Here's the rest of it, sorry, I've been busy and forgot that i never uploaded the rest. I have a new story in the works but so far have only posted it over at the yahoo boards. I guess I'll post it here as well depending on the amount of reviews I get for these already posted stories, becuase it looks like a billion people read them or at least visit them but hardly anyone comments. but that's ok, I mean I'm not fishing for it but it would be nice to know if people want to see more in the future. Anyway, the end of this is a tearjerker, so I hope no one minds
Scarlett woke late in the morning to find Rhett had already left for the day. She rubbed her eyes with her fists to alleviate some of the lingering sleep, and then lay staring ahead of her, and her mind drifted to the night before when Rhett had come upstairs for the night.
She had been sitting up in bed with the pillows propped behind her, waiting for Rhett to come. The way he looked at her and touched her leg under the table at supper had made her excited and expectant of what was to come once they turned in for the night. So she had been surprised when he had come into the room and did not even notice her, but walked instead to the dressing room to change. Scarlett had been confused because he usually came over and kissed her before undressing, but she let the thought go and decided nothing was out of the ordinary. She watched him with eager eyes as he removed his cravat and shirt, and finally his shoes and pants before he moved to the wash basin to splash water on his face and brush his teeth. Every taut muscle in his back and arms seemed to be in function as he did these most mundane of tasks, and Scarlett closed her eyes and swallowed in anticipation of being wrapped in his tan arms.
But when he finally came over to the bed, he blew out the lamp and got under the covers, kissed Scarlett lingeringly on the cheek, and then lay his head down on the pillow. This was not at all what Scarlett had been expecting, especially after the way he had acted at supper. She furrowed her brow and looked down at him. Rhett was staring toward the window, apparently deep in thought, and Scarlett hesitantly spoke. "Rhett? Is there something wrong?"
Rhett took a moment to answer, but when he did, it came out as a gentle whisper. "No, Scarlett. Everything is fine."
Scarlett took this as a sign that Rhett was not against being intimate, and she reached out her hand to gently run her fingers through his black hair. "Will you talk to me?" she asked quietly. Rhett slowly sat up and moved into Scarlett's embrace and she wrapped her arms around him while he laid his head on her shoulder. Her soft lips found his temple and she kissed him gently as she ran her fingers down his cheek. "What's wrong?"
Rhett lifted his head off her shoulder and looked into her eyes, and even in the darkness, she could see he was struggling to think of what to say. He lifted one of his hands to cup her cheek while the other started unbuttoning the front of her nightgown, and when it was open, he wrapped his arm around her bare skin underneath the soft fabric and held her close. As if the warmth of her skin helped clear his mind he spoke: "Scarlett," he began in a whisper, "tonight Thomas, he—" he paused, unsure if he should tell Scarlett of the invitation given by his friend.
Scarlett tilted her head to the side and her eyes were wide with curiosity. She ran her fingers down his bare spine and laid her cheek against his strong shoulder. "What did he do, Rhett? Please tell me," she whispered and kissed his neck.
"He invited me to go on a trip to look for horses for his stock."
Scarlett's ears perked up like a cat and she became alert, but she waited to see what else Rhett would say. His hand tightened around her ribs and he laid his cheek against her head. "He…he's going to Kentucky, maybe Virginia, Europe, and he invited me—it's only for a couple of months and—"
Scarlett took her arms from around him and sat up abruptly, looking at him with narrowed eyes, eyes that were blazing green, even in the moonlight. Rhett slowly removed his hand from her cheek and let it drop to his side. He bit his lip worriedly and his other hand softly moved from her ribs up her side, and his thumb gently grazed her breast, causing Scarlett to shiver, but she turned her head away and when she spoke, it came out in a hurt tone: "So you're going to go and leave me."
"You promised you'd stay here with me! You promised!" she practically yelled as her head whipped around and Rhett saw anger written all over her face. She hadn't given him a chance to finish speaking. He knew she would jump to conclusions, so this was why he hadn't wanted to tell her in the first place. "You lied to me!" she yelled again, and hot tears escaped her eyes, rolling down her pale cheeks.
"Scarlett," he hissed, "let me speak!"
Her hands flew up to her face to violently wipe away her tears; she was ashamed that Rhett should see her in this state, but her efforts did not help, and she let out a muffled sob. Rhett, seeing her small shoulders shudder, took her in his arms again and kissed her on the top of her head. "Scarlett," he pleaded, but she continued to cry. He pushed her up and took her hands in his own, pulling them away from her face so he could look into her wounded eyes. "I told him no," he said softly.
Scarlett sniffled and stopped crying, though a lingering teardrop escaped her eyes and Rhett wiped it away with his thumb, and her breathing was still erratic. "I told him no," Rhett said again.
Scarlett looked at him with a puppy dog expression and reached out to tentatively touch his chest. "Y-you did?" she asked almost inaudibly. He nodded and leaned in to ever so softly kiss her neck. "You said no?" she breathed with a sigh, and he nodded again. Scarlett put her hands on his shoulders and he raised his head, his eyes still conflicted and unsure, but he smiled and in one violent burst of emotion she declared, "Oh Rhett! Thank you so much," and then her lips were on his and she knew nothing else until she lay spent in his strong arms, letting his soft kisses and his whispers of love lull her to sleep.
Scarlett turned her head toward the window and ran her hand softly over the spot where Rhett slept. How lucky she was to have a husband who would sacrifice his freedom for her sake, though she did not quite realize this. All she knew for certain was the tormented look in his dark eyes as he had told her of Thomas's invitation. Why had he looked like that? Was he really thinking of going on that trip? This last thought made Scarlett anxious and her eyes opened wide. He had told her he was going to stay, but now that she thought about it, she was invaded by a strange sense of foreboding, and she gripped the light sheets with her hands.
What if Rhett found her ugly and unattractive in her condition, and was looking for a way out? He had told her he thought her more beautiful than ever, and that he loved this baby as much as he loved her, but feelings can change, she thought, and what if Rhett did not feel that way anymore? No, she told herself. That was impossible, for he would not talk to her or hold her or make love to her so tenderly and so emotionally if he did not want her.
Well then why was he struggling with his emotions so? Rhett had said that Thomas had brought up the idea of a trip… Thomas Holden. Scarlett set her jaw when she thought of that man. She did not trust him completely to begin with and now he was putting ideas in Rhett's head to take him away from her. There was no way that she could stop Rhett from hanging around this man, especially when he was so happy to have a real friend; Rhett was too independent, and he was stronger than her, after all, and she had never been able to bully him like she had so many other weak-minded men who were caught in the web of her charms.
She realized she was selfish in wanting his attentions focused mostly on her, but she could not help it, for Rhett was the only person who understood her and knew how to have a good time. Besides, she loved him, and Rhett would never go back on his word. But the nagging feeling returned to her head and she sighed. What if he did change his mind and decided he would go on that trip?
"Well, it won't happen," she whispered resolutely. She'd just have to keep a closer eye on him that was all. "I won't let him go."
The front door clicked loudly, signaling Rhett's return for supper. Scarlett, who was already in the dining room, strained her ears to listen for his heavy footsteps treading on the carpet, and when she saw his tall frame round the corner, her face lit up and her dimples showed. Rhett, who was in a jovial mood from his trip to town, was equally happy when he saw Scarlett standing by is chair. His dark eyes took in her entire being, from her shining long hair that was half pulled back and had ringlets cascading down her back, to her ivory skin, her blue summer dress, and her ornate slippers to match. Yes, she was beautiful to him, and Scarlett's beauty reminded him of why he could not take up Belle's or any of her women's offers that afternoon at the saloon.
Rhett had delighted in showing Thomas around Atlanta, discussing how much things in the city had changed since the war, and how it was faring in being rebuilt. They had stopped to talk with many of Rhett's acquaintances, Yankees, mostly, as many of Atlanta's Old Guard were still somewhat reluctant to be acquainted with him. At the end of the afternoon, Rhett had stopped by the grandest of the saloons in the city (which was, of course, owned by him), and had introduced Thomas to Belle Watling.
