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CHAPTER IX



SCARLETT sat in the window of her bedroom that midsummer morning and disconsolately watched the wagons and carriages full of girls, soldiers and chaperons ride gaily out Peachtree road in search of woodland decorations for the bazaar which was to be held that evening for the benefit of the hospitals. The red road lay checkered in shade and sun glare beneath the over-arching trees and the many hooves kicked up little red clouds of dust. One wagon, ahead of the others, bore four stout negroes with axes to cut evergreens and drag down the vines, and the back of this wagon was piled high with napkin-covered hampers, split-oak baskets of lunch and a dozen watermelons. Two of the black bucks were equipped with banjo and harmonica and they were rendering a spirited version of “If You Want to Have a Good Time, Jine the Cavalry.” Behind them streamed the merry cavalcade, girls cool in flowered cotton dresses, with light shawls, bonnets and mitts to protect their skins and little parasols held over their heads; elderly ladies placid and smiling amid the laughter and carriage-to-carriage calls and jokes; convalescents from the hospitals wedged in between stout chaperons and slender girls who made great fuss and to-do over them; officers on horseback idling at snail’s pace beside the carriages—wheels creaking, spurs jingling, gold braid gleaming, parasols bobbing, fans swishing, negroes singing. Everybody was riding out Peachtree road to gather greenery and have a picnic and melon cutting. Everybody, thought Scarlett, morosely, except me.

They all waved and called to her as they went by and she tried to respond with a good grace, but it was difficult. A hard little pain had started in her heart and was traveling slowly up toward her throat where it would become a lump and the lump would soon become tears. Everybody was going to the picnic except her. And everybody was going to the bazaar and the ball tonight except her. That is everybody except her and Pittypat and Melly and the other unfortunates in town who were in mourning. But Melly and Pittypat did not seem to mind. It had not even occurred to them to want to go. It had occurred to Scarlett. And she did want to go, tremendously.

It simply wasn’t fair. She had worked twice as hard as any girl in town, getting things ready for the bazaar. She had knitted socks and baby caps and afghans and mufflers and tatted yards of lace and painted china hair receivers and mustache cups. And she had embroidered half a dozen sofa-pillow cases with the Confederate flag on them. (The stars were a bit lopsided, to be sure, some of them being almost round and others having six or even seven points, but the effect was good.) Yesterday she had worked until she was worn out in the dusty old bam of an Armory draping yellow and pink and green cheesecloth on the booths that lined the walls. Under the supervision of the Ladies’ Hospital Committee, this was plain hard work and no fun at all. It was never fun to be around Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing and Mrs. Whiting and have them boss you like you were one of the darkies. And have to listen to them brag about how popular their daughters were. And, worst of all, she had burned two blisters on her fingers helping Pittypat and Cookie make layer cakes for raffling.

And now, having worked like a field hand, she had to retire decorously when the fun was just beginning. Oh, it wasn’t fair that she should have a dead husband and a baby yelling in the next room and be out of everything that was pleasant. Just a little over a year ago, she was dancing and wearing bright clothes instead of this dark mourning and was practically engaged to three boys. She was only seventeen now and there was still a lot of dancing left in her feet. Oh, it wasn’t fair! Life was going past her, down a hot shady summer road, life with gray uniforms and jingling spurs and flowered organdie dresses and banjos playing. She tried not to smile and wave too enthusiastically to the men she knew best, the ones she’d nursed in the hospital, but it was hard to subdue her dimples, hard to look as though her heart were in the grave—when it wasn’t.

Her bowing and waving were abruptly halted when Pittypat entered the room, panting as usual from climbing the stairs, and jerked her away from the window unceremoniously.

“Have you lost your mind, honey, waving at men out of your bedroom window? I declare, Scarlett, I’m shocked! What would your mother say?”

“Well, they didn’t know it was my bedroom.”

“But they’d suspect it was your bedroom and that’s just as bad. Honey, you mustn’t do things like that Everybody will be talking about you and saying you are fast—and anyway, Mrs. Merriwether knew it was your bedroom.”

“And I suppose she’ll tell all the boys, the old cat.”

“Honey, hush! Dolly Merriwether’s my best friend.”

“Well, she’s a cat just the same—oh, I’m sorry, Auntie, don’t cry! I forgot it was my bedroom window. I won’t do it again—I—I just wanted to see them go by. I wish I was going.”

“Honey!”

“Well, I do. I’m so tired of sitting at home.”

“Scarlett, promise me you won’t say things like that. People would talk so. They’d say you didn’t have the proper respect for poor Charlie—”

“Oh, Auntie, don’t cry!”

“Oh, now I’ve made you cry, too,” sobbed Pittypat, in a pleased way, fumbling in her skirt pocket for her handkerchief.

The hard little pain had at last reached Scarlett’s throat and she wailed out loud—not, as Pittypat thought, for poor Charlie but because the last sounds of the wheels and the laughter were dying away. Melanie rustled in from her room, a worried frown puckering her forehead, a brush in her hands, her usually tidy black hair, freed of its net, fluffing about her face in a mass of tiny curls and waves.

