They are coming, Mattie, they are marching. It is an army of wild dogs led by this apostate, this hideous wretch, this devil who will drink your tea and bow before he takes everything from you.
And now, her message delivered, her aunt slumped back in her seat, and gave her order to be off. Where Letitia Pettibone was going Mattie could not get the answer. Nor how much time there was, in fact, before the scourge arrived at her own door. Not that she doubted the woman. She looked into the sky slowly lightening to its gray beginnings of the day. She heard nothing but the cock crowing and, as she turned, suddenly angry, the whisperings of the slaves gathered now at the corner of the house. And then with the team away, the carriage rolling down the gravel path, Mattie turned, lifting the hem of her robe, and mounted the steps only to see that horrible child Pearl, insolent as ever, standing, arms folded, against the pillar as if the plantation was her own.
John Jameson was not unprepared. As far back as September, when the news had come that Hood had pulled out and the Union armies had Atlanta, he sat Mattie down and told her what had to be done. The rugs were rolled, the art was taken down from the walls, her needlepoint chairswhatever she valued, he told herher English fabrics, the china, even her family Bible: it was all to be packed up and carted to Milledgeville and thence put on the train to Savannah, where John's cotton broker had agreed to store their things in his warehouse. Not my piano, she'd said, that will stay. It would rot in the dampness of that place. As you wish, John had said, having no feeling for music in any case.
Mattie was dismayed to see her home so depleted. Through the bare windows the sun shone, lighting up the floors as if her life were going backward and she was again a young bride in a new-built unfurnished manse and with a somewhat frightening husband twice her age. She wondered how John knew the war would touch them directly. In fact he didn't, but he was a man whose success gave him reason to suppose he was smarter than most people. He had a presence, with his voluminous chest and large head of wild white hair. Don't argue with me, Mattie. They lost twenty or thirty thousand men taking that city. There's hell to pay. You're a general, with a President who's a madman. Would you just sit there? So where? To Augusta? To Macon? And how will he ride, if not through these hills? And don't expect that poor excuse for a Rebel army to do anything about it. But if I'm wrong, and I pray God I am, what will I have lost, tell me?
Mattie was not allowed to disagree in such matters. She felt even more dismayed and said not a thing when, with the crops in, John arranged to sell away his dozen prime field hands. They were bound, all of them, to a dealer in Columbia, South Carolina. When the day came and they were put in shackles into the wagon, she had to run upstairs and cover her ears so as not to hear the families wailing down in the shacks. All John had said was No buck nigger of mine will wear a Federal uniform, I'll promise you that.
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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