Belle had been most excited to see Rhett, and she had exclaimed that she was upset at him for not having come to see her in so long. But Rhett had just smiled in that same ruggedly handsome way he always had, and pinched her cheek, proclaiming her a gem. Rounds of whiskey were served, and a few games of poker were played; Rhett was most surprised to find he had not lost his winning touch, for he had not played poker at a saloon, much less Belle's establishment, since he had married Scarlett. He was having such a good time, breathing a part of the life he used to know, having the freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted. He had laughed and smoked cigars while Belle's women fawned all over him. Soon, Rhett noticed that Thomas had followed one of the more popular girls upstairs, but he himself smiled and thanked them for their kind offers, but declined their invitations for pleasure. Instead, Rhett followed Belle up to her room on the second floor where they had a long overdue conversation. Belle knew Rhett was married and very much in love with his wife, but she admitted to him that she was surprised he didn't take up any of the offers made by girls he used to spend lonely nights with.
"I don't need to do that, Belle," Rhett laughed. "I know just where to get my fill, and then some."
Belle smirked in understanding, and wished to hear more about Rhett's married life, for she had not seen him in so long, and wanted to know what it was that kept him away. "And how is Scarlett?" she asked.
Rhett sighed and leaned back in his chair, "She's at home now, hopefully resting. She's expecting a child in a few months," he said happily.
Laughing under her breath, Belle asked, "How's she taking that? If I remember anything correctly about Scarlett O'Hara, she never struck me as the type of woman who would want a child."
"Scarlett's changed, Belle. She seems very happy, and I think she's adapting to her pregnancy well. She certainly looks healthy."
The gleam in Rhett's eyes as he spoke of Scarlett was enough for Belle to determine that he was indeed happy in his relationship with that woman she always considered to be cold hearted. "You're happy then, Rhett?" she asked.
"Would you believe me if I said yes? I love her, Belle."
"Well that's a relief to hear, Rhett. If you didn't love her, I might feel sorry for her being married to you. It's hard for me to imagine that she's changed, but I'll take your word for it. But then why are you here today, Rhett? Has she driven you out of the house?"
Rhett threw his head back and laughed. "God no! Scarlett would have my head if she knew I was here. She's been adamant about having me around to keep her company. I'm here because my long-time friend, Thomas, who you met downstairs, is in town for the week, and I thought I'd show him around."
"Well," Belle reminded him, "you know once that child arrives, everything will change. I hate to admit it, but even you may be stuck with some responsibilities—unless you or Scarlett have the servants raise the baby."
"Scarlett and I have promised to do our best, "Rhett smiled. "It may be awkward for Scarlett at first. I'm willing to bet she's never held a baby before, let alone mother one…though she does have two younger sisters…" Rhett appeared to be thinking the matter over but then shrugged his shoulders and laughed again. "It will be an experience, but I'm looking forward to it, and I hope she is too."
"Well then Rhett, I offer you my congratulations," Belle smiled. She rose from her chair and poured Rhett another drink, and she kissed his cheek as she gave it to him. "You'll be a wonderful father," she added with a wink.
"Rhett, you're home just in time!" Scarlett exclaimed as he walked toward her and put his hands on her waist. Even though she was close to five months along, she was still a tiny creature, and he easily lifted her off the ground and brought her in for a kiss.
When he set her back on her feet, he asked, "Just in time for what, my pet?"
"For supper," she told him. "Mammy said if you weren't home by 5 o'clock, we'd eat without you. But you're just in time."
Rhett took out his pocket watch and checked the time. It was ten minutes till 5, and glancing around, he noticed they were still alone in the dining room. "So I am," he said with a smirk. Then, pulling her closer to him, he smiled and whispered in her ear, "You look so good, I think I could eat you for supper."
Scarlett blushed and feigned innocence as she stepped back and smiled playfully. "You shouldn't say such things."
"Oh shouldn't I?" Rhett laughed as he pursued her around the chair and caught her in his arms. She shook her head back and forth and he asked "Just why not? I make the rules around this house. Why can't I say what I please?"
Scarlett looked down at her hands that were resting against Rhett's broad chest and tried to suppress a giggle. "Because…"
Rhett smiled and leaned his face closer to hers. "Why not?" he asked again.
"Because it's not proper," Scarlett told him.
"Well neither is this," Rhett whispered as he leaned in for a kiss. He encouraged her lips to part, and soon their tongues began the familiar duel. He broke their contact briefly to say, "But I've never been one for propriety," before he resumed their stolen embrace.
After supper, Scarlett asked Rhett if he would walk with her in the garden. The warm summer evenings would be gone soon, she reminded him, and she wanted to enjoy the weather. Rhett agreed, and they set out along the cobblestone path as the warm, soft, rose hue of July twilight enveloped them. Scarlett clung to his large hand and walked in silence for a good way until she finally spoke. "Rhett? Where did you go today?"
"To town, why?" he asked as they kept walking.
"I'm just wondering that's all. Did you have a good time?"
"I showed Thomas around, introduced him to some people." Rhett rubbed Scarlett's back as he spoke, "Nothing you need to worry your pretty little head about, my pet."
Scarlett only nodded her head. Where did he really go? She wondered, and when was Thomas leaving town? The sooner he left, she thought, the better, because then maybe Rhett would stay home more during the day.
"How long is Thomas staying in town?"
"Oh, he's leaving at the end of the week."
Scarlett inwardly smiled, but she knew Rhett was disappointed. "So, he's going to Kentucky then?" she asked.
"No, Mississippi. But he said he was going to Kentucky in September, and he wanted me to go along…"
"But you told him no."
Rhett stopped on the path and turned to face Scarlett. He took both his hands in hers and gazed fixedly into her green eyes. "Scarlett, would you really have been so angry if I had accepted the offer?"
Scarlett furrowed her brow and looked away. She didn't know how to answer that question. Yes, she would have been angry, but it was more than that. He had made a promise to her to keep her company. She was not like every other woman who takes to being a mother so easily. Why couldn't he see that she needed him, that she wanted him, that she loved him, and that was why she wanted him here? She didn't understand his struggle in wanting to be with her but at the same time yearning to have one last taste of his old life. She had never been good at seeing both sides of the equation, only the one that involved her.
When she didn't answer, Rhett sighed and turned her chin toward him. "Never mind, Scarlett, it doesn't matter." He kissed her forehead and they continued walking.
The sun sank lower and lower in the sky, and soon it was dusk and a cool breeze had begun to pick up. "Why don't you go back inside, Scarlett. I think I'll stay out here for a few minutes," Rhett told her. His aloofness had returned; his dark eyes told her he wanted to be alone, and she hesitatingly stood there before agreeing and turning back to the house.
Rhett entered the bedroom about a half an hour later. It was dark outside, but the lamps in the room were lit. Yet there was no sign of Scarlett. She must be downstairs, he thought as he sat down on the bed and slipped off his shoes. He had stayed in the gazebo outside after Scarlett had come in, and he had thought about the fun he'd had that day. He was torn between fulfilling his promise to Scarlett and doing what he used to do. Would Scarlett really have been that angry if he had said "yes" to Thomas's invitation? He had no doubt that she could take care of herself, but for some reason, he felt it his obligation to protect her. Yet the allure of freedom tore at his heart with stronger force every day, and he was starting to regret having said no. At any rate, it would be of no use to think about it any more that night.
Rhett stood from the bed and walked toward the dressing room. Just as he reached the door, he caught the faint but distinct aroma of roses and he followed the aphrodisiac to the bathroom. The door was unlocked and Rhett turned the handle slowly so as not to make too much noise, then he stepped inside quietly. When he looked up, he saw before him the source that had drawn him in, and his heart nearly skipped a beat. There in the middle of the room, sat the large porcelain bathtub that rested on four golden carved posts, and in it lay Scarlett, enfolded in the water, with her head resting on the edge of the tub and her eyes closed. Swallowing hard, Rhett tried to control his desire as he reached behind him and locked the door and then proceeded toward the center of the room.
