she thought and looking toward the encircling forest she shuddered. "Without the darkies, it will be all we can do to keep body and soul together. Nobody can run a big plantation without the darkies, and lots of the fields won't be cultivated at all and the woods will take over the fields again. Nobody can plant much cotton, and what will we do then? What'll become of country folks? Town folks can manage somehow. They've always managed. But we country folks will go back a hundred years like the pioneers who had little cabins and just scratched a few acres--and barely existed.
"No--" she thought grimly, "Tara isn't going to be like that. Not even if I have to plow myself. This whole section, this whole state can go back to woods if it wants to, but I won't let Tara go. And I don't intend to waste my money on tombstones or my time crying about the war. We can make out somehow. I know we could make out somehow if the men weren't all dead. Losing the darkies isn't the worst part about this. It's the loss of the men, the young men." She thought again of the four Tarletons and Joe Fontaine, of Raiford Calvert and the Munroe brothers and all the boys from Fayetteville and Jonesboro whose names she had read on the casualty lists. "If there were just enough men left, we could manage somehow but--"
Another thought struck her--suppose she wanted to marry again. Of course, she didn't want to marry again. Once was certainly enough. Besides, the only man she'd ever wanted was Ashley and he was married if he was still living. But suppose she would want to marry. Who would there be to marry her? The thought was appalling.
"Melly," she said, "what's going to happen to Southern girls?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. What's going to happen to them? There's no one to marry them. Why, Melly, with all the boys dead, there'll be thousands of girls all over the South who'll die old maids."
"And never have any children," added Melanie, to whom this was the most important thing.
Evidently the thought was not new to Suellen who sat in the back of the wagon, for she suddenly began to cry. She had not heard from Frank Kennedy since Christmas. She did not know if the lack of mail service was the cause, or if he had merely trifled with her affections and then forgotten her. Or maybe he had been killed in the last days of the war! The latter would have been infinitely preferable to his forgetting her, for at least there was some dignity about a dead love, such as Carreen and India Wilkes had, but none about a deserted fiancee.
"Oh, in the name of God, hush!" said Scarlett.
"Oh, you can talk," sobbed Suellen, "because you've been married and had a baby and everybody knows some man wanted you. But look at me! And you've got to be mean and throw it up to me that I'm an old maid when I can't help myself. I think you're hateful."
"Oh, hush! You know how I hate people who bawl all the time. You know perfectly well old Ginger Whiskers isn't dead and that he'll come back and marry you. He hasn't any better sense. But personally, I'd rather be an old maid than marry him."
There was silence from the back of the wagon for a while and Carreen comforted her sister with absent-minded pats, for her mind was a long way off, riding paths three years old with Brent Tarleton beside her. There was a glow, an exaltation in her eyes.
"Ah," said Melanie, sadly, "what will the South be like without all our fine boys? What would the South have been if they had lived? We could use their courage and their energy and their brains. Scarlett, all of us with little boys must raise them to take the places of the men who are gone, to be brave men like them."
"There will never again be men like them," said Carreen softly. "No one can take their places."
They drove home the rest of the way in silence,
One day not long after this, Cathleen Calvert rode up to Tara at sunset. Her sidesaddle was strapped on as sorry a mule as Scarlett had ever seen, a flop-eared lame brute, and Cathleen was almost as sorry looking as the animal she rode. Her dress was of faded gingham of the type once worn only by house servants, and her sunbonnet was secured under her chin by a piece of twine. She rode up to the front porch but did not dismount, and Scarlett and Melanie, who had been watching the sunset, went down the steps to meet her. Cathleen was as white as Cade had been the day Scarlett called, white and hard and brittle, as if her face would shatter if she spoke. But her back was erect and her head was high as she nodded to them.
Scarlett suddenly remembered the day of the Wilkes barbecue when she and Cathleen had whispered together about Rhett Butler. How pretty and fresh Cathleen had been that day in a swirl of blue organdie with fragrant roses at her sash and little black velvet slippers laced about her small ankles. And now there was not a trace of that girl in the stiff figure sitting on the mule.
