They noticed for the first time how her green eyes danced, how deep her dimples were when she laughed, how tiny her hands and feet and what a small waist she had. Their clever remarks sent her into merry peals of laughter and, inspired by the thought that she considered them a remarkable pair, they fairly outdid themselves.
It was a memorable day in the life of the twins. Thereafter, when they talked it over, they always wondered just why they had failed to notice Scarlett's charms before.
They never arrived at the correct answer, which was the Scarlett on that day had decided to make them notice.
She was constituationally unable to endure any man being in love with any woman not herself, and the sight of India Wilkes and Stuart at the speaking had been too much for her predatory nature.
Not content with Stuart alone, she had set her cap for Brent as well, and with a thoroughness that overwhelmed the two of them.
Now they were both in love with her, and India Wilkes and Letty Munroe, from Lovejoy, whom Brent had been half-heartedly courting, were far in the back of their minds. Just what the loser would do, should do if Scarlett accepted either one of them, the twins did not ask.
They would cross that bridge when they came to it. For the present they were quite satisfied to be in accord again about one girl, for they had no jealousies between them. It was a situation which interested the neighbors and annoyed their mother, who had no liking for Scarlett.
"It will serve you right if that sly piece does accept one of you," she said. "Or maybe she'll accept both of you, and then you'll have to move to Utah, if the Mormons'll have you--which I doubt...All that
bothers me is that some one of theses days you're both going to get lickered up and jealous of each other about the two-faced, little, green-eyes baggage, and you'll shoot each other. But that might not be a bad idea either."
Since the day of the speaking, Stuart had been uncomfortable in India's presence. Not that India ever reproached him or even indicated by look or gesture that she was aware of his abruptly chnaged allegiance.
She was too much of a lady. But Stuart felt guilty and ill at ease with her. He knew he had made India love him and he knew that she still loved him and, deep in his heart, he had the feeling that he had not played the gentleman.
He still liked her tremendously and respected her for her cool good breeding, her book learning and all the sterling qualities she possessed.
But, damn it, she was just so pallid and uninteresting and always the same, beside Scarlett's bright and changeable charm. You always knew where you stood with India and you never had the slightest notion with Scarlett.
That was enough to drive a man to distraction, but it had its charm.
"Well, let's go over to Cade Calvert's and have supper. Scarlett said Cathleen was home from Charleston.
Maybe she'll have some news about Fort Sumter that we haven't heard."
"Not Cathleen. I'll lay you two to one that she didn't even know the fort was out there in the harbor, much less that it was full of Yankees until we shelled them out.
All she'll know about is the balls she went to and the beaux she collected."
"Well, it's fun to hear her gabble. And it'll be somewhere to hide out till Ma has gone to bed."
"Well, hell! I like Cathleen and she is fun and I'd like to hear about Caro Rhett and the rest of the Charleston folks; but I'm damned if I can stand sitting through another meal with that Yankee stepmother of hers."
"Don't be too hard on her, Stuart. She means well."
"I'm not being hard on her. I feel sorry for her, but I don't like people I've got to feel sorry for.
And she fusses around so much, trying to do the right thing and make you feel at home, that she always manages to say and do just exactly the wrong thing.
She gives me the fidgets! And she thinks Southerners are wild barbarians. She even told Ma so. She's afraid of Southerners. Whenever we're there she always looks scared to death.
She reminds me of a skinny hen perched on a chair, her eyes kind of bright and blank and scared, all ready to flap and squawk at the slightest move anybody makes."
"Well, you can't blame he. You did shoot Cade in the leg."
"Well, I was lickered up or I wouldn't have done it," said Stuart. "And Cade never had any hard feelings.
Neither did Cathleen or Raiford or Mr. Calvert. It was just that Yankee stepmother who squalled and said I was a wild barbarian and decent people weren't safe around uncivilized Southerners."
"Well, you can't blame her. She's a Yankee and ain't got very goo manners; and, after all, you did shoot him and he is her stepson."
"Well, hell! That's no excuse for insulting me! You are Ma's own blood son, but did she take on that time Tony Fontaine shot you in the leg?
No, she just sent for old Doc Fontaine to dress it and asked the doctor what ailed Tony's aim. Said she guessed licker was spoiling his marksmanship. Remember how mad that made Tony?"
Both boys yelled with laughter.
"Ma's a card!" said Brent with loving approval. "You can always count on her to do the right thing and not embarrass you in front of folks."
"Yes, but she's mighty liable to talk embarrassing in front of Father and the girls when we get home tonight," said Stuart gloomily.
"Look, Brent. I guess this means we don't go to Europe. You know Mother said if we got expelled from another college we couldn't have our Grand Tour."
"Well, hell! We don't care, do we? What is there to see in Europe? I'll bet those foreigners can't show us a thing we haven't got right here in Georgia. I'll bet their horses aren't as fast or their girls as pretty, and I know damn well they haven't got any rye whiskey that can touch Father's."
"Ashley Wilkes said they had an awful lot of scenery an music. Ashley liked Europe. He's always talking about it."