Scarlett still had her eyes closed and Rhett walked to the front of the bathtub, kneeled behind her head, leaned over, and kissed her softly on the lips. Scarlett moaned softly when his lips made contact with hers, but she kept her eyes closed and kissed him back.
"What are you doing here?" she asked when he pulled away.
"You leave an alluring trail, my dear," he whispered huskily. He stood and started unbuttoning his shirt, never taking his eyes off of her. "Though it is the middle of summer, a nice relaxing bath looks appealing. Have you room for this poor old man?"
"I have room for a rich, handsome man, but not one that's poor or old," Scarlett smiled wickedly. Rhett laughed, his eyes dancing, as he finished undressing, and then he stepped into the warm water. Scarlett sat up and moved over to make room for him, and then she moved between his legs and leaned back against his body.
"You had Mammy heat all this water up for you on a hot summer's day?" he commented as he wrapped his arms around her from behind. Scarlett smiled and laughed at his question and told him that Mammy agreed to do anything to help her relax. Rhett nuzzled his lips in her hair, noticing it was wet. "So she even washed your hair for you, I see. Mammy sure does pamper you."
Scarlett turned in his arms so she was facing him. "Well, I don't mind being pampered," she said smoothly.
"A fact I'm well aware of," Rhett laughed. "I wish someone would wash my hair for me!"
"As you wish," Scarlett said quietly. "Lean your head down." Rhett did as he was told and Scarlett leaned over the side of the bathtub to grab a porcelain pitcher, which she filled with water and poured over his head. "Now close your eyes like a good boy so you don't get soap in them," she instructed with quiet authority in her voice. Scarlett took the soap and lathered it in Rhett's black hair, running her fingers through it gently, massaging his scalp. She was amused at this game, and got excited when she noticed the muscles in his shoulders quiver from her touch. After a few minutes, Scarlett again picked up the pitcher and rinsed the soap away, revealing shining black locks which she ran her fingernails through to smooth back.
"There, all done," she exclaimed when she had finished.
Rhett raised his head but his eyes remained squeezed shut. "What if my eyes sting when I open them?" he asked playfully.
Scarlett responded by taking his head in her hands and kissing him quickly on both of his eyes. "There, try now." Rhett opened his eyes and smiled roguishly. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him, planting a soft kiss on her lips.
"What will everyone think," Rhett whispered, "when I come downstairs smelling of flowers and ladies' perfume?"
Scarlett set her hands on his shoulders as she climbed into his lap and straddled him. "Hmmm. Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to join me." Her hands began to wander down his chest and stomach, lower still, until she paused for a moment, her hands on his evident desire, when Rhett's breath caught in his throat. Then she grinned slyly and moved her hands to his back.
"You wicked girl," he said as he cupped her breasts in his hands, causing Scarlett to close her eyes as rivulets of desire coursed through her body. His lips hungrily sought hers and their hands became frantic, exploring each other's bodies that they already knew so well, stopping to give special attention to those places which they knew caused pleasure. The warmth of the water surrounding them added to their desire, and soon Rhett took her by the hips and lifted her up and back down onto him. Their fulfillment was familiar but never lacked excitement, and Scarlett's lips eagerly sought his again.
Their movements were slow, but perfectly synchronized, and as they neared the point of ecstasy, Rhett stopped for a moment and wrapped his arm around Scarlett's back. Both were breathing quite heavily, and Rhett expertly moved within the confined space of the bathtub so that he was on top. Scarlett held onto his back as Rhett gripped the edge of the tub on either side of her shoulders and again began to move inside of her. "Scarlett" he groaned in her ear, and she whispered his name in return, signaling to each other that they had both reached their peak. Their mouths collided in one more ardent kiss as they both trembled in the wake of their lovemaking, and Rhett remained inside of her as he lay his head on her shoulder and she wrapped her arms around his back in return.
They remained intertwined until the water around them became cold, and they finally allowed themselves to get dried off. Rhett securely wrapped one of the thick, fluffy towels around Scarlett's shoulders before he wrapped one around his waist, and together they moved lethargically toward the inviting bed for a much appreciated sleep.
The rest of the week went by quickly. When Rhett came home for supper, Scarlett would ask him where he had been; she was determined to get him to speak to her, but his answers were always vague. Yet why should she question where he had been now, when she never had before? She had always trusted that he was at the bank or wherever else it was he went during the day. Only now, after Rhett had told her of Thomas' proposition to travel to Kentucky, did the gears of her mind start to rotate, and she questioned the validity of Rhett's whereabouts. Still, he would give her answers like: "I was in town", or "nowhere important", and his smile always made her sigh and try to forget just why she wanted to know where he'd been in the first place. Besides, she would tell herself, Thomas will be leaving at the end of the soon, and then Rhett will stay home more.
It was Sunday afternoon, and Scarlett was alone in the house, except for the servants. The Butlers did not have a practice of going to church on Sundays like many of the other citizens in Atlanta, but Scarlett could hear people laughing and chattering in the street outside as they made their way home for lunch, while the hooves of the horses and wheels of the carriages clattered in the balmy air. Scarlett sighed lightly and picked up her sewing. She was sitting on the sofa in Rhett's study because it was cooler there than it was anywhere else in the house, and she found the heat uncomfortable. Her concentration was focused on the picture she was crocheting for the nursery, when a knock on the study door startled her.
"Come in," she said, slightly annoyed.
The door opened and Pork stepped inside. "Miz Scahlett, Miz Elsing is heyah to see you."
Fanny Elsing? What was she doing here? thought Scarlett. After thinking the matter over for a second, Scarlett directed her attention back to the tall, black man, "Alright, Pork, tell her I'll be right out."
Entering the foyer, Scarlett saw the young woman standing over by the widow next to the front door, apparently examining the bouquet of flowers that had been freshly arranged that morning and were now sitting in a china vase on the small wooden table. Fanny obviously hadn't heard Scarlett enter the room, and Scarlett stood silent for a moment before clearing her throat and making her presence known.
Fanny spun around at the sound of the voice behind her, her light eyes dancing in the afternoon sun. Her small frame moved forward and soon Scarlett was in her embrace. "Scarlett, it's good to see you," Fanny said as she pulled away and held Scarlett at arm's length. "You look well."
A slight look of confusion darted across Scarlett's features as she stared at the youthful woman in front of her. She and Fanny were not what Scarlett would consider good friends, and this unannounced visit seemed strangely out of place. What on earth could she want?
"Thank you, Fanny. As do you," Scarlett smiled. She led Fanny by the arm as the two entered the library. They passed Pork on the way down the hall, and Scarlett instructed him to tell Mammy to make some tea and have it brought to them. "What brings you here?" Scarlett asked.
"Oh, nothing really," Fanny said as she took a seat across from Scarlett in one of the large, plush chairs in the enormous library. "I was on my way home from church, and I noticed you weren't there, so I thought I'd stop in for a visit."
Scarlett observed Fanny's face as she spoke, and she noticed that the other woman's eyes did not intentionally meet hers. She's hiding something, something she wants to tell me, thought Scarlett. Seeing Fanny fidgeting in her chair and making useless small talk as if she were afraid to broach whatever subject it was she wanted to bring up irritated Scarlett immensely. As soon as Mammy came in with the tray of tea, Scarlett felt somewhat relived, and she noticed Fanny did as well. They chatted about the goings on of the town, about Scarlett's readiness to have her baby, and the usual gossip, but Scarlett could tell that there was something else that Fanny wanted to say, and she wished she'd just say it already.
"Fanny? Was there something specific you wanted to speak to me about?" Scarlett asked bluntly, but with sugar lacing her voice.
Fanny shifted in her seat and set her cup down on the table next to her chair. "Scarlett, I—I wasn't sure if I should have come here in the first place, but, well, there is something that I heard…I thought it my duty to tell you…"
"For heaven's sake, Fanny! What is it?"
"It's—it's about Captain Butler," she stuttered, and was silent for a moment when Scarlett's eyes narrowed at the mention of Rhett. "He's been…spending time with that Belle Watling."
