Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast 10 страница

Finally Stuart smiled down at India, an unwilling smile, and nodded his head. Probably India had been pleading with him not to follow Mr. Butler and make trouble. A polite tumult broke out under the trees as the guests arose, shaking crumbs from laps. The married women called to nurses and small children and gathered their broods together to take their departure, and groups of girls started off, laughing and talking, toward the house to exchange gossip in the upstairs bedrooms and to take their naps.

All the ladies except Mrs. Tarleton moved out of the back yard, leaving the shade of oaks and arbor to the men. She was detained by Gerald, Mr. Calvert and the others who wanted an answer from her about the horses for the Troop.

Ashley strolled over to where Scarlett and Charles sat, a thoughtful and amused smile on his face.

“Arrogant devil, isn’t he?” he observed, looking after Butler. “He looks like one of the Borgias.”

Scarlett thought quickly but could remember no family in the County or Atlanta or Savannah by that name.

“I don’t know them. Is he kin to them? Who are they?”

An odd look came over Charles’ face, incredulity and shame struggling with love. Love triumphed as he realized that it was enough for a girl to be sweet and gentle and beautiful, without having an education to hamper her charms, and he made swift answer: “The Borgias were Italians.”

“Oh,” said Scarlett, losing interest, “foreigners.”

She turned her prettiest smile on Ashley, but for some reason he was not looking at her. He was looking at Charles, and there was understanding in his face and a little pity.

Scarlett stood on the landing and peered cautiously over the banisters into the hall below. It was empty. From the bedrooms on the floor above came an unending hum of low voices, rising and falling, punctuated with squeaks of laughter and, “Now, you didn’t, really!” and “What did he say then?” On the beds and couches of the six great bedrooms, the girls were resting, their dresses off, their stays loosed, their hair flowing down their backs. Afternoon naps were a custom of the country and never were they so necessary as on the all-day parties, beginning early in the morning and culminating in a ball. For half an hour, the girls would chatter and laugh, and then servants would pull the shutters and in the warm half-gloom the talk would die to whispers and finally expire in silence broken only by soft regular breathing.

Scarlett had made certain that Melanie was lying down on the bed with Honey and Hetty Tarleton before she slipped into the hall and started down the stairs. From the window on the landing, she could see the group of men sitting under the arbor, drinking from tall glasses, and she knew they would remain there until late afternoon. Her eyes searched the group but Ashley was not among them. Then she listened and she heard his voice. As she had hoped, he was still in the front driveway bidding good-by to departing matrons and children.

Her heart in her throat, she went swiftly down the stairs. What if she should meet Mr. Wilkes? What excuse could she give for prowling about the house when all the other girls were getting their beauty naps? Well, that had to be risked.

As she reached the bottom step, she heard the servants moving about in the dining room under the butler’s orders, lifting out the table and chairs in preparation for the dancing. Across the wide hall was the open door of the library and she sped into it noiselessly. She could wait there until Ashley finished his adieux and then call to him when he came into the house.

The library was in semidarkness, for the blinds had been drawn against the sun. The dim room with towering walls completely filled with dark books depressed her. It was not the place which she would have chosen for a tryst such as she hoped this one would be. Large numbers of books always depressed her, as did people who liked to read large numbers of books. That is-all people except Ashley. The heavy furniture rose up at her in the halflight, high-backed chairs with deep seats and wide arms, made for the tall Wilkes men, squatty soft chairs of velvet with velvet hassocks before them for the girls. Far across the long room before the hearth, the seven-foot sofa, Ashley’s favorite seat, reared its high back, like some huge sleeping animal.



She closed the door except for a crack and tried to make her heart beat more slowly. She tried to remember just exactly what she had planned last night to say to Ashley, but she couldn’t recall anything. Had she thought up something and forgotten it-or had she only planned that Ashley should say something to her? She couldn’t remember, and a sudden cold fright fell upon her. If her heart would only stop pounding in her ears, perhaps she could think of what to say. But the quick thudding only increased as she heard him call a final farewell and walk into the front hall.

All she could think of was that she loved him-everything about him, from the proud lift of his gold head to his slender dark boots, loved his laughter even when it mystified her, loved his bewildering silences. Oh, if only he would walk in on her now and take her in his arms, so she would be spared the need of saying anything. He must love her-“Perhaps if I prayed-” She squeezed her eyes tightly and began gabbling to herself “Hail Mary, full of grace-”

“Why, Scarlett!” said Ashley’s voice, breaking in through the roaring in her ears and throwing her into utter confusion. He stood in the hall peering at her through the partly opened door, a quizzical smile on his face.

“Who are you hiding from-Charles or the Tarletons?”