"Well--you know how the Wilkes are. They are kind of queer about music and books and scenery. Mother says it's because their grandfather was from Virginia. She says that Virginians set quite a store by such things."
"They can have 'em. Give me a good horse to ride and some good licker to drink and a good girl to court and a bad girl to have fun with and anybody can have Europe...What do we care about missing the Tour?
Suppose we were in Europe now, with the war coming on? We couldn't get home soon enough. I'd heap rather go to war than go to Europe."
"So would I, any day...Look, Brent! I know where we can go for supper. Let's ride across the swamp to Abel Wynder's place and tell him we're all four home again and ready for drill."
"That's an idea!" cried Brent with enthusiasm. "And we can hear all the news of the Troop and find out what color they finally decided on for the uniforms."
"If it's Zouave, I'm damned if I'll go in the troops. I'd feel like a sissy in those baggy red pants. They look like ladies' red flannel drawers to me."
"Is y'all aimin' ter go ter Mist' Wyder's? 'Cause ef youis, you ain' gwine git much supper," said Jeems. "Dey cook done died, an' dey ain' bought a new one.
Dey got a fe'el han' cookin', an' de niggers tells me she is de wustest cook in de state."
"Good God! Why don't they buy another cook?"
"Huccome po' w'ite trash buy any niggers? Dey ain' never owned mo'n fo' at de mosters'."
There was frank contempt in Jeem's voice. His own social status was assured because the Tarletons owned a hundred negroes and, like all slaves of large planters, he looked down on small farmers whose slaves were few.
"I'm going to beat your hide off for that," cried Stuart fiercely. "Don't you call Abel Wynder 'po' w'ite trash.' Sure he's poor, but he ain't trash; and I'm damned if I'll have any man, darky or white, throwing off on him.
There ain't a better man in this County, or why else did the Troop elect him lieutenant?"
"Ah ain' never figgered dat out, mahself," replied Jeems, undisturbed by his master's scowl. "Look ter me lak dey'd 'lect all de awficers frum rich gempmum, 'stead of swamp trash."
"He ain't trash! Do you mean to compare him with real white trash like the Slatterys? Abel just ain't rich.
He's a small farmer, not a big planter, and if the boys thought enough of him to elect him lieutenant, then it's not for any darky to talk impudent about him. The Troop knows what it's doing."
The troop of cavalry had been organized three months before, the very day that Georgia seceded from the Union, and since then the recruits had been whistling for war.
The outfit was as yet unnamed, though not for want of suggestions. Everyone had his own idea on that subject and was loath to relinquish it, just as everyone had ideas about the color and cut of the uniforms.
"Clayton Wild Cats," "Fire Eaters," "North Georgia Hussars," "Zouaves," "The Inland Rifles" (although the Troop was to be armed with pistols, sabers and bowie knives, and not with rifles), "The Clayton Grays," "The Blood and Thunderers," "The Rough and Readys," all had their adherents.
Until matters were settled, everyone reffered to the organization as the Troop and, despite the high-sounding name finally adopted, they were known to the end of their usefulness simply as "The Troop."
The officers were elected by the members, for no one in the County had any military experience except a few veterans of the Mexican and Seminole wars and, besides, the Troop would have scorned a veteran as a leader if they had not personally liked him and trusted him.
Everyone liked the four Tarleton boys and the three Fontaines, but regretfully refused to elect them, because the Tarletons got lickered up too quickly and liked to skylark, and the Fontaines had such quick, murderous tempers.
Ashley Wilkes was elected captain, because he was the best rider in the County and because his cool head was counted on to keep some semblance of order.
Raiford Calvert was made first lieutenant, because everybody like Raif, and Abel Wynder, son of a swamp trapper, himself a small farmer, was elected second lieutenant.
Abel was a shrewd, gave giant, illiterate, kind of heart, older than the other boys and with as good or better manners in the presence of ladies. There was little snobbery in the Troop.
Too many of their fathers and grandfathers had come up to wealth from the small farmer class for that.
Moreover, Abel was the best shot in the Troop, a real sharpshooter who could pick out the eye of a squirrel at seventy-five yards, and too, he knew all about living outdoors, building fires in the rain, tracking animals and finding water.
The Troop bowed to real worth and moreover, because they liked him, they made him an officer.
He bore the honor gravely and with no untoward conceit, as though it were only his due. But the planters' ladies and the planters' slaves could not overlook the fact that he was not born a gentleman, even if their men folks could.
In the beginning, the Troop had been recrutied exclusively from the sons of planters, a gentleman's outfit, each man supplying his own horse, arms, equipment, uniform and body servant.
But rich planters were too few in the young county of Clayton, and, in order to muster a full-strength troop, it had been necessary to raise more recruits among the sons of small farmers, hunters in the backwoods, swamp trappers, Crackers and, in a very few cases, even poor whites, if they were above the average of their class.
These latter young men were as anxious to fight the Yankees, should war come, as were their richer neighbors; but the delicate question of money arose. Few small farmers owned horses. They carried on their farm operations with mules and they had no surplus of these, seldom more than four.