Scarlett's face paled and sudden tears stung the backs of her eyes with a force so strong she was afraid of being unable to hold them back. "How do you know, Fanny?" Scarlett said in a broken voice.
The other woman's face went soft and she stood up and rushed to Scarlett's side, flinging her arms around her. "Oh, darling, please, don't be upset," Fanny whispered passionately. "Hugh was on his way to Mr. Kennedy's store and he passed by that place. He said he saw Captain Butler coming out." Scarlett's body shook and she tried to hide an uncontrollable sob. "Scarlett, I'm so sorry! Please believe me, I had no intention on upsetting you. I just thought you should know."
Scarlett's mind was reeling. Rhett had been going to Belle's? She knew he used to spend time at that crude establishment during the war, and he never hid that fact from her. But, well, she had somehow managed to forget Rhett's past mistakes and forget that he had ever been associated with Belle Watling. He had been home with her, he spent so much time with her before…The baby, Scarlett thought, mortified. So her suspicions had been right. Now that she was stuck here at home, fat and hideous and carrying Rhett's child, he took the opportunity to run right back to Belle's, to a woman who knew how to please him, and was more experienced than she. So that was where he'd been this week, and that was why he would not answer her directly when she asked him of his whereabouts when he came home for supper. Oh, how could he do this to her! Scarlett shook with rage as the tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks.
Fanny tightened her embrace around Scarlett's thin shoulders. "Scarlett, please, most men turn to other women when their wives are with child. It's something we've learned to accept. I know Captain Butler loves you, Scarlett. Please, it's not your fault."
Fanny's sorry attempt to comfort was lost on Scarlett. She would not be like most women and quietly accept that her husband, who had made ardent love to her just the night before, was seeing that vile creature on the side. Rhett had always told her he was so happy that she was going to have a baby, and oh how he made her feel when he touched her and looked at her with those dark eyes. She knew she had done the same for him, and this made Scarlett even more angry that he should breech their trust that had been so passionately built over the course of their marriage. It wasn't fair, she told herself, and she would not let him get away with it.
Controlling her sobs and sitting up, Scarlett wiped the tears from her face and turned her eyes toward Fanny Elsing who was looking at her with a guilty expression. Scarlett reached out and placed her shaky hand on fanny's arm. "Don't be sorry, Fanny. I'm glad you told me. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm feeling tired." Fanny said nothing, but just nodded her head and patted Scarlett's hand before walking out of the room. When Scarlett heard the front door click shut, she buried her face in her arms and wept again.
At 4:30, Rhett came home from seeing Thomas off at the train station. He was surprised that Scarlett was not downstairs waiting for him as she usually was in the afternoon, ready with a smile and a kiss. Instead, he found her upstairs in the bedroom, sitting on the bed with one leg tucked underneath her, and staring out the window as if lost in her own little world. For a moment, he just stood there in the doorway watching her. Her long, jet back hair cascaded down her back and ended in curls at the bottom. Her burgundy dress brought out the color in her cheeks as she sat in profile with the late afternoon sun pouring in through the window and onto her face.
Rhett knocked on the door quietly to announce his presence, and Scarlett, somewhat startled at the sudden intrusion on her tranquility, turned swiftly to see who it was. When she saw it was Rhett she did not smile or stand to greet him, but turned her face back toward the window. Something was wrong, and Rhett knew it. He furrowed his brow in curiosity and made his way toward the bed and his wife.
"Scarlett?" he asked smoothly. "What are you doing up here all alone? Do you need help getting ready for dinner?" His hand went to her back, but she did not turn to look at him.
"Scarlett, what's wrong?"
Scarlett's shoulder's shook, and she sniffled. Rhett knew she was trying not to cry, but what was this all about? He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face into her hair, whispering in her ear, "What's wrong, my darling?"
At the sincerity in his voice, Scarlett stiffened and wriggled out of his grasp, standing and wiping her tears away before they could fall. She turned to gaze at him, and Rhett was taken aback by the coldness in her green eyes. "Where have you been?" she asked without feeling, her voice sounding in his ears in a low tone.
"I took Thomas to the train station. He was leaving today, remember I told you that?" Rhett narrowed his eyes at her. She stood by the window and sighed, but she made no attempt to come near him. What in the hell was going on, he wondered. "Why don't you sit down and tell me what's bothering you, Scarlett," he said blandly.
"Fanny Elsing stopped by today," Scarlett replied, changing the subject. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him, as if waiting for him to blurt out the truth of where he'd really been lately. Surely he would not try to lie his way out of it.
"Did she? How nice of her. What did she have to say?"
Scarlett was fuming, her cheeks red with anger and she clenched her fists as she looked at him: pretending to be clueless as to what she was talking about.
"Well?" he asked.
That's it, thought Scarlett. She walked over to where he was sitting and slapped him across the face, making him flinch at her unexpected action. Rhett raised his hand and rubbed his cheek, standing abruptly from the bed and towering over her like a looming giant. But Scarlett was not afraid; her anger had blotted out all other emotions.
"I know where you've been!" she yelled as her fists came up and hit him in the chest. "Fanny told me about it! How can you do this to me?"
Rhett grabbed her by the shoulders, a little more harshly than he had intended, and Scarlett cried out, but he did not let go. "What are you talking about?" he demanded. "Why did you hit me?"
Scarlett knew she was capable of matching Rhett in a battle of tempers. She had always been afraid of what would happen if he snapped, and she could see that he was poised dangerously on the edge of doing so now. None the less, she was determined to not back down. He would hear a piece of her mind if it meant they were locked up in this room for the rest of the night.
Her eyes hardened again and she tore herself out of his grasp, though a coolness settled over her skin where his hands had been. "You've been at Belle's, haven't you? Fanny told me all about it! Why have you been lying to me?"
Rhett dropped his hands and sucked in a shallow breath. "Scarlett, please, listen to me before you get upset."
Scarlett turned away from his pleading eyes so her tears would not be visible. She didn't want him to see her crying. "Scarlett," his voice was in her ear again, soft and soothing, and he was behind her, his hands gently grasping her arms. "Scarlett don't be upset, let me explain. Come, sit down over here and let me talk to you."
"I don't want to sit down and talk, I want the truth!" she moaned.
"I will tell you the truth, Scarlett. It's not what you think." Rhett led her over to the bed and sat her down next to him. "Scarlett, you know I never approved of telling lies. I once told you that I could stand anything from you but a lie, so I will return the favor and speak the truth. Look at me." When Scarlett's eyes hesitantly met his, he continued. "You know I've had a past relationship with Belle, and I made no secret about it…"
"So why are you now," she quipped sarcastically. "Why not just say you've traded me for that—that, oh I can't think of anything bad enough to call her!"
"Scarlett, stop it!" His features were hard now, set like stone in his swarthy, handsome face. "You know I used to go to Belle's for more than just a satisfaction for my carnal appetite. You know that, but that was before I got you, do you hear me?" She had turned her head away again, and Rhett witnessed her body tremble in a held back sob. "Scarlett, believe me, you're enough to satisfy my cravings for women, so why would I need to see Belle or any of her girls? I have been at Belle's, yes, I admit, but Scarlett, only to play cards. Surely you couldn't have expected me to discontinue anything and everything that was my old life before we were married."
"I don't believe you! Fanny said Hugh saw you coming out of there!" In her distress she had not comprehended any of what he had just said. It seemed silly to her that a man would go to a whore house to just 'play cards'.
Rhett sighed and ran his hands through his hair, leaving it tousled and hanging in his eyes, a look that became him perfectly, and had always made Scarlett's heart beat faster. "Did you not hear a word I said?" he demanded impatiently. "I told you I have been at Belle's, but not to do what it is you're thinking. What would Hugh know? You're just going to take his sister's word over mine? I'm your husband, Scarlett, and I have not been unfaithful to you. I thought you would have trusted me more than this." He stood abruptly and moved toward the window, his back facing her.
Scarlett was silent for a moment, but nothing made sense to her at this point, and she felt that she could not let him walk away from this conversation as if he had won. Her mind was reeling. There were so many pieces to this puzzle that did not fit, and she needed to know.
