"Soon this will be over," said Ella Lorena Kennedy to herself, "And then I can go home."
It was a hot day for April and the cicadas buzzed over head. The heat hung in shimmering, silvery waves over the red-dirt Clayton County roads. It was the sort of day that in the old times would have been dedicated to lounging—on the wide, white board porches, in the shade of the oaks and the tall pines and the wide, spanning magnolia trees. The songs of the darkies in the fields would have been the only sound on the still air, beside that of demure girlish laughter and gentlemanly remarks.
The young folks did not remember those days, but the older ones did. Heavens, Ella thought, it was written all over their faces. How sad, to live each day in a world that was dead! But they all did. Whenever they were together, they talked about the old days. Do you remember Tony Fontaine, and his six-shooter? And oh, the Tarleton boys! And the barbecues at Twelve Oaks? And that business with Scarlett and…oh, well never mind. Who didn't Scarlett O'Hara have business with, once upon a time?
How hollow and empty those words that stood for oft-remembered times sounded to Ella, who had never known that life! She did not know that those words were the only way to keep the folks from feeling hollow and empty inside. The thought of before was all that made life now—life after—worth living at all.
Ella had only a vague notion of what Reconstruction was. It seemed such a grand term to use to describe the way her young life had always been. There was nothing in her purview to be reconstructed. Things weren't broken—they were simply the way they had always been.
She had never known the slow, honeyed days of before—before the War. The folks who had known it knew that that world never could be reconstructed. The jagged pieces would never fit back together quite in the way they had. The shards and remnants might be put together in a new and useful way—but never again could they be made into the same vessel, which had held gentleness and sweetness like a great, golden bowl.
But still they could not forget. It would take passing out of this world to forget the world that once had been.
"Ashes to ashes," said the preacher, "And dust to dust."
Ella felt sorry that she had let her thoughts wander. Uncle Will Benteen had been a good man. Not a gentleman, like Uncle Ashley, or even interesting, like Uncle Rhett (whom Ella had long suspected wasn't a gentleman at all, despite his charming ways and graceful manner), but he had been good. And he had been one of the only things that made living at Tara tolerable. She had a fleeting thought of what on earth would she do without him? He had been nice to her. And he had never acted as though she were a burden, like Aunt Suellen did. Ella Lorena needs a new dress. Ella Lorena, do you really need a second biscuit? I swear that child is eating us out of house and home. When Sally and Little Will had both had three!
Ella looked down at her cheap black mourning dress—calico, with lank sleeves and fusty hem. She should have had a nicer dress—Sally and Suellen were in bombazine, which was too heavy for this hot weather. It was better than calico, though. But after all, as Aunt Suellen had said, it wasn't Ella's father who had died. No, Ella's father had died when she was a baby. She didn't even have one memory of him. Surely that made her more of a tragic figure than Sal and Will, who had had their father for their whole lives.
No one cared how Ella looked at a time like this. Aunt Suellen said that, too. And besides, they couldn't afford to dress her as though she were 'regular' family. Or so Aunt Suellen also said.
At least, Ella thought, she looked better in black than Sally did. Sally was as yellow as the slow-moving river that wound about the edge of the property, and her pale, watery red hair just hung there, lank, without the slightest bit of curl.
Ella had been an ugly baby and an unremarkable child—she had surprised everyone by turning pretty, even herself. It was still something of a pleasurable surprise to look at her reflection in the mirror. She did not know it but she greatly resembled her Grandmother Robillard—and her name sake—except for the color of her eyes.
Ella's hair was red, too, but it was ripely, ruddily red, and when she unpinned it, it tumbled down her back in waves. It had the ground color of chestnut behind it. And she wasn't freckled all over like Sally. Ella's skin was magnolia-blossom white and she was proud of her complexion, with a certain innate pride that she did not understand. She did not know why she should be so proud of her lily-white brow and her smooth hands, but she was.
"Fussing around with your mittens and bonnets," sneered Sally, who browned immediately whenever she went out, no matter how many mittens and bonnets she wore. "Do you think you're a belle, Ella Lorena?" Scathingly—Sally had inherited her mother's knack of speaking caustically and unpleasantly.