She gulped. So he had noticed how the men had swarmed about her! How unutterably dear he was standing there with his eyes twinkling, all unaware of her excitement. She could not speak, but she put out a hand and drew him into the room. He entered, puzzled but interested. There was a tenseness about her, a glow in her eyes that he had never seen before, and even in the dim light he could see the rosy flush on her cheeks. Automatically he closed the door behind him and took her hand.

“What is it?” he said, almost in a whisper.

At the touch of his hand, she began to tremble. It was going to happen now, just as she had dreamed it. A thousand incoherent thoughts shot through her mind, and she could not catch a single one to mold into a word. She could only shake and look up into his face. Why didn’t he speak?

“What is it?” he repeated. “A secret to tell me?”

Suddenly she found her tongue and just as suddenly all the years of Ellen’s teachings fell away, and the forthright Irish blood of Gerald spoke from his daughter’s lips.

“Yes-a secret. I love you.”

For an instance there was a silence so acute it seemed that neither of them even breathed. Then the trembling fell away from her, as happiness and pride surged through her. Why hadn’t she done this before? How much simpler than all the ladylike maneuverings she had been taught. And then her eyes sought his.

There was a look of consternation in them, of incredulity and something more-what was it? Yes, Gerald had looked that way the day his pet hunter had broken his leg and he had had to shoot him. Why did she have to think of that now? Such a silly thought. And why did Ashley look so oddly and say nothing? Then something like a well-trained mask came down over his face and he smiled gallantly.

“Isn’t it enough that you’ve collected every other man’s heart here today?” he said, with the old, teasing, caressing note in his voice. “Do you want to make it unanimous? Well, you’ve always had my heart, you know. You cut your teeth on it.”

Something was wrong-all wrong! This was not the way she had planned it. Through the mad tearing of ideas round and round in her brain, one was beginning to take form. Somehow-for some reason-Ashley was acting as if he thought she was just flirting with him. But he knew differently. She knew he did.

“Ashley-Ashley-tell me-you must-oh, don’t tease me now! Have I your heart? Oh, my dear, I lo-”

His hand went across her lips, swiftly. The mask was gone.

“You must not say these things, Scarlett! You mustn’t. You don’t mean them. You’ll hate yourself for saying them, and you’ll hate me for hearing them!”

She jerked her head away. A hot swift current was running through her.

“I couldn’t ever hate you. I tell you I love you and I know you must care about me because-” She stopped. Never before had she seen so much misery in anyone’s face. “Ashley, do you care-you do, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he said dully. “I care.”

If he had said he loathed her, she could not have been more frightened. She plucked at his sleeve, speechless.

“Scarlett,” he said, “can’t we go away and forget that we have ever said these things?”

“No,” she whispered. “I can’t. What do you mean? Don’t you want to-to marry me?”

He replied, “I’m going to marry Melanie.”

Somehow she found that she was sitting on the low velvet chair and Ashley, on the hassock at her feet, was holding both her hands in his, in a hard grip. He was saying things-things that made no sense. Her mind was quite blank, quite empty of all the thoughts that had surged through it only a moment before, and his words made no more impression than rain on glass. They fell on unhearing ears, words that were swift and tender and full of pity, like a father speaking to a hurt child.

The sound of Melanie’s name caught in her consciousness and she looked into his crystal-gray eyes. She saw in them the old remoteness that had always baffled her-and a look of self-hatred.

“Father is to announce the engagement tonight. We are to be married soon. I should have told you, but I thought you knew. I thought everyone knew-had known for years. I never dreamed that you-You’ve so many beaux. I thought Stuart-”

Life and feeling and comprehension were beginning to flow back into her.

“But you just said you cared for me.”

His warm hands hurt hers.

“My dear, must you make me say things that will hurt you?”

Her silence pressed him on.

“How can I make you see these things, my dear. You who are so young and unthinking that you do not know what marriage means.”

“I know I love you.”

“Love isn’t enough to make a successful marriage when two people are as different as we are. You would want all of a man, Scarlett, his body, his heart, his soul, his thoughts. And if you did not have them, you would be miserable. And I couldn’t give you all of me. I couldn’t give all of me to anyone. And I would not want all of your mind and your soul. And you would be hurt, and then you would come to hate me-how bitterly! You would hate the books I read and the music I loved, because they took me away from you even for a moment. And I-perhaps I-”

“Do you love her?”

“She is like me, part of my blood, and we understand each other. Scarlett! Scarlett! Can’t I make you see that a marriage can’t go on in any sort of peace unless the two people are alike?”