"It's hard to trust you when you haven't been telling me the truth this whole week," she accused him.
Rhett spun around and stormed over to her, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her once, his eyes black with sorrowful rage. "What are you accusing me of, Scarlett?"
"All week you haven't been able to give me a straight answer about where you've been. I ask you, 'Rhett, where did you go today?' and you answer, 'Nowhere important'. Why didn't you just tell me?" The hot tears that she had fought so desperately to control had broken free and were now streaming down her face.
"If I told you, I know you'd react exactly how you are now, angry, and unwilling to listen because your damned temper has gotten the best of you!" Rhett immediately cursed himself when he saw Scarlett's body shake with sobs, and her green eyes, wide and glimmering with wet tears, looked at him with such despair. "Scarlett," he continued in a soft tone, holding her at arm's length but caressing her shoulders where he'd last grasped them, "please, I don't want you to get upset. I don't want any harm to come to our baby."
"How can you expect me to not get upset, Rhett?" she asked in a weak voice, her cheeks wet with salty tears. "How am I supposed to react when someone comes into my house and tells me my husband has been seen with other women?"
"Fanny Elsing doesn't know anything of which is fact, Scarlett. She heard this information from Hugh, and Hugh only knows that he saw me coming out of Belle's, but he has no proof that I was even talking to Belle let alone doing, err—other things."
Scarlett's green eyes met Rhett's back ones and singed him with their fire. "The point is, you were there, at Belle's, and you lied to me and told me you had been 'nowhere important'!"
"I don't think I lied, Scarlett," Rhett said quietly. Oh, how could he be so calm about it, cried Scarlett's heart. "I told you I had been nowhere important, and being at Belle's to play cards is not important, and I don't see why it maters so much."
"It's important to me!" she cried passionately, stepping out of his reach and looking around the room. She felt confused, angry, sorrowful, all at the same time. Part of her wanted desperately to believe him, to let him embrace her, but the rest of her felt disgust at the fact that he had been spending time at that saloon instead of with her, and this part ultimately won out.
Rhett was talking to her now; she saw his lips moving and heard his voice, but the words droned in her head, and she understood nothing. Her tears were skewing her vision, and Rhett's face contorted into a look of pity. "It's important to me," she sobbed again, and then she was in his arms, his powerful muscles enfolding her shaking body and holding her close.
"Shhh, Scarlett. I know it's important," Rhett comforted her. She was grateful for the warmth and steadiness of his embrace, but she did not attempt to return the gesture. Instead, he used the calming effect his presence had on her to gather her courage and prepare herself to make a demand of Rhett that would, she hoped, end this unpleasant conversation and settle the issue to her liking.
Taking one last shaky breath and putting her hands on Rhett's chest, she pushed herself up and away so that she could look into his soft face. "Rhett," she began with more conviction than she thought capable in that moment.
"What is it, honey?" he whispered. He was being kind and Scarlett was grateful that his anger seemed to have subsided.
"Rhett I—I don't want you going to Belle's again." There, she'd said it. Surely Rhett would understand the reasons behind this request! He had just told her that he knew it was important to her. But his reaction was far from what she had expected. She saw him grimace and recoil from her, his eyes narrowing, as if this request was not what he wanted to hear.
But then his eyebrows went up, and he spoke with his old mocking voice that he used to use with her during the war. "Scarlett, I hardly think that is a fair request. I only go to Belle's to play cards."
"It's fair," she said resolutely. "Why do you need to go there? Now that Thomas has gone, you don't have that same excuse to use. You can play cards with me here. I learned to play Whist in New Orleans. You won't go there again, promise me."
Rhett took a deep breath, but stood firmly in front of her, his eyes boring straight into hers. "I don't need to go there, Scarlett. I want to go there. I know you don't understand this, but spending an hour after the stressful day I've had at the bank, conversing with my acquaintances, these things give me pleasure. I'm not talking about carnal lusts, Scarlett. I've already told you I have no use for Belle or her women in that area." Scarlett sighed in disgust at the thought of Rhett sleeping with those dirty women, but Rhett continued: "Scarlett, I can't be confined to this house all of the time without seeing other people, doing things I like to do outside of our married life."
"You, confined?" Scarlett spat vehemently. "I'm the one who is confined, Rhett Butler! It's all because of you! Now that I'm here and ugly and fat, you don't desire me anymore," she wailed. "You are to blame for my condition!"
Rhett lunged forward and grabbed Scarlett's arms again, squeezing them hard in his concrete grasp. "I seem to remember you being there that night that this child was conceived, Scarlett," Rhett said through gritted teeth. But when he saw her eyes wide with fear, he immediately loosened his grasp and his features softened along with his voice. "I'm sorry, Scarlett, but I can't promise you that I won't go play cards and socialize at Belle's. You must trust me that I have been, and always will be faithful to you. I do love you, Scarlett, and this baby."
"You'll promise me, or you will not be sleeping in this bed tonight," Scarlett said defiantly. Rhett gasped softly and dropped his hands from her arms, his eyes desperately searching hers for any sign that she could possibly be joking. For it was a sick joke, to him, for her to suggest that they share separate beds, even if it was for one night.
"You can't be serious, Scarlett."
Scarlett squared her shoulders and held her head high. Her heart was pounding with the fear of his decision. She did not want to kick him out of their bedroom, she wanted—no, needed to feel his arms around her at night. But she had made up her mind. If this was the only way to keep Rhett by her side, then so be it. "Promise me."
A deep silence settled over them as they stood facing each other, Scarlett, petite and quite delicate underneath her fiery countenance, and Rhett, so dark and masculine, now both locked in this awkwardness, hanging on the thread of Rhett's decision.
Finally, Rhett spoke, his voice low, "You have always been very possessive in your belongings, Scarlett. But you know you cannot control me. I'm sorry. Your trust in my love for you will have to suffice, because I cannot make that promise." He stepped forward and leaned down to kiss her delicately on the forehead, and she held her breath. But then he turned and made his way toward the door. Scarlett stood rooted in place as the tears of heartache gushed from her green eyes, and she longed to take her accusations back. But it was too late. Before Rhett reached the door, he turned and gave her a sorrowful look, one that sent a stab of pain through her heart, and then the door clicked shut and she was alone.
A week had come and gone since the argument, and it had been nothing short of torture for Scarlett. She and Rhett barely spoke when they were alone together, and it was bad enough having to share meals with him and not being able to talk because their pride got in the way of either of them breaking the ice; but once night fell and Scarlett retired to their bedroom alone, that was nearly unendurable. The first night had been the worst. She had not been able to sleep, tossing and turning under the sheets in the hot, thick summer air, and when she lay still, she could hear him across the hall in the guest room, pacing back and forth in the dark. Part of her was grateful that he had at least spent the night under this roof and not at Belle's, but she wanted so desperately to go back in time and take back her accusations of his infidelity, if only so she could be in his strong arms.
When at last her restlessness came to an end and all was silent in the large house, Scarlett laid with eyes wide open, listening for any distinct sound coming from Rhett's room across the hall. Her door had been left cracked open, as a part of her hoped he would take it as a sign of invitation to join her; but he did not. Once, in the very early hours of the morning, Scarlett, so tempted to be near him, quietly got out of bed and padded across the hall, surprised (or was she?) to find Rhett's door open. The room was nearly pitch black, but her eyes were already adjusted to the dark, and they discerned his figure in the bed. He was sleeping on his side facing away from the door, and she kept quiet so that he would not awaken, because she did not know how heavy his slumber was.
She stood watching him from the doorway for what seemed like an eternity, and he did not stir, and through the courage she had in her soul, she dared to move closer to him, guided by the light that was her love for Rhett. When she stood over him, she saw his face in the dim moonlight, sharp, dark and handsome, like a pagan god, and she yearned with desire to wake him and tell him she was sorry, and that she loved him. But she was too stubborn, and her shrewd disposition would not allow her to give in to her desires; Rhett must learn that this was the price he would have to pay for being, so she thought, negligent with her feelings and refusing her heartfelt request that he stay away from Belle's. Still, she had grown so accustomed to sharing her bed with Rhett over the past year, it felt like she had never slept alone in her life, and to not be able to touch him in even in the smallest way made her heart ache more than she thought possible.
