in the rank behind Grandpa Merriwether, the collar of his long black coat turned up about his ears, two Mexican War pistols in his belt and a small carpetbag in his hand. Beside him marched his black valet who was nearly as old as Uncle Henry, with an open umbrella held over them both. Shoulder to shoulder with their elders came the young boys, none of them looking over sixteen. Many of them had run away from school to join the army, and here and there were clumps of them best travel tea mug in the cadet uniforms of military academies, the black cock feathers on their tight gray caps wet with rain, the clean white canvas straps crossing their chests sodden. Phil Meade was among them, proudly wearing his dead brother’s saber and horse pistols, his hat bravely pinned up on one side. Mrs. Meade managed to smile and wave until he had passed and then she leaned her head on the back of Scarlett’s shoulder for a moment as though her strength had suddenly left her.
Many of the men were totally unarmed, for the Confederacy had neither rifles nor ammunition to issue to them. These men hoped to equip themselves from killed and captured Yankees. Many carried bowie knives in their boots and bore in their hands long thick poles with iron-pointed tips known as “Joe Brown pikes.” The lucky ones had old flintlock muskets slung over their shoulders HKUE DSE and powder-horns at their belts.
Johnston had lost around ten thousand men in his retreat. He needed ten thousand more fresh troops. And this, thought Scarlett frightened, is what he is getting!
As the artillery rumbled by, splashing mud into the watching crowds, a negro on a mule, riding close to a cannon caught her eye. He was a young, saddle-colored negro with a serious face, and when Scarlett saw him she cried: “It’s Mose! Ashley’s Mose! Whatever is he doing here?” She fought her way through the crowd to the curb and called: “Mose! Stop!”
The boy seeing her, drew rein, smiled delightedly and started to dismount. A soaking sergeant, riding behind him, called: “Stay on that mule, boy, or I’ll light a fire under you! We got to git to the mountain some time.”
Uncertainly, Mose looked from the sergeant to Scarlett and she, splashing through the mud, close to the passing wheels, caught at Moses’ stirrup strap.
“Oh, just a minute, Sergeant! Don’t get down, Mose. What on earth are you doing here nu skin hk?”
“Ah’s off ter de war, agin, Miss Scarlett. Dis time wid Ole Mist’ John ‘stead ob Mist’ Ashley.”
“Mr. Wilkes!” Scarlett was stunned; Mr. Wilkes was nearly seventy. “Where is he?”
“Back wid de las’ cannon, Miss Scarlett. Back dar!”
“Sorry, lady. Move on, boy!”
Scarlett stood for a moment, ankle deep in mud as the guns lurched by. Oh, no! She thought. It can’t be. He’s too old. And he doesn’t like war any more than Ashley did! She retreated back a few paces toward the curb and scanned each face that passed. Then, as the last cannon and limber chest came groaning and splashing up, she saw him, slender, erect, his long silver hair wet upon his neck, riding easily upon a little strawberry mare that picked her way as daintily through the mud holes as a lady in a satin dress. Why—that mare was Nellie! Mrs. Tarleton’s Nellie! Beatrice Tarleton’s treasured darling!
When he saw her standing in the mud, Mr. Wilkes drew rein with a smile of pleasure and, dismounting, came toward her.
“I had hoped to see you, Scarlett. I was charged with so many messages from your people. But there was no time. We just got in this morning and they are rushing us out immediately, as you see.”
“Oh, Mr. Wilkes,” she cried desperately, holding his hand. “Don’t go! Why must you go?”
“Ah, so you think I’m too old!” he smiled, and it was Ashley’s smile in an older face. “Perhaps I am too old to march but not to ride and shoot. And Mrs. Tarleton so kindly lent me Nellie, so I am well mounted. I hope nothing happens to Nellie, for if something should happen to her, I could never go home and face Mrs. Tarleton. Nellie was the last horse she had left.” He was laughing now, turning away her fears. “Your mother and father and the girls are well and they sent you their love. Your father nearly came up with us today!”
“Oh, not Pa!” cried Scarlett in terror. “Not Pa! He isn’t going to the war, is he?”