Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell

Chapter 59

There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Bonnie Butler was running wild and needed a firm hand but she was so general a favorite that no one had the heart to attempt the necessary firmness. She had first gotten out of control the months when she traveled with her father. When she had been with Rhett in New Orleans and Charleston she had been permitted to sit up as late as she pleased and had gone to sleep in his arms in theaters, restaurants and at card tables. Thereafter, nothing short of force would make her go to bed at the same time as the obedient Ella. While she had been away with him, Rhett had let her wear any dress she chose and, since that time, she had gone into tantrums when Mammy tried to dress her in dimity frocks and pinafores instead of blue taffeta and lace collars.

There seemed no way to regain the ground which had been lost when the child was away from home and later when Scarlett had been ill and at Tara. As Bonnie grew older Scarlett tried to discipline her, tried to keep her from becoming too headstrong and spoiled, but with little success. Rhett always sided with the child, no matter how foolish her desires or how outrageous her behavior. He encouraged her to talk and treated her as an adult, listening to her opinions with apparent seriousness and pretending to be guided by them. As a result, Bonnie interrupted her elders whenever she pleased and contradicted her father and put him in his place. He only laughed and would not permit Scarlett even to slap the little girl’s hand by way of reprimand.

“If she wasn’t such a sweet, darling thing, she’d be impossible,” thought Scarlett ruefully, realizing that she had a child with a will equal to her own. “She adores Rhett and he could make her behave better if he wanted to.”

But Rhett showed no inclination to make Bonnie behave. Whatever she did was right and if she wanted the moon she could have it, if he could reach it for her. His pride in her beauty, her curls, her dimples, her graceful little gestures was boundless. He loved her pertness, her high spirits and the quaint sweet manner she had of showing her love for him. For all her spoiled and willful ways she was such a lovable child that he lacked the heart to try to curb her. He was her god, the center of her small world, and that was too precious for him to risk losing by reprimands.

She clung to him like a shadow. She woke him earlier than he cared to wake, sat beside him at the table, eating alternately from his plate and her own, rode in front of him on his horse and permitted no one but Rhett to undress her and put her to sleep in the small bed beside his.

It amused and touched Scarlett to see the iron hand with which her small child ruled her father. Who would have thought that Rhett, of all people, would take fatherhood so seriously? But sometimes a dart of jealousy went through Scarlett because Bonnie, at the age of four, understood Rhett better than she had ever understood him and could manage him better than she had ever managed him.

When Bonnie was four years old, Mammy began to grumble about the impropriety of a girl child riding “a-straddle in front of her pa wid her dress flyin’ up.” Rhett lent an attentive ear to this remark, as he did to all Mammy’s remarks about the proper raising of little girls. The result was a small brown and white Shetland pony with a long silky mane and tail and a tiny sidesaddle with silver trimmings. Ostensibly the pony was for all three children and Rhett bought a saddle for Wade too. But Wade infinitely preferred his St. Bernard dog and Ella was afraid of all animals. So the pony became Bonnie’s own and was named “Mr. Butler.” The only flaw in Bonnie’s possessive joy was that she could not still ride astride like her father, but after he had explained how much more difficult it was to ride on the sidesaddle, she was content and learned rapidly. Rhett’s pride in her good seat and her good hands was enormous.

“Wait till she’s old enough to hunt,” he boasted. “There’ll be no one like her on any field. I’ll take her to Virginia then. That’s where the real hunting is. And Kentucky where they appreciate good riders.”

When it came to making her riding habit, as usual she had her choice of colors and as usual chose blue.

“But, my darling! Not that blue velvet! The blue velvet is for a party dress for me,” laughed Scarlett. “A nice black broadcloth is what little girls wear.” Seeing the small black brows coming together: “For Heaven’s sake, Rhett, tell her how unsuitable it would be and how dirty it will get.”

“Oh, let her have the blue velvet. If it gets dirty, we’ll make her another one,” said Rhett easily.