Ever so slowly, Scarlett leaned down above Rhett's sleeping form and inhaled his scent. He had been drinking earlier; she could smell the brandy on him even when he slept. That must have been why he was pacing back and forth earlier, she thought. She dared not make a noise, lest he should wake up and see her, for she knew if he did she would not be able to go back to her own room, and though she wanted desperately to be with him, she knew she could not until this mess was sorted out; and she would not be the one to give in. She reached out her hand and softly placed it on his warm, broad shoulder before leaning down to put her lips close to his ear. "I love you," she said, but the words did not escape her lips into the night air.
It was as if she had said it out loud though, for suddenly Rhett shifted and reached out his hand to the other side of the bed, grasping for something that wasn't there, and he called her name. Scarlett stood erect and held her breath, but she saw Rhett's eyes were still closed and he did not speak again. He must have been dreaming, she told herself. Then she turned and hastily flew from the room back into her own sanctuary.
Scarlett did not dare return to Rhett's room again after he had gone to sleep. He was gone as usual during the day, and came home late at night. One time he did not come home at all until the next morning, when he came staggering in through the door with a hangover and Pork had to help him to bed. She had never seen Rhett in such a state before and it pained her to witness it now. How could they have gone from being the focus of each other's thoughts, actions, lives even, to being virtual strangers living under the same roof? It was too painful and too deep a thought for Scarlett's mind to grasp. She did not know how to solve the problem, she only knew she missed Rhett—missed his laughter, his crude jokes, his touch and his kisses. She realized that it was her threat of kicking him out of their bedroom that had caused him to distance himself, but why couldn't he see that she needed him, and that she could not—would not come in second to another woman? She had never come in second in a man's affections, and now she felt like she was losing some invisible battle for a man she loved more than anything.
These were the thoughts she was rolling around in her mind for the thousandth time that week as she sat on the settee in the parlor watching the sun sink lower in the sky outside the window, turning the leaves on the trees into brilliant shades of red and brown; a sign of the coming Autumn. How could everything outside be so tranquil when inside Scarlett felt such turmoil? She sighed deeply and closed her eyes to the stillness of the room. Her solitude did not last long, however, for she soon heard a shuffling noise on the wood floor behind her and her eyes shot open. She turned around to see who it was that had interrupted her quiet solitude, but it was not Mammy or Prissy as she had suspected; it was Rhett, and the sight of him made her pulse quicken. He was sober, freshly shaved, and stood behind her in gray trousers and a matching gray vest with a gold watch chain over his crisp, white shirt.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he said quietly. It was the first time he had spoken to her so gently all week, and Scarlett did not know what to make of it.
"No," she said barely above a whisper. "I—I was just resting."
Rhett looked down and nodded silently. Then, almost timidly, he directed his eyes toward her and she swallowed a lump in her throat when she saw the longing written in his coal black orbs. "I uh, I was looking for someone to play a card game with me."
Scarlett sat up straight on the settee and studied his face for some kind of hidden sign as to why he was here. "I thought you went to Belle's for that."
Rhett ignored the venom in her voice and reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a deck of playing cards, shuffling them in his hands as he spoke. "Well, they're very good at playing poker and rummy, things of that sort. But I had the inkling to play a game of whist, and I used to know a green-eyed girl who played whist quite well. Perhaps you know of her?"
"You mean you want to play cards with me?" Scarlett asked.
"Do you object to my offer?"
"I—no," Scarlett stuttered, but Rhett was already making his way around the settee with his lanky strides, and he pulled up a chair on the other side of the mahogany table that sat in front of the settee. "Rhett, we don't have enough players," Scarlett commented quietly. "It's only you and me."
"Is it?" Rhett looked about them in mockery and then smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "I guess then we'll just have to make our own version. Or if you'd like I can leave and you can play solitaire." He started dealing the cards on the table, and his eyes remained focused on the task at hand.
Scarlett sighed audibly and Rhett glanced up at her under lowered lids before resuming the game. He set a stack of cards in front of Scarlett and one in front of himself, holding up a hand containing five elaborately decorated cards. He seemed very intent on the game, and his face bore a serious expression, as if he were playing for money.
"Rhett what is this all about?" Scarlett asked tiredly, leaving her cards on the table face down.
"I thought you liked to play cards."
Scarlett hung her head and sighed again before raising her eyes to meet his and speaking softly. "Rhett, do be serious. Why are you here, wanting to play cards with me, when I've barely seen you all week? Why aren't you at Belle's?" She was afraid if she raised her voice any higher, she'd be in danger of revealing her sadness.
"Because I wanted to play with you instead," he replied quite seriously.
"Why? Because you've beaten all of the men there at poker, and won all of their money? And now that you've made the rounds at Belle's, that only leaves me, your poor and lonely wife to entertain you?" Scarlett asked sarcastically, her gaze hard and inquisitive.
"I told you a few minutes ago, Scarlett," Rhett said calmly, his eyes focused on the table, "I wanted to play cards with you. If I wanted to be at Belle's, I would be."
Scarlett cringed at his words. He would be at Belle's if he wanted to? Why did he go there in the first place if he loved her as much as he said he did? He knew it was important to her that he stay home.
"I don't want your pity!" Scarlett hissed, and Rhett's eyes shot up to meet hers. "Oh! Why don't you just go back to Belle's! Does it make you feel more of a man to go there and gallivant around with all those women, and swagger and boast, because you know I'm here, unable to go out and do anything on my own?" She bit down on her lower lip to keep her tears from falling.
A sharp flash of anger crossed Rhett's eyes and he slammed his fists on the wood table so hard that the cards jumped off the surface. "God damn it, Scarlett!" he shouted, making her shrink back on the settee as tears of anger and fear fell down her cheeks. Rhett stood up abruptly and walked around the table, leaning over and holding Scarlett's shoulders in an iron grip. "Listen to me! No, it doesn't make me feel more of a man to go to Belle's, but it makes me feel hell of a lot less of a man to have been banished from my bedroom and denied my marital rights!"
Rhett cringed when he saw Scarlett's lips tremble and watched the large prisms of tears roll down her beautiful cheeks, and suddenly a large wave of guilt passed over him and settled in the pit of his stomach. All Scarlett wanted was for him to stay home with her and keep her company while she waited for the baby to come, and he had promised her. They were in an awful mess now, the cause of their pride, and somehow he felt responsible for making Scarlett so miserable. Being the father of this child, he was responsible for its wellbeing as well as Scarlett's. He remembered how during the war, he had so wished that Scarlett would stop fighting and let him fight for her. Now she had surrendered and put her faith in him, and what did he do? He denied her the solace and comfort he had once been so desperate to provide.
Suddenly, her tears became too much for him to bear and he was holding her in his arms, rubbing her back with his large, warm hands, and she returned the embrace this time. His lips found her cheeks and he kissed away her tears, and then he took her face in his hands and held it up so he was gazing directly into her emerald eyes.
"Please, my baby, don't cry." Scarlett took his wrists in her hands and pulled them away from her face so she could nestle her head in the crook of his neck, and he held on to her tightly, telling himself that he needed to think of her and do whatever he could to make her happy, even if it meant sacrificing his happiness.
"Rhett?" Scarlett whispered.
"Will you stay with me tonight? I've missed you so."
It was uncharacteristic of Scarlett to bare such emotions to the world, even to him, and he could not deny her this; he did not want to deny her, for he loved her more than life itself, and the guilt would eat him alive if he caused her any more pain.
"Yes, Scarlett," he said as he buried his lips in her long hair. "Of course I will."
"Rhett, will you leave the lamp on for a little while?" Scarlett asked as she came out of her dressing room where she had changed into her nightgown.
Rhett, who was already in bed, looked at her curiously. "Why, Scarlett?"
