She had wanted him, in that first instant, wanted him as simply and unreasoningly as
she wanted food to eat, horses to ride and a soft bed on which to lay herself.
For two years he had squired her about the County, to balls, fish fries, picnics and
court days, never so often as the Tarleton twins or Cade Calvert, never so importunate as
the younger Fontaine boys, but, still, never the week went by that Ashley did not come
calling at Tara.
True, he never made love to her, nor did the clear gray eyes ever glow with that hot
light Scarlett knew so well in other men. And yet-and yet-she knew he loved her. She
could not be mistaken about it. Instinct stronger than reason and knowledge born of
experience told her that he loved her. Too often she had surprised him when his eyes were
neither drowsy nor remote, when he looked at her with a yearning and a sadness which
puzzled her. She knew he loved her. Why did he not tell her so? That she could not
understand. But there were so many things about him that she did not understand.
He was courteous always, but aloof, remote. No one could ever tell what he was thinking
about, Scarlett least of all. In a neighborhood where everyone said exactly what he
thought as soon as he thought it, Ashley's quality of reserve was exasperating. He was as
proficient as any of the other young men in the usual County diversions, hunting,
gambling, dancing and politics, and was the best rider of them all; but he differed from
all the rest in that these pleasant activities were not the end and aim of life to him.
And he stood alone in his interest in books and music and his fondness for writing poetry.
Oh, why was he so handsomely blond, so courteously aloof, so maddeningly boring with
his talk about Europe and books and music and poetry and things that interested her not
at all-and yet so desirable? Night after night, when Scarlett went to bed after sitting
on the front porch in the semi-darkness with him, she tossed restlessly for hours and
comforted herself only with the thought that the very next time he saw her he certainly
would propose. But the next time came and went, and the result was nothing-nothing except
that the fever possessing her rose higher and hotter.
She loved him and she wanted him and she did not understand him. She was as forthright
and simple as the winds that blew over Tara and the yellow river that wound about it, and
to the end of her days she would never be able to understand a complexity. And now, for
the first time in her life, she was facing a complex nature.
For Ashley was born of a line of men who used their leisure for thinking, not doing,
for spinning brightly colored dreams that had in them no touch of reality. He moved in an
inner world that was more beautiful than Georgia and came back to reality with
reluctance. He looked on people, and he neither liked nor disliked them. He looked on
life and was neither heartened nor saddened. He accepted the universe and his place in it
for what they were and, shrugging, turned to his music and books and his better world.
Why he should have captivated Scarlett when his mind was a stranger to hers she did not
know. The very mystery of him excited her curiosity like a door that had neither lock nor
key. The things about him which she could not understand only made her love him more, and
his odd, restrained courtship only served to increase her determination to have him for
her own. That he would propose some day she had never doubted, for she was too young and
too spoiled ever to have known defeat. And now, like a thunderclap, had come this
horrible news. Ashley to marry Melanie! It couldn't be true!
Why, only last week, when they were riding home at twilight from Fairhill, he had said:
"Scarlett, I have something so important to tell you that I hardly know how to say it."
She had cast down her eyes demurely, her heart beating with wild pleasure, thinking the
happy moment had come. Then he had said: "Not now! We're nearly home and there isn't
time. Oh, Scarlett, what a coward I am!" And putting spurs to his horse, he had raced her
up the hill to Tara.
Scarlett, sitting on the stump, thought of those words which had made her so happy, and
suddenly they took on another meaning, a hideous meaning. Suppose it was the news of his
engagement he had intended to tell her!
Oh, if Pa would only come home! She could not endure the suspense another moment She
looked impatiently down the road again, and again she was disappointed. The sun was now
below the horizon and the red glow at the rim of the world faded into pink. The sky above
turned slowly from azure to the delicate blue-green of a robin's egg, and the unearthly
stillness of rural twilight came stealthily down about her. Shadowy dimness crept over
the countryside. The red furrows and the gashed red road lost their magical blood color
and became plain brown earth. Across the road, in the pasture, the horses, mules and cows
stood quietly with heads over the split-rail fence, waiting to be driven to the stables
and supper. They did not like the dark shade of the thickets hedging the pasture creek,
and they twitched their ears at Scarlett as if appreciative of human companionship.
In the strange half-light, the tall pines of the river swamp, so warmly green in the
sunshine, were black against the pastel sky, an impenetrable row of black giants hiding
the slow yellow water at their feet. On the hill across the river, the tall white
chimneys of the Wilkes, home faded gradually into the darkness of the thick oaks
surrounding them, and only far-off pin points of supper lamps showed that a house was
here. The warm damp balminess of spring encompassed her sweetly with the moist smells of
new-plowed earth and all the fresh green things pushing up to the air.
Sunset and spring and new-fledged greenery were no miracle to Scarlett. Their beauty
she accepted as casually as the air she breathed and the water she drank, for she had
never consciously seen beauty in anything bat women's faces, horses, silk dresses and
like tangible things. Yet the serene half-light over Tara's well-kept acres brought a
measure of quiet to her disturbed mind. She loved this land so much, without even knowing
she loved it, loved it as she loved her mother's face under the lamp at prayer time.
Still there was no sign of Gerald on the quiet winding road. If she had to wait much
longer, Mammy would certainly come in search of her and bully her into the house. But
even as she strained her eyes down the darkening road, she heard a pounding of hooves at
the bottom of the pasture hill and saw the horses and cows scatter in fright. Gerald
O'Hara was coming home across country and at top speed.
He came up the hill at a gallop on his thick-barreled, long-legged hunter, appearing in
the distance like a boy on a too large horse. His long white hair standing out behind
him, he urged the horse forward with crop and loud cries.
Filled with her own anxieties, she nevertheless watched him with affectionate pride,
for Gerald was an excellent horseman.
"I wonder why he always wants to jump fences when he's had a few drinks," she thought.
"And after that fall he had right here last year when he broke his knee. You'd think he'd
learn. Especially when he promised Mother on oath he'd never jump again."
Scarlett had no awe of her father and felt him more her contemporary than her sisters,
for jumping fences and keeping it a secret from his wife gave him a boyish pride and
guilty glee that matched her own pleasure in outwitting Mammy. She rose from her seat to
The big horse reached the fence, gathered himself and soared over as effortlessly as a
bird, his rider yelling enthusiastically, his crop beating the air, his white curls
jerking out behind him. Gerald did not see his daughter in the shadow of the trees, and
he drew rein in the road, patting his horse's neck with approbation.
"There's none in the County can touch you, nor in the state," he informed his mount,
with pride, the brogue of County Meath still heavy on his tongue in spite of thirty-nine
years in America. Then he hastily set about smoothing his hair and settling his ruffled