So Bonnie had her blue velvet habit with a skirt that trailed down the pony’s side and a black hat with a red plume in it, because Aunt Melly’s stories of Jeb Stuart’s plume had appealed to her imagination. On days that were bright and clear the two could be seen riding down Peachtree Street, Rhett reining in his big black horse to keep pace with the fat pony’s gait. Sometimes they went tearing down the quiet roads about the town, scattering chickens and dogs and children, Bonnie beating Mr. Butler with her crop, her tangled curls flying, Rhett holding in his horse with a firm hand that she might think Mr. Butler was winning the race.

When he had assured himself of her seat, her hands, her utter fearlessness, Rhett decided that the time had come for her to learn to make the low jumps that were within the reach of Mr. Butler’s short legs. To this end, he built a hurdle in the back yard and paid Wash, one of Uncle Peter’s small nephews, twenty-five cents a day to teach Mr. Butler to jump. He began with a bar two inches from the ground and gradually worked up the height to a foot.

This arrangement met with the disapproval of the three parties concerned, Wash, Mr. Butler and Bonnie. Wash was afraid of horses and only the princely sum offered induced him to take the stubborn pony over the bar dozens of times a day; Mr. Butler, who bore with equanimity having his tail pulled by his small mistress and his hooves examined constantly, felt that the Creator of ponies had not intended him to put his fat body over the bar; Bonnie, who could not bear to see anyone else upon her pony, danced with impatience while Mr. Butler was learning his lessons.

When Rhett finally decided that the pony knew his business well enough to trust Bonnie upon him, the child’s excitement was boundless. She made her first jump with flying colors and, thereafter, riding abroad with her father held no charms for her. Scarlett could not help laughing at the pride and enthusiasm of father and daughter. She thought, however, that once the novelty had passed, Bonnie would turn to other things and the neighborhood would have some peace. But this sport did not pall. There was a bare track worn from the arbor at the far end of the yard to the hurdle, and all morning long the yard resounded with excited yells. Grandpa Merriwether, who had made the overland trip in 1849, said that the yells sounded just like an Apache after a successful scalping.

After the first week, Bonnie begged for a higher bar, a bar that was a foot and a half from the ground.

“When you are six years old,” said Rhett. “Then you’ll be big enough for a higher jump and I’ll buy you a bigger horse. Mr. Butler’s legs aren’t long enough.”

“They are, too, I jumped Aunt Melly’s rose bushes and they are ‘normously high!”

“No, you must wait,” said Rhett, firm for once. But the firmness gradually faded away before her incessant importunings and tantrums.

“Oh, all right,” he said with a laugh one morning and moved the narrow white cross bar higher. “If you fall off, don’t cry and blame me!”

“Mother!” screamed Bonnie, turning her head up toward Scarlett’s bedroom. “Mother! Watch me! Daddy says I can!”

Scarlett, who was combing her hair, came to the window and smiled down at the tiny excited figure, so absurd in the soiled blue habit.

“I really must get her another habit,” she thought. “Though Heaven only knows how I’ll make her give up that dirty one.”

“Mother, watch!”

“I’m watching dear,” said Scarlett smiling.

As Rhett lifted the child and set her on the pony, Scarlett called with a swift rush of pride at the straight back and the proud set of the head,

“You’re mighty pretty, precious!”

“So are you,” said Bonnie generously and, hammering a heel into Mr. Butler’s ribs, she galloped down the yard toward the arbor.

“Mother, watch me take this one!” she cried, laying on the crop.

WATCH ME TAKE THIS ONE!

Memory rang a bell far back in Scarlett’s mind. There was something ominous about those words. What was it? Why couldn’t she remember? She looked down at her small daughter, so lightly poised on the galloping pony and her brow wrinkled as a chill swept swiftly through her breast. Bonnie came on with a rush, her crisp black curls jerking, her blue eyes blazing.

“They are like Pa’s eyes,” thought Scarlett, “Irish blue eyes and she’s just like him in every way.”