"I'm just not ready to fall asleep yet," she said softly as she pulled back the light covers and crawled into bed. They sat in silence for a while, neither of them knowing what to do or say in the awkwardness of that moment.
After their heartfelt embrace in the parlor earlier that evening, Rhett had escorted Scarlett to dinner, where she had received the first genuine smile from him all week, and she had shyly returned the gesture. Following dinner, Rhett had invited Scarlett to sit with him in the study where they used to spend many quiet evenings together while Rhett smoked his customary cigar and they talked of sweet nothings until the late hours of the night. But tonight they were both reluctant to break the delicate bond they had rebuilt in the past few hours, and so they had kept quiet, and when they felt the need to speak, it was small talk, irrelevant to their argument, as if nothing had happened that was out of the ordinary. This was okay for Scarlett, for she had decided it would do them no good to pour fresh salt on their wounds by bringing up the subject of Belle or the other problems they had been facing. Instead they preferred to remain at peace with one another and let their bond build itself up anew.
Now that they were alone again, in their bedroom, and all was still on the second floor of the house, neither of them knew what to say or how to act. There was a sexual tension in the air that was nearly palpable, for both of them wanted to be close to the other, but each was afraid of saying something that should remain unsaid.
Though it was still summer, the air on that early August evening was cooler than it had been for some time, and Rhett, as was his custom in the summer months, slept without clothes on. Scarlett stole a glance at his muscular tanned chest, that same chest that she had lain her head on and trailed kisses over many times, but now it seemed new to her as if she had never touched it before. Rhett's hair, no longer slicked back as he usually wore it during the day, fell in his eyes, and she watched his profile in the dim light. He seemed nervous, aloof, and she longed to kiss him.
Ever so slightly, Scarlett scooted closer to Rhett's side, and reached out her small hand, tentatively grazing his abdomen with her feather-light touch. When her fingers made contact with his skin, she felt him shiver, and his large hand clasped hers. Her eyes coyly wandered up to his face, and she saw him looking at her with a mixture of longing and something else that almost seemed like guilt.
"Aren't you cold without a night shirt?" Scarlett whispered.
"No." Rhett was toying idly with her fingers, and she watched him curiously as he brought her hand up to his silky lips, tickling her palm with his moustache and then moving up to her wrist, never failing to send electricity down her spine or make the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
Scarlett moved closer to him, and suddenly a chill draft came through the open window as the breeze picked up outside and she shivered.
"Are you cold?" Rhett asked. Scarlett nodded affirmatively. "Well, would you like me to shut the window?"
"No," Scarlett said.
"Well then, I can get an extra blanket to cover you, or, there is another way you might stay warm."
Rhett hesitantly reached over and put his hands on her waist. "You can come sit over here if you'd like," he offered. Scarlett, who had never wanted him to sleep anywhere but here, took his offer and slid on to his lap as Rhett reached around her and pulled the sheets up and tucked them around their legs. Then he took both of her hands in his and let their fingers intertwine as he rested his chin on her shoulder. "I've missed this, you know," he said smoothly.
Scarlett sighed and put her cheek against his forehead. "Rhett, will you look at me?" She sat up and so did he, locking his gaze on hers questioningly. "Promise me," she breathed, and he knew exactly what she was talking about. She had been brave enough to bring up the subject of their argument without saying the exact words. She wanted to hear him say that he would not go back to Belle's and he knew it. His guilt over making her so upset returned with sharp fangs to gnaw at him, and as he focused on her pale face with her green eyes so hopeful and yet frightened at the same time, her black hair falling in soft curls over her shoulders, he knew he could not say no to her this time. He unlinked his hands from hers and moved them up to her face, cupping her cheeks and bringing her in close so that there was barely and inch of air separating their lips.
"I promise," he whispered, and it was all he had to say before his lips pressed against hers and he heard her suck in a breath from his sudden motion. Scarlett put her hands in his hair and broke away slightly to take in some air before resuming their kiss and deepening it. It felt as if this were the first time they had ever kissed, even though it had only been a week since their last passionate embrace. But the familiar fire sparked in both of them as their kisses became more frantic and their hands slowly caressed every eager inch of each other.
Rhett broke the kiss to move his lips down her neck and to her shoulders. His fingers came up to undo the top buttons on her nightgown, and he slipped the fabric down her creamy shoulders as his lips roamed down further. Scarlett wrapped her arms around his shoulders and grasped his dark hair, digging her nails into his back as Rhett teased her breasts. He returned his kisses back up to her shoulders and she softly gasped. At this sound, Rhett opened his cloudy eyes and suddenly stopped kissing her. Scarlett furrowed her brow, confused as to why he had stopped, and she looked down at him delicately touching her shoulders with his fingertips.
There were bruises on Scarlett's shoulders from when he had grabbed her during their argument last week. They were fading to a dull brown now, but they were still visible in the light, and Rhett cringed as he suddenly realized that he had been the cause of this affliction. Scarlett watched him with soft eyes as he raised his head and looked at her.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you like this." Rhett cast his eyes down and delicately kissed her shoulders where the marks were. Tears welled up in Scarlett's eyes at the guilt in his deep voice, and she laid her head on his shoulder, whispering that he needn't worry about it now, that it was in the past. But Rhett felt the wetness of her tears as they landed on his shoulder and he held her close, cursing himself for having hurt her and for being the cause of this petty argument. He ran his hands down her back and they sat for what seemed like hours in the cool silence before Scarlett finally whispered, "Just hold me tonight, Rhett." Rhett kissed her temple and nodded, handing her off of his lap as they both got into a sleeping position and he wrapped his arms around her from behind.
Rhett opened his heavy eyes to the monotonous sound of raindrops pattering against the window. It took him a moment to adjust his vision to his surroundings, but when he finally cleared his mind, he realized he was in his bedroom, a place he had not seen in nearly a week. It was strange to him that he was here now, and he knew if he turned his head he would see Scarlett sleeping next to him as he had done so many nights. Not knowing what to make of the night before, of their fragile truce and of the thoughts bombarding his mind like an army marching inside of his brain, Rhett closed his eyes again to the dim gray light that was filtering through the glass. Even with his eyes closed, images of Scarlett flashed before him. Scarlett, so timid and frightened on their wedding night, the brave shell that had been there since his return to Tara falling like a house of cards. Scarlett when she told him she was expecting a child and the trust in her bright eyes when he told her everything would be fine. The passion, and yes, he believed, even love when she looked into his eyes in all of their moments of ecstasy—and there were so many moments that he would never forget as long as he lived. And then finally Scarlett as she had appeared just the night before, so young and unyielding; the pain and hope in her eyes when she had asked him for the second time, so ardently, to prove he loved her by staying home.
He knew he loved her, yet he did not understand why he was feeling such a conflict of emotions. Why was it so hard for him to stay home with her for a few months until she had their baby? It seemed such a small request in the larger scope of things, yet he grasped with it with an intensity he never knew was in him, and suddenly he realized that he was afraid. Not afraid of what lay ahead for him and Scarlett and for their child, but afraid of completely losing all sense of what he used to be—that daring adventurer who went wherever his heart and wallet took him at the drop of a dime. He never had a care in the world, no one but himself to look out for, until he married Scarlett. But even then it had not changed his perspective on things, for Scarlett followed him wherever he wanted to go, and he was content to take her anywhere she desired if only to see the smile on her face or feel her soft lips against his in appreciation. No, he realized as he brought his hand up to rub his grizzled face, it was when the full notion that his wife was going to have a baby hit him with its reality. It was not as if he did not want a child, for he adored children; it was the sharp realization that from now on he would have to tame his wild ways, for he had another person that would be dependent upon him, one who was defenseless against the harsh world.
What was it that Belle had told him that day at the saloon? "Once that child arrives everything will change." What if he didn't want everything to change? What if it turned out that he was not ready or capable of being a good father? And what of Scarlett? Was he prepared to share her with anyone else? Suddenly Rhett smirked as he realized that Scarlett had voiced these same fears about herself just a few months prior. So he and his hot-headed wife had the same selfish spirits after all. But there was nothing he could do to turn back time, and he knew it was inevitable that Scarlett would get pregnant eventually, for they had been anything but chaste for the past year, and he wouldn't change that anyway. No, he was not afraid of being a father, he was afraid of entering that new phase of his life without the feeling of completing his phase of independence, and going to Belle's to play cards, drink and gamble were part of that phase, part of who he was at the core of his spirit. He would abide by the code of being a loving and caring husband and father when this baby arrived, but in the mean time he wanted to take that last breath of freedom.
