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«Scarlett», Alexandra Ripley

Lost in the Dark

1

This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.

Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler stood alone, a few steps away from the other mourners at Melanie Wilkes’ burial. It was raining, and the black-clad men and women held black umbrellas over their heads. They leaned on one another, the women weeping, sharing shelter and grief.

Scarlett shared her umbrella with no one, nor her grief. The gusts of wind within the rain blew stinging cold wet rivulets under the umbrella, down her neck, but she was unaware of them. She felt nothing, she was numbed by loss. She would mourn later, when she could stand the pain. She held it away from her, all pain, all feeling, all thinking. Except for the words that repeated again and again in her mind, the words that promised healing from the pain to come and strength to survive until she was healed.

This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.

 

“. . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust . . .”

The minister’s voice penetrated the shell of numbness, the words registered. No! Scarlett cried silently. Not Melly. That’s not Melly’s grave, it’s too big, she’s so tiny, her bones no bigger than a bird’s. No! She can’t be dead, she can’t be.

Scarlett’s head jerked to one side, denying the open grave, the plain pine box being lowered into it. There were small half circle sunk into the soft wood, marks of the hammers that had driven the nails to close the lid above Melanie’s gentle, loving, heart-shape face.

No! You can’t, you mustn’t do this, it’s raining, you can’t put her there where the rain will fall on her. She feels the cold so, she mustn’t be left in the cold rain. I can’t watch, I can’t bear it, I won’t believe she’s gone. She loves me, she is my friend, my only true friend. Melly loves me, she wouldn’t leave me now just when I need her most.

Scarlett looked at the people surrounding the grave, and anger surged through her. None of them care as much as I do, nor of them have lost as much as I have. No one knows how much I love her. Melly knows, though, doesn’t she? She knows, I’ve got to believe she knows.

They’ll never believe it, though. Not Mrs. Merriwether, or the Meades or the Whitings or the Elsings. Look at them, bunched around India Wilkes and Ashley, like a flock of wet crows in mourning clothes. They’re comforting Aunt Pittypat, all right, though everybody knows she takes on and cries her eyes out over every little thing, down to a piece of toast that gets burnt. It wouldn’t enter their heads that maybe I might be needing some comforting, I was closer to Melanie than any of them. They act as if I wasn’t even here. Nobody has paid any attention to me at all. Not even Ashley. He knew I was there those awful two days after Melly died, when he needed me to manage things. They all did, even India, bleating like a goat. What shall we do about the funeral, Scarlett? About the food for the callers? About the coffin? The pallbearers? The cemetery plot? The inscription on the headstone? The notice in the paper? Now they’re leaning all over each other, weeping and wailing. Well, I won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry all by myself wit nobody to lean on. I mustn’t cry. Not here. Not yet. If I start, I might never be able to stop. When I get to Tara, I can cry.

Scarlett lifted her chin, her teeth clenched to stop their chattering from the cold, to hold back the choking in her throat. This will be over soon, and then I can go home to Tara.

 

The jagged pieces of Scarlett’s shattered life were all around there in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery. A tall spire of granite, gray stone streaked with gray rain, was somber memorial to the world that was gone forever, the carefree world of her youth before the War. It was the Confederate Memorial, symbol of the proud, heedless courage that had plunged the South with bright banners flying into destruction. It stood for so many lives lost, the friends of her childhood, the gallants who had begged for waltzes and kisses in the days when she had no problems greater than which wide-skirted ballgown to wear. It stood for her first husband, Charles Hamilton, Melanie’s brother. It stood for the sons, brothers, husbands, fathers of all the rain-wet mourners on the small knoll where Melanie was being buried.

There were other graves, other markers. Frank Kennedy, Scarlett’s second husband. And the small, terribly small, grave with the headstone that read EUGENIE VICTORIA BUTLER, and under it BONNIE. Her last child, and the most loved.

The living, as well as the dead, were all round her, but she stood apart. Half of Atlanta was there, it seemed. The crowd had overflowed the church and now it spread in a wide, uneven dark circle around the bitter slash of color in the gray rain, the open grave dug from Georgia’s red clay for the body of Melanie Wilkes.

The front row of mourners held those who’d been closest to her. White and black, their faces all streaked with tears, except Scarlett’s. The old coachman Uncle Peter stood with Dilcey and Cookie in a protective black triangle around Beau, Melanie’s bewildered little boy.

The older generation of Atlanta were there, with the tragically few descendants that remained to them. The Meades, the Whitings, the Merriwethers, the Elsings, their daughters and sons-in-law, Hugh Elsing the only living son; Aunt Pittypat Hamilton and her brother, Uncle Henry Hamilton, their ages-old feud forgotten in mutual grief for their niece. Younger, but looking as old as the others, India Wilkes sheltered herself within the group and watched her brother, Ashley, from grief- and guilt-shadowed eyes. He stood alone, like Scarlett. He was bare-headed in the rain, unaware of the proffered shelter of umbrellas, unconscious of the cold wetness, unable to accept the finality of the minister’s words or the narrow coffin being lowered into the muddy red grave.

Ashley. Tall and thin and colorless, his pale gilt hair now almost gray, his pale stricken face as empty as his staring, unseeing gray eyes. He stood erect, his stance a salute, the inheritance of his ears as a gray-uniformed officer. He stood motionless, without sensation or comprehension.


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