And, as she thought of Gerald, the memory for which she had been fumbling came to her swiftly, came with the heart stopping clarity of summer lightning, throwing, for an instant, a whole countryside into unnatural brightness. She could hear an Irish voice singing, hear the hard rapid pounding of hooves coming up the pasture hill at Tara, hear a reckless voice, so like the voice of her child: “Ellen! Watch me take this one!”

“No!” she cried. “No! Oh, Bonnie, stop!”

Even as she leaned from the window there was a fearful sound of splintering wood, a hoarse cry from Rhett, a melee of blue velvet and flying hooves on the ground. Then Mr. Butler scrambled to his feet and trotted off with an empty saddle.

On the third night after Bonnie’s death, Mammy waddled slowly up the kitchen steps of Melanie’s house. She was dressed in black from her huge men’s shoes, slashed to permit freedom for her toes, to her black head rag. Her blurred old eyes were bloodshot and red rimmed, and misery cried out in every line of her mountainous figure. Her face was puckered in the sad bewilderment of an old ape but there was determination in her jaw.

She spoke a few soft words to Dilcey who nodded kindly, as though an unspoken armistice existed in their old feud. Dilcey put down the supper dishes she was holding and went quietly through the pantry toward the dining room. In a minute Melanie was in the kitchen, her table napkin in her hand, anxiety in her face.

“Miss Scarlet isn’t —”

“Miss Scarlett bearin’ up, same as allus,” said Mammy heavily. “Ah din’ ten ter ‘sturb yo’ supper, Miss Melly. Ah kin wait tell you thoo ter tell you whut Ah got on mah mine.”

“Supper can wait,” said Melanie. “Dilcey, serve the rest of the supper. Mammy, come with me.”

Mammy waddled after her, down the hall past the dining room where Ashley sat at the head of the table, his own little Beau beside him and Scarlett’s two children opposite, making a great clatter with their soup spoons. The happy voices of Wade and Ella filled the room. It was like a picnic for them to spend so long a visit with Aunt Melly. Aunt Melly was always so kind and she was especially so now. The death of their younger sister had affected them very little. Bonnie had fallen off her pony and Mother had cried a long time and Aunt Melly had taken them home with her to play in the back yard with Beau and have tea cakes whenever they wanted them.

Melanie led the way to the small book-lined sitting room, shut the door and motioned Mammy to the sofa.

“I was going over right after supper,” she said. “Now that Captain Butler’s mother has come, I suppose the funeral will be tomorrow morning.”

“De fune’l. Dat’s jes’ it,” said Mammy. “Miss Melly, we’s all in deep trouble an’ Ah’s come ter you fer he’p. Ain’ nuthin’ but weery load, honey, nuthin’ but weery load.”

“Has Miss Scarlett collapsed?” questioned Melanie worriedly. “I’ve hardly seen her since Bonnie — She has been in her room and Captain Butler has been out of the house and —”

Suddenly tears began to flow down Mammy’s black face. Melanie sat down beside her and patted her arm and, after a moment, Mammy lifted the hem of her black skirt and dried her eyes.

“You got ter come he’p us, Miss Melly. Ah done de bes’ Ah kin but it doan do no good.”

“Miss Scarlett —”

Mammy straightened.

“Miss Melly, you knows Miss Scarlett well’s Ah does. Whut dat chile got ter stan’, de good Lawd give her strent ter stan’. Disyere done broke her heart but she kin stan’ it. It’s Mist’ Rhett Ah come ‘bout.”

“I have so wanted to see him but whenever I’ve been there, he has either been downtown or locked in his room with — And Scarlett has looked like a ghost and wouldn’t speak — Tell me quickly, Mammy. You know I’ll help if I can.”

Mammy wiped her nose on the back of her hand.

“Ah say Miss Scarlett kin stan’ whut de Lawd sen’, kase she done had ter stan’ a-plen’y, but Mist’ Rhett — Miss Melly, he ain’ never had ter stan’ nuthin’ he din’ wanter stan’, not nuthin’. It’s him Ah come ter see you ‘bout.”