“Darlings! What is the matter?”

“Charlie!” sobbed Pittypat, surrendering utterly to the pleasure of her grief and burying her head on Melly’s shoulder.

“Oh,” said Melly, her lip quivering at the mention of her brother’s name. “Be brave, dear. Don’t cry. Oh, Scarlett!”

Scarlett had thrown herself on the bed and was sobbing at the top of her voice, sobbing for her lost youth and the pleasures of youth that were denied her, sobbing with the indignation and despair of a child who once could get anything she wanted by sobbing and now knows that sobbing can no longer help her. She burrowed her head in the pillow and cried and kicked her feet at the tufted counterpane.

“I might as well be dead!” she sobbed passionately. Before such an exhibition of grief, Pittypat’s easy tears ceased and Melly flew to the bedside to comfort her sister-in-law.

“Dear, don’t cry! Try to think how much Charlie loved you and let that comfort you! Try to think of your darling baby.”

Indignation at being misunderstood mingled with Scarlett’s forlorn feeling of being out of everything and strangled all utterance. That was fortunate, for if she could have spoken she would have cried out truths coached in Gerald’s forthright words. Melanie patted her shoulder and Pittypat tiptoed heavily about the room pulling down the shades.

“Don’t do that!” shouted Scarlett, raising a red and swollen face from the pillow. I’m not dead enough for you to pull down the shades—though I might as well be. Oh, do go away and leave me alone!”

She sank her face into the pillow again and, after a whispered conference, the two standing over her tiptoed out. She heard Melanie say to Pittypat in a low voice as they went down the stairs:

“Aunt Pitty, I wish you wouldn’t speak of Charles to her. You know how it always affects her. Poor thing, she gets that queer look and I know she’s trying not to cry. We mustn’t make it harder for her.”

Scarlett kicked the coverlet in impotent rage, trying to think of something bad enough to say.

“God’s nightgown!” she cried at last, and felt somewhat relieved. How could Melanie be content to stay at home and never have any fun and wear crêpe for her brother when she was only eighteen years old? Melanie did not seem to know, or care, that life was riding by with jingling spurs.

“But she’s such a stick,” thought Scarlett, pounding the pillow. “And she never was popular like me, so she doesn’t miss the things I miss. And—and besides she’s got Ashley and I—I haven’t got anybody!” And at this fresh woe, she broke into renewed outcries.

She remained gloomily in her room until afternoon and then the sight of the returning picnickers with wagons piled high with pine boughs, vines and ferns did not cheer her. Everyone looked ‘happily tired as they waved to her again and she returned their greetings drearily. Life was a hopeless affair and certainly not worth living.

Deliverance came in the form she least expected when, during the after-dinner-nap period, Mrs. Merriwether and Mrs. Elsing drove up. Startled at having callers at such an hour, Melanie, Scarlett and Aunt Pittypat roused themselves, hastily hooked their basques, smoothed their hair and descended to the parlor.

“Mrs. Bonnell’s children have the measles,” said Mrs. Merriwether abruptly, showing plainly that she held Mrs. Bonnell personally responsible for permitting such a thing to happen.

“And the McLure girls have been called to Virginia,” said Mrs. Elsing in her die-away voice, fanning herself languidly as if neither this nor anything else mattered very much. “Dallas McLure is wounded.”

“How dreadful! chorused their hostesses. “Is poor Dallas—”

“No. Just through the shoulder,” said Mrs. Merriwether briskly. “But it couldn’t possibly have happened at a worse time. The girls are going North to bring him home. But, skies above, we haven’t time to sit here talking. We must hurry back to the Armory and get the decorating done. Pitty, we need you and Melly tonight to take Mrs. Bonnell’s and the McLure girls’ places.”

“Oh, but, Dolly, we can’t go.”

“Don’t say ‘can’t’ to me, Pittypat Hamilton,” said Mrs. Merriwether vigorously. “We need you to watch the darkies with the refreshments. That was what Mrs. Bonnell was to do. And Melly, you must take the McLure girls’ booth.”

“Oh, we just couldn’t—with poor Charlie dead only a—”

“I know how you feel but there isn’t any sacrifice too great for the Cause,” broke in Mrs. Elsing in a soft voice that settled matters.

“Oh, we’d love to help but—why can’t you get some sweet pretty girls to take the booths?”

Mrs. Merriwether snorted a trumpeting snort.

“I don’t know what’s come over the young people these days. They have no sense of responsibility. All the girls who haven’t already taken booths have more excuses than you could shake a stick at. Oh, they don’t fool me! They just don’t want to be hampered in making up to the officers, that’s all. And they’re afraid their new dresses won’t show off behind booth counters. I wish to goodness that blockade runner—what’s his name?”

“Captain Butler,” supplied Mrs. Elsing.

“I wish he’d bring in more hospital supplies and less hoop skirts and lace. If I’ve had to look at one dress today I’ve had to look at twenty dresses that he ran in. Captain Butler—I’m sick of the name. Now, Pitty, I haven’t time to argue. You must come. Everybody will understand. Nobody will see you in the back room anyway, and Melly won’t be conspicuous. The poor McLure girls’ booth is way down at the end and not very pretty so nobody will notice you.”