Some one else had said that: “Like must marry like or there’ll be no happiness.” Who was it? It seemed a million years since she had heard that, but it still did not make sense.

“But you said you cared.”

“I shouldn’t have said it.”

Somewhere in her brain, a slow fire rose and rage began to blot out everything else.

“Well, having been cad enough to say it-”

His face went white.

“I was a cad to say it, as I’m going to marry Melanie. I did you a wrong and Melanie a greater one. I should not have said it, for I knew you wouldn’t understand. How could I help caring for you-you who have all the passion for life that I have not? You who can love and hate with a violence impossible to me? Why you are as elemental as fire and wind and wild things and I-”

She thought of Melanie and saw suddenly her quiet brown eyes with their far-off look, her placid little hands in their black lace mitts, her gentle silences. And then her rage broke, the same rage that drove Gerald to murder and other Irish ancestors to misdeeds that cost them their necks. There was nothing in her now of the well-bred Robillards who could bear with white silence anything the world might cast.

“Why don’t you say it, you coward! You’re afraid to marry me! You’d rather live with that stupid little fool who can’t open her mouth except to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and raise a passel of mealymouthed brats just like her! Why-”

“You must not say these things about Melanie!”

“’I mustn’t’ be damned to you! Who are you to tell me I mustn’t? You coward, you cad, you-You made me believe you were going to marry me-”

“Be fair,” his voice pleaded. “Did I ever-”

She did not want to be fair, although she knew what he said was true. He had never once crossed the borders of friendliness with her and, when she thought of this fresh anger rose, the anger of hurt pride and feminine vanity. She had run after him and he would have none of her. He preferred a whey-faced little fool like Melanie to her. Oh, far better that she had followed Ellen and Mammy’s precepts and never, never revealed that she even liked him-better anything than to be faced with this scorching shame!

She sprang to her feet, her hands clenched and he rose towering over her, his face full of the mute misery of one forced to face realities when realities are agonies.

“I shall hate you till I die, you cad-you lowdown-lowdown-” What was the word she wanted? She could not think of any word bad enough.

“Scarlett-please-”

He put out his hand toward her and, as he did, she slapped him across the face with all the strength she had. The noise cracked like a whip in the still room and suddenly her rage was gone, and there was desolation in her heart.

The red mark of her hand showed plainly on his white tired face. He said nothing but lifted her limp hand to his lips and kissed it. Then he was gone before she could speak again, closing the door softly behind him.

She sat down again very suddenly, the reaction from her rage making her knees feel weak. He was gone and the memory of his stricken face would haunt her till she died.

She heard the soft muffled sound of his footsteps dying away down the long hall, and the complete enormity of her actions came over her. She had lost him forever. Now he would hate her and every time he looked at her he would remember how she threw herself at him when he had given her no encouragement at all.

“I’m as bad as Honey Wilkes,” she thought suddenly, and remembered how everyone, and she more than anyone else, had laughed contemptuously at Honey’s forward conduct. She saw Honey’s awkward wigglings and heard her silly titters as she hung onto boys’ arms, and the thought stung her to new rage, rage at herself, at Ashley, at the world. Because she hated herself, she hated them all with the fury of the thwarted and humiliated love of sixteen. Only a little true tenderness had been mixed into her love. Mostly it had been compounded out of vanity and complacent confidence in her own charms. Now she had lost and, greater than her sense of loss, was the fear that she had made a public spectacle of herself. Had she been as obvious as Honey? Was everyone laughing at her? She began to shake at the thought.

Her hand dropped to a little table beside her, fingering a tiny china rose-bowl on which two china cherubs smirked. The room was so still she almost screamed to break the silence. She must do something or go mad. She picked up the bowl and hurled it viciously across the room toward the fireplace. It barely cleared the tall back of the sofa and splintered with a little crash against the marble mantelpiece.

“This,” said a voice from the depths of the sofa, “is too much.”

Nothing had ever startled or frightened her so much, and her mouth went too dry for her to utter a sound. She caught hold of the back of the chair, her knees going weak under her, as Rhett Butler rose from the sofa where he had been lying and made her a bow of exaggerated politeness.

“It is bad enough to have an afternoon nap disturbed by such a passage as I’ve been forced to hear, but why should my life be endangered?”

He was real. He wasn’t a ghost. But, saints preserve us, he had heard everything! She rallied her forces into a semblance of dignity.

“Sir, you should have made known your presence.”

“Indeed?” His white teeth gleamed and his bold dark eyes laughed at her. “But you were the intruder. I was forced to wait for Mr. Kennedy, and feeling that I was perhaps persona non grata in the back yard, I was thoughtful enough to remove my unwelcome presence here where I thought I would be undisturbed. But, alas!” he shrugged and laughed softly.