“But —”

“Miss Melly, you got ter come home wid me, dis evenin’.” There was urgency in Mammy’s voice. “Maybe Mist’ Rhett lissen ter you. He allus did think a heap of yo’ ‘pinion.”

“Oh, Mammy, what is it? What do you mean?”

Mammy squared her shoulders.

“Miss Melly, Mist’ Rhett done — done los’ his mine. He woan let us put Lil Miss away.”

“Lost his mind? Oh, Mammy, no!”

“Ah ain’ lyin’. It’s de Gawd’s truff. He ain’ gwine let us buhy dat chile. He done tole me so hisseff, not mo’n an hour ago.”

“But he can’t — he isn’t —”

“Dat’s huccome Ah say he los’ his mine.”

“But why —”

“Miss Melly, Ah tell you eve’ything. Ah oughtn’ tell nobody, but you is our fambly an’ you is de onlies’ one Ah kin tell. Ah tell you eve’ything. You knows whut a sto’ he set by dat chile. Ah ain’ never seed no man, black or w’ite, set sech a sto’ by any chile. Look lak he go plumb crazy w’en Doctah Meade say her neck broke. He grab his gun an’ he run right out an’ shoot dat po’ pony an’, fo’ Gawd, Ah think he gwine shoot hisseff. Ah wuz plumb ‘stracted whut wid Miss Scarlett in a swoon an’ all de neighbors in an’ outer de house an’ Mist’ Rhett cahyin’ on an’ jes’ holin’ dat chile an’ not even lettin’ me wash her lil face whar de grabble cut it. An’ w’en Miss Scarlett come to, Ah think, bress Gawd! Now dey kin comfo’t each other.”

Again the tears began to fall but this time Mammy did not even wipe them away.

“But w’en she come to, she go inter de room whar he settin’, holin’ Miss Bonnie, an’ she say: ‘Gimme mah baby whut you kilt.’”

“Oh, no! She couldn’t!”

“Yas’m. Dat whut she say. She say: ‘You kilt her.’ An’ Ah felt so sorry fer Mist’ Rhett Ah bust out cryin’, kase he look lak a whup houn’. An’ Ah say: ‘Give dat chile ter its mammy. Ah ain’ gwine have no sech goin’s on over mah Lil Miss.’ An’ Ah tek de chile away frum him an’ tek her inter her room an’ wash her face. An’ Ah hear dem talkin’ an’ it lak ter tuhn mah blood cole, whut dey say. Miss Scarlett wuz callin’ him a mudderer fer lettin’ her try ter jump dat high, an’ him sayin’ Miss Scarlett hadn’ never keered nuthin’ ‘bout Miss Bonnie nor none of her chillun . . . .”

“Stop, Mammy! Don’t tell me any more. It isn’t right for you to tell me this!” cried Melanie, her mind shrinking away from the picture Mammy’s words evoked.

“Ah knows Ah got no bizness tellin’ you, but mah heart too full ter know jes’ whut not ter say. Den he tuck her ter de unnertaker’s hisseff an’ he bring her back an’ he put her in her baid in his room. An’ w’en Miss Scarlett say she b’long in de pahlor in de coffin, Ah thought Mist’ Rhett gwine hit her. An’ he say, right cole lak: ‘She b’long in mah room.’ An’ he tuhn ter me an’ he say: ‘Mammy, you see dat she stay right hyah tell Ah gits back.’ Den he light outer de house on de hawse an’ he wuz gone tell ‘bout sundown. W’en he come t’arin’ home, Ah seed dat he’d been drinkin’ an’ drinkin’ heavy, but he wuz cahyin’ it well’s usual. He fling inter de house an’ not even speak ter Miss Scarlett or Miss Pitty or any of de ladies as wuz callin’, but he fly up de steps an’ th’ow open de do’ of his room an’ den he yell for me. W’en Ah comes runnin’ as fas’ as Ah kin, he wuz stan’in’ by de baid an’ it wuz so dahk in de room Ah couldn’ sceercely see him, kase de shutters wuz done drawed.

