Charles was dead. ... He had died ignominiously and swiftly of pneumonia, following measles, without ever having gotten any closer to the Yankees than the camp in South Carolina. Gone with the Wind, Ch. VII.
We are so goddamned terrified of fear, you ever notice that? We spend all our time denying it, and lying 'bout it, and carryin' on something stupid just to keep it quiet. None of our heroes ever have it, not a jot in their veins. It's why they're heroes, you see, 'cause they're so Goddamned fearless.
Like it's any great thing.
I gotta say one thing for the Cap'n - though he's a queer sorta fellow who'd rather read than ride, and who ain't a fan of Yankees but likes their books and operas and music just the same - the talk's got him right, there. He might not be ten feet tall and able to kill with a look, and he might be a weak sort, the runt of the division, but he sure ain't fearful. I guess that's why he's the Cap'n. Well, that, and he's got ten years on us all, and he's put them to use licking the right boots. A right runt at five nine - shorter even than our own Boyd - and he's trying to get to the front line. Man ain't got a yellow bone in his body. And you know, that ain't a compliment. I don't reckon it ever was.
You see the sergeants and lieutenants crowing about the Cap'n's fearlessness to the rest of the men, trying to jimmy up some enthusiasm for the next move. I guess that's all we got, now; buncha grown men, running back and forth along the lines, railing about how God Almighty Himself would hafta come down to scare any kinda blue into the Cap'n. Now, I don't reckon that anyone's doing any such thing for Ashley Wilkes over at his command, do you? He's a good sort, don't think I'm saying otherwise, and he's got plenty in common with the Cap'n, but Ashley ain't one to go on and on about his fearlessness. He never was, even when we was all thinkin' of enlisting. He admitted he was scared stiff, but it was a good fear. He was scared for his wife, and who'd look after the house while he was away; all the sorts of sensible fears a man might have. He didn't talk about any other kind, but I reckon he had 'em anyway.
Anyhow. No, don't try to move, Charlie. I ain't rilin' on your cousin, you know that. I got plenty of respect for ol' Ashley, and I ain't trying to be difficult. It's just hard, is all. Ladies can be frightened, of course, 'cause it's feminine to have such delicacy. Well, ladies except Ma, who weren't never frightened of anything, no crazy colt or poor harvest or wildfire or marauding Yankees neither, I reckon. But Boyd and Brent and Tom and me? Well, how long d'you reckon we woulda lasted as kids if we'd been all yellow? She'd'a taken that whip to us and no mistake.
So you learn it as you grow into men, and you remember not to be frightened, even when there's damn good reason. You can only ever be frightened for those others 'round you, and only if they're ladies or children or horses. Only if someone's gonna sneak in and carry them off in the night, and you gotta make sure the doors are strong and you always have a gun where you can reach it. I never thought about it like that, 'til one night someone - and I ain't never worked out who - went 'cross the grounds and scared the bejeesus outta my pa, who thought he was after one of the girls or the horses. Not sure which scared him more, to be honest. Anyhow, that was the first time I ever saw someone with his brains blasted all across the grass, and I couldn't have been more than nine or ten.
Didn't bother me none back then. Kinda bothers me now, I think.
I know, I ain't supposed to say that. I'm sorry for upsettin' you, Charlie. That ain't my intention. I'm trying to be helpful here, and messing it all up. I'm supposed to tell it like a story, and start from the end, with the hero dangling over a cliff with tenscore Yankees below, taking potshots, then go back to the beginning and start again. Whetting your appetite, Boyd used to say. He was big on reading me and Brent stories when we was little, about heroes and dragons and lotsa other crazy stuff no right-minded Georgia man would bother with when they've got liquor and a lady to squire. It's funny how much smarter Boyd seemed back then, when I hardly knew my letters and he was a clear foot taller. I guess it's even funnier that I came all the way 'round again, to think of him as smart now, after everything. Your own little stupidities will do that to you.
I don't know if you heard, but Boyd took one in the chest about two weeks ago. You weren't the first of our merry band to be laid low. He didn't expire right away, which woulda been a mercy. Instead, they brought him back here, in the general ward, and he waited out a whole three days before he passed. I reckon he musta done something mean to some helpless creature to be punished like that. Maybe kicked a baby or hurt a horse or something. 'Cause what kinda God'd punish Boyd like that if He knew him like I did?
Anyways. I'm not gonna start from the end, Charlie, 'cause you and me know that we ain't likely to see it. This ain't what I signed up for, and I suspect you neither. No, don't try to move, you'll only make yourself worse. What I mean is, I guess I never really recalled that I got more to worry about than just Ma and the girls and the horses and the house back home. And it weren't really a big fear, 'cause if it was I woulda stayed. It was only the right sorta fear a man feels when he leaves for war. He ain't ever supposed to worry about his bothers or his friends riding off with him. And he sure ain't ever supposed to not want to fire his Goddamned gun.
