"Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell [selection]
"You are deserting me?"
"Don't be the neglected, dramatic wife, Scarlett. The role isn't becoming. I take it, then, you do not want a divorce or even a separation? Well, then, I'll come back often enough to keep gossip down."
"Damn gossip!" she said fiercely. "It's you I want. Take me with you!"
"No," he said, and there was finality in his voice. For a moment she was on the verge of an outburst of childish wild tears. She could have thrown herself on the floor, cursed and screamed and drummed her heels. But some remnant of pride, of common sense stiffened her. She thought, if I did, he'd only laugh, or just look at me. I mustn't bawl; I mustn't beg. I mustn't do anything to risk his contempt. He must respect me even--even if he doesn't love me.
She lifted her chin and managed to ask quietly:
"Where will you go?"
There was a faint gleam of admiration in his eyes as he answered.
"Perhaps to England--or to Paris. Perhaps to Charleston to try to make peace with my people."
"But you hate them! I've heard you laugh at them so often and--"
"I still laugh--but I've reached the end of roaming, Scarlett. I'm forty-five--the age when a man begins to value some of the things he's thrown away so lightly in youth, the clannishness of families, honor and security, roots that go deep-- Oh, no! I'm not recanting, I'm not regretting anything I've ever done. I've had a hell of a good time--such a hell of a good time that it's begun to pall and now I want something different. No, I never intend to change more than my spots. But I want the outer semblance of the things I used to know, the utter boredom of respectability--other people's respectability, my pet, not my own--the calm dignity life can have when it's lived by gentle folks, the genial grace of days that are gone. When I lived those days I didn't realize the slow charm of them--"
Again Scarlett was back in the windy orchard of Tara and there was the same look in Rhett's eyes that had been in Ashley's eyes that day. Ashley's words were as clear in her ears as though he and not Rhett were speaking. Fragments of words came back to her and she quoted parrot-like: "A glamor to it--a perfection, a symmetry like Grecian art."
Rhett said sharply: "Why did you say that? That's what I meant."
"It was something that--that Ashley said once, about the old days."
He shrugged and the light went out of his eyes.
"Always Ashley," he said and was silent for a moment.
"Scarlett, when you are forty-five, perhaps you will know what I'm talking about and then perhaps you, too, will be tired of imitation gentry and shoddy manners and cheap emotions. But I doubt it. I think you'll always be more attracted by glister than by gold. Anyway, I can't wait that long to see. And I have no desire to wait. It just doesn't interest me. I'm going to hunt in old towns and old countries where some of the old times must still linger. I'm that sentimental. Atlanta's too raw for me, too new."
"Stop," she said suddenly. She had hardly heard anything he had said. Certainly her mind had not taken it in. But she knew she could no longer endure with any fortitude the sound of his voice when there was no love in it.
He paused and looked at her quizzically.
"Well, you get my meaning, don't you?" he questioned, rising to his feet.
She threw out her hands to him, palms up, in the age-old gesture of appeal and her heart, again, was in her face.
"No," she cried. "All I know is that you do not love me and you are going away! Oh, my darling, if you go, what shall I do?"
For a moment he hesitated as if debating whether a kind lie were kinder in the long run than the truth. Then he shrugged.
"Scarlett, I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken--and I'd rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived. Perhaps, if I were younger--" he sighed. "But I'm too old to believe in such sentimentalities as clean slates and starting all over. I'm too old to shoulder the burden of constant lies that go with living in polite disillusionment. I couldn't live with you and lie to you and I certainly couldn't lie to myself. I can't even lie to you now. I wish I could care what you do or where you go, but I can't."
He drew a short breath and said lightly but softly:
"My dear, I don't give a damn."
* * * * *
She silently watched him go up the stairs, feeling that she would strangle at the pain in her throat. With the sound of his feet dying away in the upper hall was dying the last thing in the world that mattered. She knew now that there was no appeal of emotion or reason which would turn that cool brain from its verdict. She knew now that he had meant every word he said, lightly though some of them had been spoken. She knew because she sensed in him something strong, unyielding, implacable--all the qualities she had looked for in Ashley and never found.
She had never understood either of the men she had loved and so she had lost them both. Now, she had a fumbling knowledge that, had she ever understood Ashley, she would never have loved him; had she ever understood Rhett, she would never have lost him. She wondered forlornly if she had ever really understood anyone in the world.
There was a merciful dullness in her mind now, a dullness that she knew from long experience would soon give way to sharp pain, even as severed tissues, shocked by the surgeon's knife, have a brief instant of insensibility before their agony begins.
"I won't think of it now," she thought grimly, summoning up her old charm. "I'll go crazy if I think about losing him now. I'll think of it tomorrow."
"But," cried her heart, casting aside the charm and beginning to ache, "I can't let him go! There must be some way!"
"I won't think of it now," she said again, aloud, trying to push her misery to the back of her mind, trying to find some bulwark against the rising tide of pain. "I'll--why, I'll go home to Tara tomorrow," and her spirits lifted faintly.
She had gone back to Tara once in fear and defeat and she had emerged from its sheltering walls strong and armed for victory. What she had done once, somehow--please God, she could do again! How, she did not know. She did not want to think of that now. All she wanted was a breathing space in which to hurt, a quiet place to lick her wounds, a haven in which to plan her campaign. She thought of Tara and it was as if a gentle cool hand were stealing over her heart. She could see the white house gleaming welcome to her through the reddening autumn leaves, feel the quiet hush of the country twilight coming down over her like a benediction, feel the dews falling on the acres of green bushes starred with fleecy white, see the raw color of the red earth and the dismal dark beauty of the pines on the rolling hills.
She felt vaguely comforted, strengthened by the picture, and some of her hurt and frantic regret was pushed from the top of her mind. She stood for a moment remembering small things, the avenue of dark cedars leading to Tara, the banks of cape jessamine bushes, vivid green against the white walls, the fluttering white curtains. And Mammy would be there. Suddenly she wanted Mammy desperately, as she had wanted her when she was a little girl, wanted the broad bosom on which to lay her head, the gnarled black hand on her hair. Mammy, the last link with the old days.
With the spirit of her people who would not know defeat, even when it stared them in the face, she raised her chin. She could get Rhett back. She knew she could. There had never been a man she couldn't get, once she set her mind upon him.
"I'll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."