Why does Scarlett depend on Gerald to tell the truth about Ashley's engagement?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the pre- Civil War Southern world of debutantes, cotillions, plantations, and larger than life drama, gossip and word of mouth often passes for truth.  Scarlett knows this because she is a part of it.  It is for this reason that she would refuse to believe that Ashley is engaged to marry if it came from anyone else.  Scarlett would dismiss it as purely social chatter, idle gossip that does not reflect any truth or value of worth.  Yet, in hearing about Ashley's engagement from her father, Scarlett recognizes it as being true.  When Pa tells this to Scarlett in exchange for her not telling her mother about his riding, it adds more veracity to the claim for he would not tell her something false if he requires Scarlett's discretion and secrecy.  At the same time, Scarlett knows that her father heard this in confidence and from "the horse's mouth," in a manner of speaking.  It is devastating for Scarlett because of its high level of truth value.  In this, Scarlett experiences, for the first time, what it is like to be confronted with truth in a painful manner, something that will be an ongoing theme as the war and reconstructing in life after it becomes of vital importance for Scarlett.