"I won't get down, thank you," she said. "I just came to tell you that I'm going to be married."
"Cathy, how grand!"
"Tomorrow," said Cathleen quietly and there was something in her voice which took the eager smiles from their faces. "I came to tell you that I'm going to be married tomorrow, in Jonesboro--and I'm not inviting you all to come."
They digested this in silence, looking up at her, puzzled. Then Melanie spoke.
"Is it someone we know, dear?"
"Yes," said Cathleen, shortly. "It's Mr. Hilton."
"Yes, Mr. Hilton, our overseer."
Scarlett could not even find voice to say "Oh!" but Cathleen, peering down suddenly at Melanie, said in a low savage voice: "If you cry, Melly, I can't stand it. I shall die!"
Melanie said nothing but patted the foot in its awkward home-made shoe which hung from the stirrup. Her head was low.
"And don't pat me! I can't stand that either."
Melanie dropped her hand but still did not look up.
"Well, I must go. I only came to tell you." The white brittle mask was back again and she picked up the reins.
"How is Cade?" asked Scarlett, utterly at a loss but fumbling for some words to break the awkward silence.
"He is dying," said Cathleen shortly. There seemed to be no feeling in her voice. "And he is going to die in some comfort and peace if I can manage it, without worry about who will take care of me when he's gone. You see, my stepmother and the children are going North for good, tomorrow. Well, I must be going."
Melanie looked up and met Cathleen's hard eyes. There were bright tears on Melanie's lashes and understanding in her eyes, and before them, Cathleen's lips curved into the crooked smile of a brave child who tries not to cry. It was all very bewildering to Scarlett who was still trying to grasp the idea that Cathleen Calvert was going to marry an overseer--Cathleen, daughter of a rich planter, Cathleen who, next to Scarlett, had had more beaux than any girl in the County.
Cathleen bent down and Melanie tiptoed. They kissed. Then Cathleen flapped the bridle reins sharply and the old mule moved off.
Melanie looked after her, the tears streaming down her face. Scarlett stared, still dazed.
"Melly, is she crazy? You know she can't be in love with him."
"In love? Oh, Scarlett, don't even suggest such a horrid thing! Oh, poor Cathleen! Poor Cade!"
"Fiddle-dee-dee!" cried Scarlett, beginning to be irritated. It was annoying that Melanie always seemed to grasp more of situations than she herself did. Cathleen's plight seemed to her more startling than catastrophic. Of course it was no pleasant thought, marrying Yankee white trash, but after all a girl couldn't live alone on a plantation; she had to have a husband to help her run it.
"Melly, it's like I said the other day. There isn't anybody for girls to marry and they've got to marry someone."
"Oh, they don't have to marry! There's nothing shameful in being a spinster. Look at Aunt Pitty. Oh, I'd rather see Cathleen dead! I know Cade would rather see her dead. It's the end of the Calverts. Just think what her--what their children will be. Oh, Scarlett, have Pork saddle the horse quickly and you ride after her and tell her to come live with us!"
"Good Lord!" cried Scarlett, shocked at the matter-of-fact way in which Melanie was offering Tara. Scarlett certainly had no intention of feeding another mouth. She started to say this but something in Melanie's stricken face halted the words.
"She wouldn't come, Melly," she amended. "You know she wouldn't. She's so proud and she'd think it was charity."
"That's true, that's true!" said Melanie distractedly, watching the small cloud of red dust disappear down the road.
"You've been with me for months," thought Scarlett grimly, looking at her sister-in-law, "and it's never occurred to you that it's charity you're living on. And I guess it never will. You're one of those people the war didn't change and you go right on thinking and acting just like nothing had happened--like we were still rich as Croesus and had more food than we know what to do with and guests didn't matter. I guess I've got you on my neck for the rest of my life. But I won't have Cathleen too."
|Notes of the Chapter|