"My mother was a belle," Ella said, drawing herself to her full height.
"Your mother was!" cried Sally hotly, and would have said something more besides, if Uncle Will hadn't come into the room just then and dragged the girls away from each other.
"Ella's all right, Sal," he told her, hugging her near. "Her mother was a good woman. We wouldn't none of us have a roof over our head if it weren't for Scarlett. She was a good woman, Ella Lorena—good and strong."
Dear Uncle Will—poor Uncle Will! Ella wondered what it was like to be dead and buried under the ground. Would Uncle Will be homesick? Was he in heaven, with the angels? Or was he—was he just dead? The thought that he might be just dead, never knowing anything else, for the rest of time, filled her with a sudden horror.
Oh, she wouldn't think about it now! She would think of it later—when she was at Tara. She could stand it then.
Aunt Suellen was looking at her reproachfully, her eyes beady above her hawklike nose. Ella bowed her head, moved the rosary beads through her fingers. It was a Baptist funeral—of course—Uncle Will had been a Baptist and Aunt Suellen, too—even though deep down Ella didn't believe Auntee Sue was really anything. But Ella had been raised a Catholic and though they went to the red-brick Baptist church every Sunday, she still clung to the old traditions that she remembered from her childhood. She felt that her mother would have wanted it that way.
This rosary had belonged to her mother. It was so pretty, made of Connemara marble that caught the light and held it. Once Ella had placed it reverently over her head and around her neck, thinking it was a piece of jewelry.
"It isn't for wearing," her mother had said, taking it away.
"What is it for, then?" wondered Ella.
"It's for talking to God," her mother said, dreamily, running her hands over the beads. "And asking Him for things you want especially."
"And will he give them to you?"
"No," said her mother, dreamier still. That was how Ella knew that she'd been slipping sips from the crystal decanter on the sideboard in the drawing room. She'd been a little girl—she wasn't sure exactly of the decanter's significance. But it made her mother act strange—stranger. Her mother had been strange since—ever since—but Ella never found out since when exactly, because people generally stopped talking about it whenever she came into the room. Ever since…you know, was how people finished.
"He won't ever answer," Scarlett told her daughter. "But we still go on asking."
"Because we're foolish," her mother answered, and Ella had watched in horror as she put up her fist and smashed it against the mirror so that it splintered into a thousand pieces. There was a brief second in which their startled faces were reflected, and then Ella's mother was making that high-pitched, keening sound. Blood was dripping down onto the carpets, and Mamie and Ruthie had come running in to attend to it—the wounds and the carpets—and Ella had been hustled out of the room.
She had gone back to Tara the next day with Wade Hampton. She had not gone back to Atlanta again. Their mother had come to visit once more—bringing presents for them and laughing, giggling and clapping her hands like a schoolgirl. She brought a saddle for Wade that was too small for him, and a dollbaby for Ella, even though she had been too old to play with dolls.
She wore a long-sleeved dress that covered her arms to the wrists, even though it wasn't the fashion and the day had been hot. It was the last time Ella ever did see her mother.
Ella's mother wasn't buried in this grave-yard at Tara. Ella wasn't sure where her grave was. She felt sure her mother would have wanted to be buried at Tara.
She still remembered the day that Uncle Rhett had come to her and told her that she'd died. He had reeked of whisky and tobacco and taken her and Wade into his arms. Wade had cried—Wade always cried. Heavens, he must be the weepiest boy this side of the Mississippi! It was a wonder the other boys in the County had never pummeled him to death for being such a cry-baby. Ella hadn't cried. But a strange light began to grow in her tip-tilted eyes, so that they suddenly looked like a cat's at the dusky time for prowling. Her eyes, which were hazel usually, were suddenly emerald green.
Uncle Rhett had seen it, and shivered away from her in something like revulsion.
"You're the witches' child," he'd told her, pushing her away, even though Wade still clung to his pant-leg. Uncle Rhett shook him off, and tossed a roll of crumpled bills at their feet. Then he'd staggered from the room.
"The devil take you both," had been his parting words.