“I think we should go,” said Scarlett, trying to curb her eagerness and to keep her face earnest and simple. “It is the least we can do for the hospital.”

Neither of the visiting ladies had even mentioned her name, and they turned and looked sharply at her. Even in their extremity, they had not considered asking a widow of scarcely a year to appear at a social function. Scarlett bore their gaze with a wide-eyed childlike expression.

“I think we should go and help to make it a success, all of us. I think I should go in the booth with Melly because—well, I think it would look better for us both to be there instead of just one. Don’t you think so, Melly?”

“Well,” began Melly helplessly. The idea of appearing publicly at a social gathering while in mourning was so unheard of she was bewildered.

“Scarlett’s right,” said Mrs. Merriwether, observing signs of weakening. She rose and jerked her hoops into place. “Both of you—all of you must come. Now, Pitty, don’t start your excuses again. Just think how much the hospital needs money for new beds and drugs. And I know Charlie would like you to help the Cause he died for.”

“Well,” said Pittypat, helpless as always in the presence of a stronger personality, “if you think people will understand.”
“Too good to be true! Too good to be true!” said Scarlett’s joyful heart as she slipped unobtrusively into the pink- and yellow-draped booth that was to have been the McLure girls’. Actually she was at a party! After a year’s seclusion, after crêpe and hushed voices and nearly going crazy with boredom, she was actually at a party, the biggest party Atlanta had ever seen. And she could see people and many lights and hear music and view for herself the lovely laces and frocks and frills that the famous Captain Butler had run through the blockade on his last trip.

She sank down on one of the little stools behind the counter of the booth and looked up and down the long hall which, until this afternoon, had been a bare and ugly drill room. How the ladies must have worked today to bring it to its present beauty. It looked lovely. Every candle and candlestick in Atlanta must be in this hall tonight, she thought, silver ones with a dozen sprangling arms, china ones with charming figurines clustering their bases, old brass stands, erect and dignified, laden with candles of all sizes and colors, smelling fragrantly of bayberries, standing on the gun racks that ran the length of the hall, on the long flower-decked tables, on booth counters, even on the sills of the open windows where, the draughts of warm summer air were just strong enough to make them flare.

In the center of the hall the huge ugly lamp, hanging from the ceiling by rusty chains, was completely transformed by twining ivy and wild grapevines that were already withering from the heat. The walls were banked with pine branches that gave out a spicy smell, making the corners of the room into pretty bowers where the chaperons and old ladies would sit. Long graceful ropes of ivy and grapevine and smilax were hung everywhere, in looping festoons on the walls, draped above the windows, twined in scallops all over the brightly colored cheesecloth booths. And everywhere amid the greenery, on flags and bunting, blazed the bright stars of the Confederacy on their background of red and blue.

The raised platform for the musicians was especially artistic. It was completely hidden from view by the banked greenery and starry bunting and Scarlett knew that every potted and tubbed plant in town was there, coleus, geranium, hydrangea, oleander, elephant ear—even Mrs. Elsing’s four treasured rubber plants, which were given posts of honor at the four corners.

At the other end of the hall from the platform, the ladies had eclipsed themselves. On this wall hung large pictures of President Davis and Georgia’s own “Little Alec” Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy. Above them was an enormous flag and, beneath, on long tables was the loot of the gardens of the town, ferns, banks of roses, crimson and yellow and white, proud sheaths of golden gladioli, masses of varicolored nasturtiums, tall stiff hollyhocks rearing deep maroon and creamy heads above the other flowers. Among them, candles burned serenely like altar fires. The two faces looked down on the scene, two faces as different as could be possible in two men at the helm of so momentous an undertaking: Davis with the flat cheeks and cold eyes of an ascetic, his thin proud lips set firmly; Stephens with dark burning eyes deep socketed in a face that had known nothing but sickness and pain and had triumphed over them with humor and with fire—two faces that were greatly loved.

The elderly ladies of the committee in whose hands rested the responsibility for the whole bazaar rustled in as importantly as full-rigged ships, hurried the belated young matrons and giggling girls into their booths, and then swept through the doors into the back rooms where the refreshments were being laid out. Aunt Pitty panted out after them.

The musicians clambered upon their platform, black, grinning, their fat cheeks already shining with perspiration, and began tuning their fiddles and sawing and whanging with their bows in anticipatory importance. Old Levi, Mrs. Merriwether’s coachman, who had led the orchestras for every bazaar, ball and wedding since Atlanta was named Marthasville, rapped with his bow for attention. Few except the ladies who were conducting the bazaar had arrived yet, but all eyes turned toward him. Then the fiddles, bull fiddles, accordions, banjos and knuckle-bones broke into a slow rendition of “Lorena”—too slow for dancing, the dancing would come later when the booths were emptied of their wares. Scarlett felt her heart beat faster as the sweet melancholy of the waltz came to her:
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