Her temper was beginning to rise again at the thought that this rude and impertinent man had heard everything-heard things she now wished she had died before she ever uttered.

“Eavesdroppers-” she began furiously.

“Eavesdroppers often hear highly entertaining and instructive things,” he grinned. “From a long experience in eavesdropping, I-”

“Sir,” she said, “you are no gentleman!”

“An apt observation,” he answered airily. “And, you, Miss, are no lady.” He seemed to find her very amusing, for he laughed softly again. “No one can remain a lady after saying and doing what I have just overheard. However, ladies have seldom held any charms for me. I know what they are thinking, but they never have the courage or lack of breeding to say what they think. And that, in time, becomes a bore. But you, my dear Miss O’Hara, are a girl of rare spirit, very admirable spirit, and I take off my hat to you. I fail to understand what charms the elegant Mr. Wilkes can hold for a girl of your tempestuous nature. He should thank God on bended knee for a girl with your-how did he put it?-’passion for living,’ but being a poor-spirited wretch-”

“You aren’t fit to wipe his boots!” she shouted in rage.

“And you were going to hate him all your life!” He sank down on the sofa and she heard him laughing.

If she could have killed him, she would have done it. Instead, she walked out of the room with such dignity as she could summon and banged the heavy door behind her.

She went up the stairs so swiftly that when she reached the landing, she thought she was going to faint. She stopped, clutching the banisters, her heart hammering so hard from anger, insult and exertion that it seemed about to burst through her basque. She tried to draw deep breaths but Mammy’s lacings were too tight. If she should faint and they should find her here on the landing, what would they think? Oh, they’d think everything. Ashley and that vile Butler man and those nasty girls who were so jealous! For once in her life, she wished that she carried smelling salts, like the other girls, but she had never even owned a vinaigrette. She had always been so proud of never feeling giddy. She simply could not let herself faint now!

Gradually the sickening feeling began to depart. In a minute, she’d feel all right and then she’d slip quietly into the little dressing room adjoining India’s room, unloose her stays and creep in and lay herself on one of the beds beside the sleeping girls.

She tried to quiet her heart and fix her face into more composed lines, for she knew she must look like a crazy woman. If any of the girls were awake, they’d know something was wrong. And no one must ever, ever know that anything had happened.

Through the wide bay window on the lawn she could see the men still lounging in their chairs under the trees and in the shade of the arbor. How she envied them! How wonderful to be a man and never have to undergo miseries such as she had just passed through. As she stood watching them, hot eyed and dizzy, she heard the rapid pounding of a horse’s hooves on the front drive, the scattering of gravel and the sound of an excited voice calling a question to one of the negroes. The gravel flew again and across her vision a man on horseback galloped over the green lawn toward the lazy group under the trees.

Some late-come guest, but why did he ride his horse across the turf that was India’s pride? She could not recognize him, but as he flung himself from the saddle and clutched John Wilkes’ arm, she could see that there was excitement in every line of him. The crowd swarmed about him, tall glasses and palmetto fans abandoned on tables and on the ground. In spite of the distance, she could hear the hubbub of voices, questioning, calling, feel the feverpitch tenseness of the men. Then above the confused sounds Stuart Tarleton’s voice rose, in an exultant shout “Yee-aay-ee!” as if he were on the hunting field. And she heard for the first time, without knowing it, the Rebel yell.

As she watched, the four Tarletons followed by the Fontaine boys broke from the group and began hurrying toward the stable, yelling as they ran, “Jeems! You, Jeems! Saddle the horses!”

“Somebody’s house must have caught fire,” Scarlett thought. But fire or no fire, her job was to get herself back into the bedroom before she was discovered.

Her heart was quieter now and she tiptoed up the steps into the silent hall. A heavy warm somnolence lay over the house, as if it slept at ease like the girls, until night when it would burst into its full beauty with music and candle flames. Carefully, she eased open the door of the dressing room and slipped in. Her hand was behind her, still holding the knob, when Honey Wilkes’ voice, low pitched, almost in a whisper, came to her through the crack of the opposite door leading into the bedroom.

“I think Scarlett acted as fast as a girl could act today.”

Scarlett felt her heart begin its mad racing again and she clutched her hand against it unconsciously, as if she would squeeze it into submission. “Eavesdroppers often hear highly instructive things,” jibed a memory. Should she slip out again? Or make herself known and embarrass Honey as she deserved? But the next voice made her pause. A team of mules could not have dragged her away when she heard Melanie’s voice.

“Oh, Honey, no! Don’t be unkind. She’s just high spirited and vivacious. I thought her most charming.”

