ELLEN O’HARA was thirty-two years old, and, according to the standards of her day, she was amiddle-aged woman, one who had borne six children and buried three. She was a tall woman,standing a head higher than her fiery little husband, but she moved with such quiet grace in herswaying hoops that the height attracted no attention to itself. Her neck, rising from the black taffetasheath of her basque, was creamy-skinned, rounded and slender, and it seemed always tiltedslightly backward by the weight of her luxuriant hair in its net at the back of her head. From herFrench mother, whose parents had fled Haiti in the Revolution of 1791, had come her slanting darkeyes, shadowed by inky lashes, and her black hair; and from her father, a soldier of Napoleon, she had her long straight nose and her square-cut jaw that was softened by the gentle curving of hercheeks. But only from life could Ellen’s face have acquired its look of , its graciousness, its melancholy and its utter lack of humor.
She would have been a strikingly beautiful woman had there been any glow in her eyes, anyresponsive warmth in her smile or any spontaneity in her voice that fell with gentle melody on theears of her family and her servants. She spoke in the soft slurring voice of the coastal Georgian,liquid of vowels, kind to consonants and with the barest trace of French accent. It was a voicenever raised in command to a servant or reproof to a child but a voice that was obeyed instantly atTara, where her husband’s blustering and roaring were quietly disregarded.
As far back as Scarlett could remember, her mother had always been the same, her voice softand sweet whether in praising or in reproving, her manner efficient and unruffled despite the dailyemergencies of Gerald’s turbulent household, her spirit always calm and her back unbowed, evenin the deaths of her three baby sons. Scarlett had never seen her mother’s back touch the back ofany chair on which she sat. Nor had she ever seen her sit down without a bit of needlework in herhands, except at mealtime, while attending the sick or while working at the bookkeeping of theplantation. It was delicate embroidery if company were present, but at other times her hands wereoccupied with Gerald’s ruffled shirts, the girls’ dresses or garments for the slaves. Scarlett couldnot imagine her mother’s hands without her gold thimble or her rustling figure unaccompanied bythe small negro girl whose sole function in life was to remove basting threads and carry therosewood sewing box from room to room, as Ellen moved about the house superintending thecooking, the cleaning and the wholesale clothes-making for the plantation.
She had never seen her mother stirred from her austere placidity, nor her personal appointmentsanything but perfect, no matter what the hour of day or night. When Ellen was dressing for a ballor for guests or even to go to Jonesboro for Court Day, it frequently required two hours, two maidsand Mammy to turn her out to her own satisfaction; but her swift toilets in times of emergencywere amazing.