“An’ he say ter me, right fierce lak: ‘Open dem shutters. It’s dahk in hyah.’ An’ Ah fling dem open an’ he look at me an’, fo’ Gawd, Miss Melly, mah knees ‘bout give way, kase he look so strange. Den he say: ‘Bring lights. Bring lots of lights. An’ keep dem buhnin’. An’ doan draw no shades an’ no shutters. Doan you know Miss Bonnie’s ‘fraid of de dahk?’”

Melanie’s horror struck eyes met Mammy’s and Mammy nodded ominously.

“Dat’s whut he say. ‘Miss Bonnie’s ‘fraid of de dahk.’”

Mammy shivvered.

“W’en Ah gits him a dozen candles, he say ‘Git!’ An’ den he lock de do’ an’ dar he set wid Lil Miss, an’ he din’ open de do’ fer Miss Scarlett even w’en she beat an’ hollered ter him. An’ dat’s de way it been fer two days. He woan say nuthin’ ‘bout de fune’l, an’ in de mawnin’ he lock de do’ an’ git on his hawse an’ go off ter town. An’ he come back at sundown drunk an’ lock hisseff in agin, an’ he ain’ et nuthin’ or slept none. An’ now his ma, Ole Miss Butler, she come frum Cha’ston fer de fune’l an’ Miss Suellen an’ Mist’ Will, dey come frum Tara, but Mist’ Rhett woan talk ter none of dem. Oh, Miss Melly, it been awful! An’ it’s gwine be wuss, an’ folks gwine talk sumpin’ scan’lous.

“An’ den, dis evenin’,” Mammy paused and again wiped her nose on her hand. “Dis evenin’ Miss Scarleft ketch him in de upstairs hall w’en he come in, an’ she go in de room wid him an’ she say: ‘De fune’l set fer termorrer mawnin’.’ An’ he say: ‘Do dat an’ Ah kills you termorrer.’”

“Oh, he must have lost his mind!”

“Yas’m. An’ den dey talks kinder low an’ Ah doan hear all whut dey say, ‘cept he say agin ‘bout Miss Bonnie bein’ sceered of de dahk an’ de grabe pow’ful dahk. An’ affer aw’ile, Miss Scarlett say: ‘You is a fine one ter tek on so, affer killin’ her ter please yo’ pride.’ An’ he say: ‘Ain’ you got no mercy?’ An’ she say: ‘No. An’ Ah ain’ got no chile, needer. An’ Ah’m wo’out wid de way you been ackin’ sence Bonnie wuz kilt. You is a scan’al ter de town. You been drunk all de time an’ ef you doan think Ah knows whar you been spendin’ yo’ days, you is a fool. Ah knows you been down ter dat creeter’s house, dat Belle Watling.’”

“Oh, Mammy, no!”

“Yas’m. Dat whut she said. An’, Miss Melly, it’s de truff. Niggers knows a heap of things quicker dan w’ite folks, an’ Ah knowed dat’s whar he been but Ah ain’ said nuthin’ ‘bout it. An’ he doan deny it. He say: ‘Yas’m, dat’s whar Ah been an’ you neen tek on, kase you doan give a damn. A bawdy house is a haben of refuge affer dis house of hell. An’ Belle is got one of de worl’s kines’ hearts. She doan th’ow it up ter me dat Ah done kilt mah chile.’”

“Oh,” cried Melanie, stricken to the heart.

Her own life was so pleasant, so sheltered, so wrapped about with people who loved her, so full of kindness that what Mammy told her was almost beyond comprehension or belief. Yet there crawled into her mind a memory, a picture which she hastily put from her, as she would put from her the thought of another’s nudity. Rhett had spoken of Belle Watling the day he cried with his head on her knees. But he loved Scarlett. She could not have been mistaken that day. And of course, Scarlett loved him. What had come between them? How could a husband and a wife cut each other to pieces with such sharp knives?

Mammy took up her story heavily.

