Lost in the Dark
This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.
Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler stood alone, a few steps away from the other mourners at Melanie Wilkes’ burial. It was raining, and the black-clad men and women held black umbrellas over their heads. They leaned on one another, the women weeping, sharing shelter and grief.
Scarlett shared her umbrella with no one, nor her grief. The gusts of wind within the rain blew stinging cold wet rivulets under the umbrella, down her neck, but she was unaware of them. She felt nothing, she was numbed by loss. She would mourn later, when she could stand the pain. She held it away from her, all pain, all feeling, all thinking. Except for the words that repeated again and again in her mind, the words that promised healing from the pain to come and strength to survive until she was healed.
This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.
“. . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . .”
The minister’s voice penetrated the shell of numbness, the words registered. No! Scarlett cried silently. Not Melly. That’s not Melly’s grave, it’s too big, she’s so tiny, her bones no bigger than a bird’s. No! She can’t be dead, she can’t be.
Scarlett’s head jerked to one side, denying the open grave, the plain pine box being lowered into it. There were small half circle sunk into the soft wood, marks of the hammers that had driven the nails to close the lid above Melanie’s gentle, loving, heart-shape face.
No! You can’t, you mustn’t do this, it’s raining, you can’t put her there where the rain will fall on her. She feels the cold so, she mustn’t be left in the cold rain. I can’t watch, I can’t bear it, I won’t believe she’s gone. She loves me, she is my friend, my only true friend. Melly loves me, she wouldn’t leave me now just when I need her most.
Scarlett looked at the people surrounding the grave, and anger surged through her. None of them care as much as I do, nor of them have lost as much as I have. No one knows how much I love her. Melly knows, though, doesn’t she? She knows, I’ve got to believe she knows.
They’ll never believe it, though. Not Mrs. Merriwether, or the Meades or the Whitings or the Elsings. Look at them, bunched around India Wilkes and Ashley, like a flock of wet crows in mourning clothes. They’re comforting Aunt Pittypat, all right, though everybody knows she takes on and cries her eyes out over every little thing, down to a piece of toast that gets burnt. It wouldn’t enter their heads that maybe I might be needing some comforting, I was closer to Melanie than any of them. They act as if I wasn’t even here. Nobody has paid any attention to me at all. Not even Ashley. He knew I was there those awful two days after Melly died, when he needed me to manage things. They all did, even India, bleating like a goat. What shall we do about the funeral, Scarlett? About the food for the callers? About the coffin? The pallbearers? The cemetery plot? The inscription on the headstone? The notice in the paper? Now they’re leaning all over each other, weeping and wailing. Well, I won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry all by myself wit nobody to lean on. I mustn’t cry. Not here. Not yet. If I start, I might never be able to stop. When I get to Tara, I can cry.
Scarlett lifted her chin, her teeth clenched to stop their chattering from the cold, to hold back the choking in her throat. This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.
The jagged pieces of Scarlett’s shattered life were all around there in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. A tall spire of granite, gray stone streaked with gray rain, was somber memorial to the world that was gone forever, the carefree world of her youth before the War. It was the Confederate Memorial, symbol of the proud, heedless courage that had plunged the South with bright banners flying into destruction. It stood for so many lives lost, the friends of her childhood, the gallants who had begged for waltzes and kisses in the days when she had no problems greater than which wide-skirted ballgown to wear. It stood for her first husband, Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s brother. It stood for the sons, brothers, husbands, fathers of all the rain-wet mourners on the small knoll where Melanie was being buried.
There were other graves, other markers. Frank Kennedy, Scarlett’s second husband. And the small, terribly small, grave with the headstone that read EUGENIE VICTORIA BUTLER, and under it BONNIE. Her last child, and the most loved.
The living, as well as the dead, were all round her, but she stood apart. Half of Atlanta was there, it seemed. The crowd had overflowed the church and now it spread in a wide, uneven dark circle around the bitter slash of color in the gray rain, the open grave dug from Georgia’s red clay for the body of Melanie Wilkes.
The front row of mourners held those who’d been closest to her. White and black, their faces all streaked with tears, except Scarlett’s. The old coachman Uncle Peter stood with Dilcey and Cookie in a protective black triangle around Beau, Melanie’s bewildered little boy.
The older generation of Atlanta were there, with the tragically few descendants that remained to them. The Meades, the Whitings, the Merriwethers, the Elsings, their daughters and sons-in-law, Hugh Elsing the only living son; Aunt Pittypat Hamilton and her brother, Uncle Henry Hamilton, their ages-old feud forgotten in mutual grief for their niece. Younger, but looking as old as the others, India Wilkes sheltered herself within the group and watched her brother, Ashley, from grief- and guilt-shadowed eyes. He stood alone, like Scarlett. He was bare-headed in the rain, unaware of the proffered shelter of umbrellas, unconscious of the cold wetness, unable to accept the finality of the minister’s words or the narrow coffin being lowered into the muddy red grave.
Ashley. Tall and thin and colorless, his pale gilt hair now almost gray, his pale stricken face as empty as his staring, unseeing gray eyes. He stood erect, his stance a salute, the inheritance of his ears as a gray-uniformed officer. He stood motionless, without sensation or comprehension.