Uncle Rhett had never been unkind to them again, after that—he was always a little contrite around Ella and her brother, as though he was a little ashamed of what he had said, and always very gentle with them, as though he must make up for his rough words. But Ella had never forgotten what he said. Why should Uncle Rhett have said that?
Oh, she wouldn't think of it now! She'd think about it tomorrow. Someone had said that to her once and Ella had never forgotten it. She repeated it over to herself in times of trial or trouble, and clung to the idea of that carefree, ephemeral tomorrow
No—Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler (Ella wondered sometimes how they'd managed to fit all those names on the tombstone, wherever it was) was not buried here. She was somewhere else. There was another stone, somewhere else, for Bonnie. Ella had seen it only once. Dear Bonnie—sweet Bonnie. Who had called her "Sissy" and reached for her with her chubby hands. Ella had loved her. She had never resented Bonnie, or hated her, even though Bonnie was better-loved. Bonnie had loved Ella, but Bonnie was dead, too.
The Tara burying ground was small, with only a few stones. There was her grandfather, Gerald O'Hara and her grandmother. Once there had been only a wooden cross to mark the grave of each but Uncle Will had bought a nice stone, fashioned out of granite, when he was able. It sat between the graves.
There was a stone sacred just to 'Mammy.' No one remembered what that mammy's Christian name had been, and so it had just the title of the role she'd played in her life. Ella thought it was sad. She had no mammy, and so she didn't know that the women who bore that title would gladly be remembered as that before all other given names.
Pork was buried by his master. On his stone it said, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.' Dear Pork. Ella had loved him. He taught her to ride a pony, when no one else could be bothered to. Uncle Will might have, if he had had time. Uncle Rhett had paid for her to have riding lessons—and dancing lessons—and a year of finishing school at the Ladies' Academy—but somehow the money always seemed to disappear the moment Aunt Suellen got her hands on it. So Ella had not learned to dance, or had her year at the finishing school—and if it hadn't been for Pork she might never have learned how to ride.
Pork had given to her the one valuable thing that Ella had. It was an old gold pocketwatch, with the initials G. O'H. engraved on the cover. Ella had taken it curiously and wondered why it wasn't given to Wade Hampton—or to Little Will. But Pork had patted her hand.
"The gepm'um folks can makes they's own way and buy they's own watches," Pork said, in his weird mix of darkie-speech and Irish brogue, which he had cultivated over the years. "But Laws, chile, you ain't got nuthin. Miss Ella, I's worried about you. What you gonna do wit' yo' life? You ain' like yo' ma. How's you gonna make yo' way in de world?"
Ella wondered that herself, sometimes. She kissed Pork and tucked the watch away, under her mattress. If she kept it in her jewelry box, Sally would be sure to find it. And Ella had enough sense to know that Aunt Suellen would never let her keep it. It would go to Little Will. And it was the nicest thing she'd ever had. She wanted to keep it—she wanted to have one nice thing.
There were three little graves in a row over in the shady, overgrown corner of the yard. The name on the stone of each was Gerald O'Hara, Jr. Gerald O'Hara, Gerald O'Hara and Gerald O'Hara. Three little baby boys. They would have been her uncles if they'd lived. Oh, it was sad, that babies had to die. And Ella would have liked to have one person who really cared for her. She felt that if she'd had a real uncle he might have cared for her in a way that none of her uncles had ever seemed to. Uncle Will had cared for her, but if he was ever too kind to her, Aunt Suellen got mad. Uncle Ashley was kind to her, but he was sorry for her. And Uncle Rhett didn't care for Ella at all—though at times he did seem interested in her, the way a cat watches a Junebug to see what it will do before he pounces.
She was sixteen years old and there wasn't a soul who cared even a little bit about her. Her mother would have cared, Ella was sure of that. If she had been alive to care at all. She had cared, in her own way—down underneath, Ella was sure she had cared. Because a mother had to care.
But Ella had no mother.
A wave of unbearable sadness seemed to go right through her, at the sight of those little graves, and the thought of her mother's grave, faraway but somewhere, and the sound of the earth falling in clods on the casket in the grave right in front of her.
"Soon this will be over," said Ella to herself, clutching her rosary so that her fingers turned white. "And then I can go back to Tara."