“Affer a w’ile, Miss Scarlett come outer de room, w’ite as a sheet but her jaw set, an’ she see me stan’in’ dar an’ she say: ‘De fune’l be termorrer, Mammy.’ An’ she pass me by lak a ghos’. Den mah heart tuhn over, kase whut Miss Scarlett say, she mean. An’ whut Mist’ Rhett say, he mean too. An’ he say he kill her ef she do dat. Ah wuz plumb ‘stracted, Miss Melly, kase Ah done had sumpin’ on mah conscience all de time an’ it weighin’ me down. Miss Melly, it wuz me as sceered Lil Miss of de dahk.”

“Oh, but Mammy, it doesn’t matter — not now.”

“Yas’m, it do. Dat whut de whole trouble. An’ it come ter me Ah better tell Mist’ Rhett even ef he kill me, kase it on mah conscience. So Ah slip in de do’ real quick, fo’ he kin lock it, an’ Ah say: ‘Mist’ Rhett, Ah’s come ter confess.’ An’ he swung roun’ on me lak a crazy man an’ say: ‘Git!’ An’, fo’ Gawd, Ah ain’ never been so sceered! But Ah say: ‘Please, suh, Mist’ Rhett, let me tell you. It’s ‘bout ter kill me. It wuz me as sceered Lil Miss of de dahk.’ An’ den, Miss Melly, Ah put mah haid down an’ waited fer him ter hit me. But he din’ say nuthin’. An’ An say: ‘Ah din’ mean no hahm. But, Mist’ Rhett, dat chile din’ have no caution an’ she wuzn’ sceered of nuthin’. An’ she wuz allus gittin’ outer baid affer eve’ybody sleep an runnin’ roun’ de house barefoot. An’ it worrit me, kase Ah ‘fraid she hu’t herseff. So Ah tells her dar’s ghos’es an’ buggerboos in de dahk.’

“An’ den — Miss Melly, you know whut he done? His face got right gentle lak an’ he come ter me an’ put his han’ on mah arm. Dat’s de fust time he ever done dat. An’ he say: ‘She wuz so brave, wuzn’ she? ‘Cept fer de dahk, she wuzn’ sceered of nuthin’.’ An’ wen Ah bust out cryin’ he say: ‘Now, Mammy,’ an’ he pat me. ‘Now, Mammy, doan you cahy on so. Ah’s glad you tole me. Ah knows you love Miss Bonnie an’ kase you love her, it doan matter. It’s whut de heart is dat matter.’ Well’m dat kinder cheered me up, so Ah ventu’ ter say: ‘Mist Rhett, suh, what ‘bout de fune’l?’ Den he tuhn on me lak a wile man an’ his eyes glitter an’ he say: ‘Good Gawd, Ah thought you’d unnerstan’ even ef nobody else din’! Does you think Ah’m gwine ter put mah chile away in de dahk w’en she so sceered of it? Right now Ah kin hear de way she uster scream w’en she wake up in de dahk. Ah ain’ gwine have her sceered.’ Miss Melly, den Ah know he los’ his mine. He drunk an’ he need sleep an’ sumpin’ ter eat but dat ain’ all. He plumb crazy. He jes’ push me outer de do’ an’ say: ‘Git de hell outer hyah!’

“Ah goes downstairs an’ Ah gits ter thinkin’ dat he say dar ain’ gwine be no fune’l an’ Miss Scarlett say it be termorrer mawnin’ an’ he say dar be shootin’. An’ all de kin-folks in de house an’ all de neighbors already gabblin’ ‘bout it lak a flock of guinea hens, an’ Ah thought of you, Miss Melly. You got ter come he’p us.”

“Oh, Mammy, I couldn’t intrude!”

“Ef you kain, who kin?”

“But what could I do, Mammy?”

“Miss Melly, Ah doan know. But you kin do sumpin’. You kin talk ter Mist’ Rhett an’ maybe he lissen ter you. He set a gret sto’ by you, Miss Melly. Maybe you doan know it, but he do. Ah done hear him say time an’ agin, you is de onlies’ gret lady he knows.”