The mules could not be spared to go off to war, even if they had been acceptable for the Troop, which they empatically were not. As for the poor whites, they considered themselves well off if they owned one mule. The backwoods folks and the swamp dwellers owned neither horses nor mules.
They lived entirely off the produce of their lands and the game in the swamp, conducting business generally by the barter system and seldom seeing five dollars in cash a year, and horses and uniforms were out of their reach.
But they were fiercely proud in their poverty as the planters were in their wealth, and they would accept nothing that smacked of charity from their rich neighbors. So, to save the feelings of all and to bring the Troop up to full strength, Scarlett's father, John Wilkes, Buck Munroe, Jim Tarleton, Hugh Calvert, in fact every large planter in the County with the one exception of Angus MacIntosh, had contributed money to completely outfit the Troop, horse and man.
The upshot of the matter was theat every planter agreed to pay for equipping his own sons and a certain number of the others, but the manner of handling the arrangements was such that the less wealthy members of the outfit could accept horses and uniforms without offense to their honor.
The Troop met twice a week in Jonesboro to drill and to pray for the war to begin.
Arrangements had not yet been completed for obtaining the full quota of horses, but those who had horses performed what they imagined to be cavalry maneuvers in the field behind the courthouse, kicked up a great deal of dest, yelled themselves hoarse and waved the Revolutionary-war swords that had been taken down from parlor walls.
Those who had as yet, had no horses sat on the curb in front of the Bullard's store and watched their mounted conrades, chewed tobacco and told yarns. Or else engaged in shooting matches. There was no need to teach any of the men to shoot.
Most Southerners were born with guns in their hands, and lives spent hunting had made marksmen of them all.
From planter's homes and swamp cabins, a varied army of firearms came to each muster. There were long squirrel guns that had been new when first the Alleghenies were crossed, old muzzle-loaders that had claimed many an Indian when Georgia was new, horse pistols that had seen service in 1812, in the Seminole wars and in Mexico, silver-mounted dueling pistols, pocket derringers, double-barreled hunting pieces and handsome new rifles of English make with shining stocks of fine wood.
Drill always ended in the saloons of Jonesboro, and by nightfall so many fights had broken out that the officers were hard put to ward off casualties until the Yankees could inflict them. It was during one of these brawls that Stuart Tarleton had shot Cade Calvert and Tony Fontaine had shot Brent.
The twins had been at home, freshly expelled from the University of Virginia, at the time the Troop was organized and they had joined enthusiastically; but after the shooting episode, two months ago, their mother had packed them off to the state university with orders to stay there.
They had sorely missed the excitement of the drills while away, and the counted education well lost if only they could ride and yell and shoot off rifles in the company of their friends.
"Well, let's cut across contry to Abel's," suggested Brent. "We can go through Mr. O'Hara's river bottom and the Fontaine's pasture and get there in no time."
"We ain' gwine git nothin' ter eat 'cept possum an' greens," argued Jeems.
"You ain't going to get anything," grinned Stuart. "Because you are going home and tell Ma that we won't be home for supper."
"No, Ah ain'!" cried Jeems in alarm. "No, Ah ain'! Ah doan git no mo' fun outer havin' Miss Beetriss lay me out dan y'all does. Fust place she'll ast me huccome Ah let y'all git expelled agin.
An' nex' thing, huccome Ah din' bring y'all home ternight so she could lay you out. An' den she'll light on me lak a duck on a Juen bug, an' fust thing Ah know Ah'll be ter blame fer it all.
Ef y'all doan tek me ter Mist' Wynder's, Ah'll lay out in de woods all night an' maybe de patterollers git me, 'cause Ah heap ruther de pattrollers git me dan Miss Beetriss when she in a state."
The twins looked at the determined black boy in perplexity and indignation.
"He'd be just fool enough to let the pattrollers get him and that would give Ma something else to talk about for weeks. I swear, darkies are more trouble. Sometimes I think the Abolitionists have got the right idea."
"Well, it wouldn't be right to make Jeems face what we don't want to face. We'll have to take him. But, look, you impudent black fool, if you put on any airs in front of the Wynder darkies and hint that we all the time have fried chicken and ham, while they don't have nothing but rabbit and possum, I'll--I'll tell Ma.
And we won't let you go to war with us, either."
"Airs? Me put on airs fo' dem cheap niggers? Nawsuh, Ah got better manners. Ain't Miss Beetriss taught me manners same as she taught y'all?"
"She didn't do a very good job on any of the three of us," said Stuart. "Come on, let's get going."
He backed his big red horse and then, putting spurs to his side, lifted him easily over the split rail fence into the soft field of Gerald O'Hara's plantation.
Brent's horse followed and then Jeems', with Jeems clinging to the pommel and mane. Jeems did not like to jump fences, but he had jumped higher ones than this in order to keep up with his masters.
As they picked their way across the red furrows and down the hill to the river bottom in the deepening dusk. Brent yelled to his brother, "Look, Stu! Don't it seem like to you that Scarlett would have asked us to supper?"
"I kept thinking she would," yelled Stuart. "Why do you suppose..."