“Oh,” thought Scarlett, clawing her nails into her basque. “To have that mealymouthed little mess take up for me!”

It was harder to bear than Honey’s out-and-out cattiness. Scarlett had never trusted any woman and had never credited any woman except her mother with motives other than selfish ones. Melanie knew she had Ashley securely, so she could well afford to show such a Christian spirit. Scarlett felt it was just Melanie’s way of parading her conquest and getting credit for being sweet at the same time. Scarlett had frequently used the same trick herself when discussing other girls with men, and it had never failed to convince foolish males of her sweetness and unselfishness.

“Well, Miss,” said Honey tartly, her voice rising, “you must be blind.”

“Hush, Honey,” hissed the voice of Sally Munroe. “They’ll hear you all over the house!”

Honey lowered her voice but went on.

“Well, you saw how she was carrying on with every man she could get hold of-even Mr. Kennedy and he’s her own sister’s beau. I never saw the like! And she certainly was going after Charles.” Honey giggled self-consciously. “And you know, Charles and I-”

“Are you really?” whispered voices excitedly.

“Well, don’t tell anybody, girls-not yet!”

There were more gigglings and the bed springs creaked as someone squeezed Honey. Melanie murmured something about how happy she was that Honey would be her sister.

“Well, I won’t be happy to have Scarlett for my sister, because she’s a fast piece if ever I saw one,” came the aggrieved voice of Hefty Tarleton. “But she’s as good as engaged to Stuart. Brent says she doesn’t give a rap about him, but, of course, Brent’s crazy about her, too.”

“If you should ask me,” said Honey with mysterious importance, “there’s only one person she does give a rap about. And that’s Ashley!”

As the whisperings merged together violently, questioning, interrupting, Scarlett felt herself go cold with fear and humiliation. Honey was a fool, a silly, a simpleton about men, but she had a feminine instinct about other women that Scarlett had underestimated. The mortification and hurt pride that she had suffered in the library with Ashley and with Rhett Butler were pin pricks to this. Men could be trusted to keep their mouths shut, even men like Mr. Butler, but with Honey Wilkes giving tongue like a hound in the field, the entire County would know about it before six o’clock. And Gerald had said only last night that he wouldn’t be having the County laughing at his daughter. And how they would all laugh now! Clammy perspiration, starting under her armpits, began to creep down her ribs.

Melanie’s voice, measured and peaceful, a little reproving, rose above the others.

“Honey, you know that isn’t so. And it’s so unkind.”

“It is too, Melly, and if you weren’t always so busy looking for the good in people that haven’t got any good in them, you’d see it. And I’m glad it’s so. It serves her right. All Scarlett O’Hara has ever done has been to stir up trouble and try to get other girls’ beaux. You know mighty well she took Stuart from India and she didn’t want him. And today she tried to take Mr. Kennedy and Ashley and Charles-”

“I must get home!” thought Scarlett. “I must get home!”

If she could only be transferred by magic to Tara and to safety. If she could only be with Ellen, just to see her, to hold onto her skirt, to cry and pour out the whole story in her lap. If she had to listen to another word, she’d rush in and pull out Honey’s straggly pale hair in big handfuls and spit on Melanie Hamilton to show her just what she thought of her charity. But she’d already acted common enough today, enough like white trash-that was where all her trouble lay.

She pressed her hands hard against her skirts, so they would not rustle and backed out as stealthily as an animal. Home, she thought, as she sped down the hall, past the closed doors and still rooms, I must go home.

She was already on the front porch when a new thought brought her up sharply-she couldn’t go home! She couldn’t run away! She would have to see it through, bear all the malice of the girls and her own humiliation and heartbreak. To run away would only give them more ammunition.

She pounded her clenched fist against the tall white pillar beside her, and she wished that she were Samson, so that she could pull down all of Twelve Oaks and destroy every person in it. She’d make them sorry. She’d show them. She didn’t quite see how she’d show them, but she’d do it all the same. She’d hurt them worse than they hurt her.

For the moment, Ashley as Ashley was forgotten. He was not the tall drowsy boy she loved but part and parcel of the Wilkeses, Twelve Oaks, the County-and she hated them all because they laughed. Vanity was stronger than love at sixteen and there was no room in her hot heart now for anything but hate.

“I won’t go home,” she thought. “I’ll stay here and I’ll make them sorry. And I’ll never tell Mother. No, I’ll never tell anybody.” She braced herself to go back into the house, to reclimb the stairs and go into another bedroom.

As she turned, she saw Charles coming into the house from the other end of the long hall. When he saw her, he hurried toward her. His hair was tousled and his face near geranium with excitement.

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