“But —”

Melanie rose to her feet, confused, her heart quailing at the thought of confronting Rhett. The thought of arguing with a man as grief crazed as the one Mammy depicted made her go cold. The thought of entering that brightly lighted room where lay the little girl she loved so much wrung her heart. What could she do? What could she say to Rhett that would ease his grief and bring him back to reason? For a moment she stood irresolute and through the closed door came the sound of her boy’s treble laughter. Like a cold knife in her heart came the thought of him dead. Suppose her Beau were lying upstairs, his little body cold and still, his merry laughter hushed.

“Oh,” she cried aloud, in fright, and in her mind she clutched him close to her heart. She knew how Rhett felt. If Beau were dead, how could she put him away, alone with the wind and the rain and the darkness?

“Oh! Poor, poor Captain Butler!” she cried. “I’ll go to him now, right away.”

She sped back to the dining room, said a few soft words to Ashley and surprised her little boy by hugging him close to her and kissing his blond curls passionately.

She left the house without a hat, her dinner napkin still clutched in her hand, and the pace she set was hard for Mammy’s old legs. Once in Scarlett’s front hall, she bowed briefly to the gathering in the library, to the frightened Miss Pittypat, the stately old Mrs. Butler, Will and Suellen. She went up the stairs swiftly, with Mammy panting behind her. For a moment, she paused before Scarlett’s closed door but Mammy hissed, “No’m, doan do dat.”

Down the hall Melly went, more slowly now, and stopped in front of Rhett’s room. She stood irresolutely for a moment as though she longed to take flight. Then, bracing herself, like a small soldier going into battle, she knocked on the door and called softly: “Please let me in, Captain Butler. It’s Mrs. Wilkes. I want to see Bonnie.”

The door opened quickly and Mammy, shrinking back into the shadows of the hall, saw Rhett huge and dark against the blazing background of candles. He was swaying on his feet and Mammy could smell the whisky on his breath. He looked down at Melly for a moment and then, taking her by the arm, he pulled her into the room and shut the door.

Mammy edged herself stealthily to a chair beside the door and sank into it wearily, her shapeless body overflowing it. She sat still, weeping silently and praying. Now and then she lifted the hem of her dress and wiped her eyes. Strain her ears as hard as she might, she could hear no words from the room, only a low broken humming sound.

Alter an interminable period, the door cracked open and Melly’s face white and strained, appeared.

“Bring me a pot of coffee, quickly, and some sandwiches.”

When the devil drove, Mammy could be as swift as a lithe black sixteen-year-old and her curiosity to get into Rhett’s room made her work faster. But her hope turned to disappointment when Melly merely opened the door a crack and took the tray. For a long time Mammy strained her sharp ears but she could distinguish nothing except the clatter of silver on china, and the muffled soft tones of Melanie’s voice. Then she heard the creaking of the bed as a heavy body fell upon it and, soon after, the sound of boots dropping to the floor. After an interval, Melanie appeared in the doorway but, strive though she might, Mammy could not see past her into the room. Melanie looked tired and there were tears glistening on her lashes but her face was serene again.

“Go tell Miss Scarlett that Captain Butler is quite willing for the funeral to take place tomorrow morning,” she whispered.

“Bress Gawd!” ejaculated Mammy. “How on uth —”

“Don’t talk so loud. He’s going to sleep. And, Mammy, tell Miss Scarlett, too, that I’ll be here all night and you bring me some coffee. Bring it here.”

“Ter disyere room?”

“Yes, I promised Captain Butler that if he would go to sleep I would sit up by her all night. Now go tell Miss Scarlett, so she won’t worry any more.”

Mammy started off down the hall, her weight shaking the floor, her relieved heart singing “Halleluja! Hallelujah!” She paused thoughtfully outside of Scarlett’s door, her mind in a ferment of thankfulness and curiosity.

“How Miss Melley done it beyon’ me. De angels fight on her side, Ah specs. Ah’ll tell Miss Scarlett de fune’l termorrer but Ah specs Ah better keep hid dat Miss Melly settin’ up wid Lil Miss. Miss Scarlett ain’ gwine lak dat a-tall.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09