Gerald helped his wife into the carriage and gave orders to the coachman to drive
carefully. Toby, who had handled Gerald's horses for twenty years, pushed out his lips in
mute indignation at being told how to conduct his own business. Driving off, with Mammy
beside him, each was a perfect picture of pouting African disapproval.
"If I didn't do so much for those trashy Slatterys that they'd have to pay money for
elsewhere," fumed Gerald, "they'd be willing to sell me their miserable few acres of
swamp bottom, and the County would be well rid of them." Then, brightening, in
anticipation of one of his practical jokes: "Come daughter, let's go tell Pork that
instead of buying Dilcey, I've sold him to John Wilkes."
He tossed the reins of his horse to a small pickaninny standing near and started up the
steps. He had already forgotten Scarlett's heartbreak and his mind was only on plaguing
his valet. Scarlett slowly climbed the steps after him, her feet leaden. She thought
that, after all, a mating between herself and Ashley could be no queerer than that of her
father and Ellen Robillard O'Hara. As always, she wondered how her loud, insensitive
father had managed to marry a woman like her mother, for never were two people further
apart in birth, breeding and habits of mind.
ELLEN O'HARA was thirty-two years old, and, according to the standards of her day, she
was a middle-aged woman, one who had borne six children and buried three. She was a tall
woman, standing a head higher than her fiery little husband, but she moved with such
quiet grace in her swaying hoops that the height attracted no attention to itself. Her
neck, rising from the black taffeta sheath of her basque, was creamy-skinned, rounded and
slender, and it seemed always tilted slightly backward by the weight of her luxuriant
hair in its net at the back of her head. From her French mother, whose parents had fled
Haiti in the Revolution of 1791, had come her slanting dark eyes, shadowed by inky
lashes, and her black hair; and from her father, a soldier of Napoleon, she had her long
straight nose and her square-cut jaw that was softened by the gentle curving of her
cheeks. But only from life could Ellen's face have acquired its look of pride that had no
haughtiness, its graciousness, its melancholy and its utter lack of humor.
She would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes,
any responsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle
melody on the ears of her family and her servants. She spoke in the soft slurring voice
of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants and with the barest trace
of French accent. It was a voice never raised in command to a servant or reproof to a
child but a voice that was obeyed instantly at Tara, where her husband's blustering and
roaring were quietly disregarded.
As far back as Scarlett could remember, her mother had always been the same, her voice
soft and sweet whether in praising or in reproving, her manner efficient and unruffled
despite the daily emergencies of Gerald's turbulent household, her spirit always calm and
her back unbowed, even in the deaths of her three baby sons. Scarlett had never seen her
mother's back touch the back of any chair on which she sat. Nor had she ever seen her sit
down without a bit of needlework in her hands, except at mealtime, while attending the
sick or while working at the bookkeeping of the plantation. It was delicate embroidery if
company were present, but at other times her hands were occupied with Gerald's ruffled
shirts, the girls' dresses or garments for the slaves. Scarlett could not imagine her
mother's hands without her gold thimble or her rustling figure unaccompanied by the small
negro girl whose sole function in life was to remove basting threads and carry the
rosewood sewing box from room to room, as Ellen moved about the house superintending the
cooking, the cleaning and the wholesale clothes-making for the plantation.
She had never seen her mother stirred from her austere placidity, nor her personal
appointments anything but perfect, no matter what the hour of day or night. When Ellen
was dressing for a ball or for guests or even to go to Jonesboro for Court Day, it
frequently required two hours, two maids and Mammy to turn her out to her own
satisfaction; but her swift toilets in times of emergency were amazing.
Scarlett, whose room lay across the hall from her mother's, knew from babyhood the soft
sound of scurrying bare black feet on the hardwood floor in the hours of dawn, the urgent
tappings on her mother's door, and the muffled, frightened negro voices that whispered of
sickness and birth and death in the long row of whitewashed cabins in the quarters. As a
child, she often had crept to the door and, peeping through the tiniest crack, had seen
Ellen emerge from the dark room, where Gerald's snores were rhythmic and untroubled, into
the flickering light of an upheld candle, her medicine case under her arm, her hair
smoothed neatly place, and no button on her basque unlooped.
It had always been so soothing to Scarlett to hear her mother whisper, firmly but
compassionately, as she tiptoed down the hall: "Hush, not so loudly. You will wake Mr.
O'Hara. They are not sick enough to die."
Yes, it was good to creep back into bed and know that Ellen was abroad in the night and
everything was right.
In the mornings, after all-night sessions at births and deaths, when old Dr. Fontaine
and young Dr. Fontaine were both out on calls and could not be found to help her, Ellen
presided at the breakfast table as usual, her dark eyes circled with weariness but her
voice and manner revealing none of the strain. There was a steely quality under her
stately gentleness that awed the whole household, Gerald as well as the girls, though he
would have died rather than admit it.
Sometimes when Scarlett tiptoed at night to kiss her tall mother's cheek, she looked up
at the mouth with its too short, too tender upper lip, a mouth too easily hurt by the
world, and wondered if it had ever curved in silly girlish giggling or whispered secrets
through long nights to intimate girl friends. But no, that wasn't possible. Mother had
always been just as she was, a pillar of strength, a fount of wisdom, the one person who
knew the answers to everything.
But Scarlett was wrong, for, years before, Ellen Robillard of Savannah had giggled as
inexplicably as any fifteen-year-old in that charming coastal city and whispered the long
nights through with friends, exchanging confidences, telling all secrets but one. That
was the year when Gerald O'Hara, twenty-eight years older than she, came into her
life-the year, too, when youth and her black-eyed cousin, Philippe Robillard, went out of
it. For when Philippe, with his snapping eyes and his wild ways, left Savannah forever,
he took with him the glow that was in Ellen's heart and left for the bandy-legged little
Irishman who married her only a gentle shell.
But that was enough for Gerald, overwhelmed at his unbelievable luck in actually
marrying her. And if anything was gone from her, he never missed it. Shrewd man that he
was, he knew that it was no less than a miracle that he, an Irishman with nothing of
family and wealth to recommend him, should win the daughter of one of the wealthiest and
proudest families on the Coast. For Gerald was a self-made man.
Gerald had come to America from Ireland when he was twenty-one. He had come hastily, as
many a better and worse Irishman before and since, with the clothes he had on his back,
two shillings above his passage money and a price on his head that he felt was larger
than his misdeed warranted. There was no Orangeman this side of hell worth a hundred
pounds to the British government or to the devil himself; but if the government felt so