You ever had that Charlie? I can't remember if you ever saw the Yankees 'fore you came down with that nasty chest and had to get back to camp. Brent got the first one of our lot, we think, and I got the second. Not that you could tell through the smoke. But we reckon that it's probably true. 'Course, all the other guys reckoned the same. Except for the veterans, who just laughed and said it didn't matter none. Sooner or later we'd get to shoot the first Yankee in the fray. Unless, of course, we ended up being some Yankee's first shot. No one said that, and I could tell that most people weren't thinking of it, but I was. I kept thinking of Brent's head exploding like that thievin' little sneak that my pa shot, or Tom's head, or my own head. And then when Boyd got hit, all I could think of was, thank God he didn't get hit in the head. And I can't help being so selfish about it, Charlie, I really can't. To wish my own brother a slow death rather than walk through those grounds afterwards, trying to see which of the faceless, headless corpses used to be him... I tell myself that I sinned by being thankful for it, but I can't help it.
Brent don't talk about it much, even to me. He's gone a bit quieter now. I don't reckon he'd ever seen a dead body up close 'fore we got here. First time he did, he thought it was a grand old sport, and went on and on about how he musta shot that damned Yankee first, before the cannon-fire got to him. Cap'n says that ain't likely, what with the rifle range and all, but that don't bother Brent none. Leastways it didn't, 'til they brought Boyd in on that stretcher, and Tom pasty-white next to him, and the priest shaking his head. Then I reckon Brent weren't quite so happy about it being a sport, not when Boyd got felled first.
So now, I hear that we're moving on in a few weeks, marching clear across to cut off the Yankee line. We only came back to South Carolina to re-supply, then we're off again. Not sure where, 'cause they don't tell us much. But when we do, we'll be leaving Boyd here, under this earth, and not buried back home like he's supposed to be. I guess my ma and pa would be proud of him for fighting, but I don't reckon that'll be a warm thing to hold when they can't even see his body to rest on our own land. I reckon that'll kill 'em more than anything else.
I keep imagining their faces when they get that letter, tellin' them their eldest's gone. And then another letter, maybe, for Brent or for me, or for Tom, and then another, and another. And then there'd be no men at Tarleton Oaks, and no one to help ma with the horses, and -
Anyhow. I got real riled up about it, is all. Told Brent this ain't what I signed up for. That I wanted to be a hero, not a martyr. And he said to me, he said, "same stuff's required for both, Stuart."
Ain't that a Goddamned kick in the teeth, when your own twin brother turns out smarter than you.
The thing is, Charlie... Damnation! I didn't come here to cuss out Boyd and Brent and Ashley and the Cap'n, you know that. The thing is, I made this decision, and I wanted to tell you. I've been thinking on it, and I think it's the right thing to do. If I get outta this alive - and there ain't no Goddamned guarantee on that, I think you know - I'm gonna write to Miss India, and tell her I'm real sorry I messed her around. I don't know if she'll have me now, after everything, but I reckon it's something I ain't got no right to be scared of. And I can't put it off much longer, 'cause otherwise there'd be nothing left of the Oaks, and it'd just be my ma and my pa and my sisters, and Miss India left on her own and defenseless. And the more I think on it, the more it chokes me up, Charlie.
I've been thinkin' on a whole buncha other stuff, too. Mostly around how I felt real sorry for not speaking to you after you married Miss Scarlett. It ain't your fault that she chose you over me or Brent, and I had no right to be so sore about it. Seeing as how I'd messed Miss India around like that, like no gentleman's suppose to.
I guess that's sorta why I'm here. I feel real bad for not visiting you before, Charlie, I really do. Except now I think I can help you out, if you want me to. So I couldn't stay away no more, once I knew that. I had to come down and tell you. And I guess I have, at that. So I'm just gonna sit here a while, Charlie, and leave you to choose. I spoke to them doctors, and there ain't no helpin' you, other than this. I find I'm real good at it now, at least from a distance. I reckon my hands can be just as good as my irons; what'd you think? Anyhow. Reason I'm offering ain't 'cause I fancy myself close to God, or some such nonsense. But the priests ain't of help, and the doctors worse. So maybe it's that. Mostly, though, it's 'cause I shoulda done this for Boyd, but it never even occurred to me to help my own damned brother. Maybe a little 'cause I don't know if I woulda been able to do it for him. But I can do it for you, Charlie. If India'll have me, we'll be family, even after the fact. And it ain't right to let family go so slow, if you can help. Not even if it's this kinda help.
So I'm gonna make the offer and leave it up to you to think on it. 'Cause you might be a brother to me soon, Charlie Hamilton, you old queer sort, or a grave-mate if not. You think on it, and you let me know if you want me to help you go. I ain't going nowhere.