At five in the morning someone banging on the door and
shouting, her husband, John, leaping out of bed, grabbing his
rifle, and Roscoe at the same time roused from the backhouse,
his bare feet pounding: Mattie hurriedly pulled on her robe,
her mind prepared for the alarm of war, but the heart stricken
that it would finally have come, and down the stairs she flew
to see through the open door in the lamplight, at the steps of
the portico, the two horses, steam rising from their flanks,
their heads lifting, their eyes wild, the driver a young
darkie with rounded shoulders, showing stolid patience even in
this, and the woman standing in her carriage no one but her
aunt Letitia Pettibone of McDonough, her elderly face drawn in
anguish, her hair a straggled mess, this woman of such fine
grooming, this dowager who practically ruled the season in
Atlanta standing up in the equipage like some hag of doom,
which indeed she would prove to be. The carriage was piled
with luggage and tied bundles, and as she stood some silver
fell to the ground, knives and forks and a silver candelabra,
catching in the clatter the few gleams of light from the torch
that Roscoe held. Mattie, still tying her robe, ran down the
steps thinking stupidly, as she later reflected, only of the
embarrassment to this woman, whom to tell the truth she had
respected more than loved, and picking up and pressing back
upon her the heavy silver, as if this was not something Roscoe
should be doing, nor her husband, John Jameson, neither.
Letitia would not come down from her carriage, there was no time, she said. She was a badly frightened woman with no concern for her horses, as John saw and quickly ordered buckets to be brought around, as the woman cried, Get out, get out, take what you can and leave, and seemed to be roused to anger as they only stood listening, with some of the field hands appearing now around the side of the house with the first light, as if drawn into existence by it. And I know him! she cried. He has dined in my home. He has lived among us. He burns where he has ridden to lunch, he fires the city in whose clubs he once gave toasts, oh yes, someone of the educated class, or so we thought, though I never was impressed! No, I was never impressed, he was too spidery, too weak in his conversation, and badly composed in his dress, careless of his appearance, but for all that I thought quite civilized in having so little gift to dissemble or pretend what he did not feel. And what a bitter gall is in my throat for what I believed was a domesticated man with a clear love for wife and children, who is no more than a savage with not a drop of mercy in his cold heart.
It was difficult to get the information from her, she ranted so. John did not try to, he began giving orders and ran back in the house. It was she, Mattie, who listened. Her aunt's hysteria, formulated oddly in terms of the drawing room, moved her to her own urgent attention. She had for the moment even forgotten her boys upstairs.
Excerpted from The March by E. L. Doctorow Copyright © 2005 by E.L. Doctorow. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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