فصل 05

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فصل 05

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Chapter five

Heroes

The autumn of 1862 went quickly for Scarlett, with nursing, parties and visits to Tara. The visits to Tara were disappointing, because Ellen worked from morning until night, and Gerald was busy because he could not get a manager to take Jonas Wilkerson’s place. Suellen was waiting for the war to end so that she could marry Frank Kennedy, and Careen dreamed about Brent Tarleton. So Scarlett was never sorry to return from Tara to Atlanta.

There were many things she did not tell Ellen, but her biggest secret was that Rhett Butler called at Aunt Pittypat’s house whenever he was in town. Scarlett went riding with him in his carriage, and he took her to dances and sales. She looked forward to his visits because there was something exciting about him, something different from any other man she knew. ‘It’s as if I’m in love with him!’ she thought. ‘But I’m not.’

He sat and listened to Melanie for hours as she talked about Ashley and how proud she was of him. ‘But I only have to say Ashley’s name and he smiles nastily at me!’ thought Scarlett.

‘Why are you nicer to Melanie than to me?’ she asked him one day. ‘I’m much prettier than she is.’

‘Dare I hope that you’re jealous?’ he said, smiling.

‘Don’t be silly!’ she said.

‘Another hope gone! If I am “nicer” to Mrs Wilkes, it’s because she is one of the very few kind and unselfish people I know. And, although she is still young, she is one of the few great ladies I have been lucky enough to meet.’

‘Don’t you think I’m a great lady, too?’ said Scarlett.

‘My dear, I think we agreed when we first met that you were no lady at all,’ said Rhett.

‘Oh, you rude, horrible man, reminding me of that again!’ she said. But he only laughed at her.

The older men and women in Atlanta did not like Rhett, but they agreed that he was brave. But when they told him this, he replied that he was as frightened as the ‘brave boys’ who were fighting. This annoyed them because everyone knew there wasn’t a cowardly Confederate soldier anywhere. He always said ‘our brave boys’ or ‘our heroes in grey’, but made it sound like an insult. And when young ladies thanked him for being one of the heroes who fought for them, he smiled and said that he would do the same thing for Yankee women if the Yankees paid him enough money.

At an evening of music at Mrs Elsing’s home, Rhett was talking with a group of men when Scarlett heard an angry voice arguing with him, ‘Are you saying, sir, that the Cause for which our heroes are dying is not sacred?’

‘All wars are sacred to those who have to fight them,’ replied Rhett, in a bored and lazy voice. ‘If the people who started wars didn’t pretend they were sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? No, it’s money that wars are really fought about, but few people realize it. Their ears are too full of fine words from stay-at-home speakers.’

And before Scarlett could reach him, he was leaving.

‘Let him go,’ said Mrs Elsing, holding her arm. ‘He’s not one of us. He’s a snake-in-the-grass who we were foolish enough to invite into our homes!’

Later, Mrs Merriwether rode home in Aunt Pitty’s carriage, and immediately said what she thought. ‘He insulted us all and the Confederacy, too,’ she said. ‘Saying that we were fighting for money! Saying that our leaders have lied to us! Pitty, you must never let that man into your house again!’ She turned to Scarlett and Melanie. ‘And I don’t want to hear you two girls speaking to him again - Melanie, what’s the matter?’

Melanie was white and her eyes were wide open. ‘I will speak to him again,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I will not be rude to him. I will not tell him to stay away from the house.’

Mrs Merriwether’s mouth fell open, and Aunt Pitty’s did the same. Uncle Peter turned to stare.

‘Now why didn’t I say that?’ thought Scarlett.

Melanie’s hands were shaking but she went on quickly. ‘I won’t be rude to him because of what he said, because it’s - it’s what Ashley thinks.’

‘Melanie Hamilton, that’s a lie!’ said Mrs Merriwether. ‘There was never a Wilkes who was a coward-‘

‘I never said Ashley was a coward,’ said Melanie. ‘I said he thinks what Captain Butler thinks, and he does. But he says it differently. In his letters, Ashley says we should not be fighting the Yankees. He says war isn’t wonderful or sacred or any of those things, it’s just dirty and useless and a terrible waste of men’s lives.’

Scarlett said nothing. She was shocked to realize anyone as perfect as Ashley could think the same as a man like Rhett Butler. ‘They both understand what is true about the war,’ she thought, ‘but Ashley will fight and die for it and Rhett won’t. I think that shows Rhett is sensible.’

It was all very confusing.

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