Ashley. He was the center and the symbol of Scarlett’s ruined life. For love of him she’d ignored the happiness that had been hers for the taking. She’d turned her back on her husband, not seeing his love for her, not admitting her love for him, because wanting Ashley was always in the way. And now Rhett was gone, his only presence here a spray of warm golden autumn flowers among all the others. She’d betrayed her only friend, scorned Melanie’s stubborn loyalty and love. And now Melanie was gone. And even Scarlett’s love for Ashley was gone, for she’d realized—too late—that the habit of loving him had long since replaced love itself.
She did not love him, and she never would again. But now, when she didn’t want him, Ashley was hers, her legacy from Melanie. She had promised Melly she’d take care of him and of Beau, their child.
Ashley was the cause of her life’s destruction. And the only thing left to her from it.
Scarlett stood apart and alone. There was only cold gray space between her and the people she knew in Atlanta, space that once Melanie had filled, keeping her from isolation and ostracism. There was only the cold wet wind beneath the umbrella in the place where Rhett should have been to shelter her with his strong broad shoulders and his love.
She held her chin high, into the wind, accepting its assault without feeling it. All her senses were concentrated on the words that were her strength and her hope.
This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.
“Look at her,” whispered a black-veiled lady to the companion sharing her umbrella. “Hard as nails. I heard that the whole time she was handling the funeral arrangements, she didn’t even shed a tear. All business, that’s Scarlett. And no heart at all.”
“You know what folks say,” was the answering whisper. “She has heart aplenty for Ashley Wilkes. Do you think they really did—”
The people nearby hushed them, but they were thinking the same thing. Everyone was.
The awful hollow thud of earth on wood made Scarlett clench her fists. She wanted to clap her hands over her ears, to scream, to shout anything to shut out the terrible sound of the grave closing over Melanie. Her teeth closed painfully on her lip. She wouldn’t scream, she wouldn’t.
The cry that shattered the solemnity was Ashley’s. “Melly . . . Mell—eee!” And again, “Mell—eee.” It was the cry of a soul in torment, filled with loneliness and fear.
He stumbled towards the deep muddy pit like a man newly struck blind, his hands searching for the small, quiet creature who was all his strength. But there was nothing to hold, only the streaming silver streaks of cold rain.
Scarlett looked at Dr. Meade, India, Henry Hamilton. Why don’t they do something? Why don’t they stop him? He’s got to be stopped!
“Mell—eee . . .”
For the love of God! He’s going to break his neck, and they’re all just standing there watching, gawping at him teetering on the edge of the grave.
“Ashley, stop!” she shouted. “Ashley!” She began to run, slipping and sliding on the wet grass. The umbrella she had thrown aside scudded across the ground, pushed by the wind until it was trapped in the mounds of flowers. She grabbed Ashley around the waist, tried to pull him away from the danger. He fought her.
“Ashley, don’t!” Scarlett struggled against his strength. “Melly can’t help you now.” Her voice was harsh, to cut through Ashley’s unhearing, demented grief.
He halted, and his arms dropped to his sides. He moaned softly, and then his whole body crumpled in Scarlett’s supporting arms. Just when her grasp was breaking from the weight of him, Dr. Meade and India caught Ashley’s limp arms to lift him erect.
“You can go now, Scarlett,” said Dr. Meade. “There’s no more damage left for you to do.”
“But, I—” She looked at the faces around her, the eyes avid for more sensation. Then she turned and walked away through the rain. The crowd drew back as if a brush of her skirts might soil them.
They must not know that she cared, she wouldn’t let them see that they could hurt her. Scarlett raised her chin defiantly, letting the rain pour down over her face and neck. Her back was straight, her shoulders square until she reached the gates of the cemetery and was out of sight. Then she grabbed one of the iron pilings. She felt dizzy from exhaustion, unsteady on her feet.
Her coachman Elias ran to her, opening his umbrella to above her bent head. Scarlett walked to her carriage, ignoring the hand held out to help her. Inside the plush-upholstered box, she sank into a corner and pulled up the woolen lap robe. She was chilled to the bone, horrified by what she had done. How could she have shamed Ashley like that in front of everybody, when only a few nights ago she had promised Melanie that she would take care of him, protect him as Melly had always done? But what else could she have done? Let him throw himself into the grave? She had to stop him.
The carriage jolted from side to side, its high wheels sinking into the deep ruts of clay mud. Scarlett nearly fell to the floor. Her elbow hit the window frame, and a sharp pain ran up and down her arm.
It was only physical pain, she could stand that. It was the other pain—the postponed, delayed, denied shadowy pain—that she couldn’t bear. Not yet, not here, not when she was all alone. She had to get to Tara, she had to. Mammy was there. Mammy would put her brown arms around her, Mammy would hold her close, cradle her head on the breast where she’d sobbed out all her childhood hurts. She could cry in Mammy’s arms, cry herself empty of pain; she could rest her head on Mammy’s breast, rest her wounded heart on Mammy’s love. Mammy would hold her and love her, would share her pain and help her bear it.
“Hurry, Elias,” said Scarlett, “hurry.”
“Help me out of these wet things, Pansy,” Scarlett ordered her maid. “Hurry.” Her face was ghostly pale, it made her green eyes look darker, brighter, more frightening. The young black girl was clumsy with nervousness. “Hurry, I said. If you make me miss my train, I’ll take a strap to you.”
She couldn’t do it, Pansy knew she couldn’t do it. The slavery days were over, Miss Scarlett didn’t own her, she could quit any time she wanted to. But the desperate, feverish glint in Scarlett’s green eyes made Pansy doubt her own knowledge. Scarlett looked capable of anything.