And then Scarlett came back to the forefront of his thoughts. He hated to see her cry, for he knew he was the cause of her heartache, and for as long as he'd known her she had been so resilient to anything that stood in her way. Rhett had thought, with a secret sense of pride before she was his, that she was invincible. But now he knew that she was all too human and capable of succumbing to womanly emotions. He still could not understand why she had gotten so upset at him playing cards at Belle's. Women were overly emotional when expecting a child, he knew that, but why did it seem to him that she did not trust him to stay faithful to her? Maybe she's afraid that I don't love her anymore, he thought. But that was not true, he loved her more than anything; he worshiped her, even more so now in her present condition. Was it because she loved him that she wanted him to stay away from the saloon? He knew she must love him, but why had she never said it? He wanted to hear it spoken from those ruby lips so bad that his heart came near to bursting from anticipation every time they made love.
Rhett sighed as he realized that he was no closer to sorting out his thoughts than he had been the night before. At any rate, he had discovered day by day that marriage, especially marriage to a woman as independent as Scarlett, was a dual effort. He knew that in order for them to remain strong in their bond with each other, he had to stop thinking of himself and his own desires and concentrate on doing what he could to make her happy; and he would bring her the moon if it would make her happy.
At that very moment, he felt a warm hand splay across his torso and it made him start because he had been so wrapped up in this thoughts. But he relaxed immediately and put his hand over Scarlett's before he turned on his side to face her. Scarlett had snuggled in close to his side and her bright eyes met his. "Hello," Rhett said barely above a whisper, the corners of his mouth going up in the beginnings of a smile.
Her fingers wrapped around his gently and she held them to her breast. "You're here," she whispered in appreciation, and when he gave her a slightly confused look she said, "I mean, you're not at the bank or…or anything." Feeling that the latter part of her comment was unnecessary, Scarlett dropped her eyes from his.
Rhett propped his head on his hand and used the other hand to brush a stray tendril of hair out of Scarlett's face. "I can't go to the bank today anyway."
Rhett shrugged and raised his eyebrows. "It's raining outside."
Scarlett propped herself up and peered over Rhett's shoulder toward the window where rivulets of water were running down the glass pane. "Oh. But why, I mean, the bank is in doors."
Rhett chuckled softly, running his fingers down her side. "What is this? Do you want me to go to the bank? I thought you wanted me to stay home."
"I do, Rhett."
"Well, and I don't feel like going to the bank today anyway."
Scarlett closed her green eyes tiredly and wove her fingers together with his as Rhett watched her in the misty gray of the morning. It was a bittersweet silence that permeated the room and enveloped them in a cocoon of unspoken emotion. The rain continued to fall outside as the minutes passed by, and Rhett gently ran his fingers through her long ebony hair, down her arm and over her stomach, content to just let his burdensome thoughts wash away with the rain.
But Scarlett was not asleep, she was listening—listening to the sound of the rain, of Rhett's breathing, of her own heartbeat. Rhett's warm touch and the noises surrounding her acted as stimuli to help calm her against the question she had to ask Rhett, a question which she was afraid of the answer. "Rhett?" she whispered, opening her eyes. When she saw him focus his piercing gaze on her she continued shyly, quietly, "Rhett, are we going to be okay?"
Rhett's heart melted at the tone of her voice, but he did not speak, and she saw the melancholy look in his eyes, for he did not quite know what to say. So, he answered her in the only way he knew how: he laid his head next to hers on the pillow and he kissed her, slowly, passionately, finally, and when he broke away he whispered, "I love you, Scarlett. Know that whatever happens, I love you."
Scarlett's eyes darted straight to his confusedly. What had he meant "No matter what happens?" But before she had time to contemplate any further, his lips were on hers again and he tugged at her nightgown, pulling the hem up to her waist and he wrapped his arms around her soft skin, holding her close, and she forgot all about his words as she arched against him.
She broke the searing kiss with effort and searched his eyes, her hands playing with the hair at the back of his neck. "What are you planning to do today if you're not going to the bank?" she asked breathlessly.
Rhett smirked, "Oh, I can think of at least one thing I haven't done in what seems like an eternity." Scarlett giggled, wide-eyed with playful anticipation as she pulled him in for another kiss, and in that moment, she let the heartache and sadness of the past week wash away on the tide of their passion.
True to his word, Rhett kept his promise and stayed home with Scarlett. He did not go to Belle's again, and when he did go out, it was to the bank, the post office for the mail, or wherever else it was essential for him to go in order to function in his daily routine. At home he lavished his attentions on Scarlett, playing games with her, making her feel comfortable and doing whatever she asked. But there was a distant quality about him. He was overly gentle with her, and Scarlett would sometimes catch him sitting alone in his study after meals, watching the changing leaves rattle in the warm wind, or smoking a cigar in the silence, removed from everything around him. He would dutifully snap to attention and smile whenever she announced her presence, but something about his aloofness disturbed her, for his behavior, his far away look, as if he were somewhere else entirely, reminded her of Ashley Wilkes—looking at something and seeing something entirely different.
Scarlett did not know that when she caught him in these moments, Rhett was thinking of times gone by. He thought of Charleston before he was turned out without a penny to his name, his travels overseas, into Yankee territory, and out West to California. Always a new adventure; never stopping, never thinking, just going where the wind blew him. Sometimes, when he knew no one would intrude on his solitude, he would close his eyes and feel the sea wind blowing through his black hair, smelling the salt in the air. He would see the Caribbean sunsets, taste the rum in Nassau; hear the humming of a million different voices, speaking all different languages, mixing together on the busy piers of Liverpool, Dublin and Le Havre. All of these images and senses combined into one during those quiet moments when he was alone and they became real and alive in his mind, and a sense of nostalgia would sweep over him.
No, Scarlett did not know what he was thinking of, and she was very curious, but she was afraid to ask, and he never told her. The only thing she knew was that he was slowly distancing himself from her. Not matter what he said or did to keep her happy, she could sense the space he was invisibly putting between them, and she fought to keep him near her. She mustn't let him be alone for too long or he might forget that she was even there. Oh, why was he acting so strange? It was very bewildering and frustrating to her.
In the two weeks since their reconciliation, they had settled into a routine in their home life. Rhett would be gone before she awoke in the morning and would return promptly before supper. They would eat together, laugh, smile, share useless stories and information for the sake of conversation, and following their meal, they would both retire to the study. Scarlett had not been asked to follow Rhett, but she did anyway, afraid to let him out of her sight lest he should slip into one of his reveries and leave her out in the cold. She didn't think he minded her company anyway. And he did not mind, though he would have preferred to have some time alone. But he would not tell her to go away; he was afraid of upsetting her, and so he would sit on the couch, drinking a glass of brandy, and Scarlett would lay next to him with her head on his lap, relishing the feel of his hand combing through her long hair as it cascaded over his knees.
At night, after the house was silent, Scarlett would sometimes lay awake in bed, staring at Rhett's sleeping face next to hers, wondering what had changed, if anything, or if it was just her overactive, superstitious imagination. She did not think she had changed. She loved Rhett more than ever, cherished her moments with him and reveled in his jubilant kisses. But somehow it felt strange to her, as if not all of Rhett's heart or mind had been in his embraces, his smiles, his laughter or his adoration lately. Had he fallen out of love with her as she had fallen out of love with Ashley? Every time this thought came to her she would squeeze her eyes shut, desperate for it not to be true. And always, always before her thoughts ran away from her she would feel his hand search hers out under the sheets and hear his gruff voice penetrate the still darkness: "Scarlett, please go to sleep."
"I—I can't," she would whisper.
"Because I'm thinking."
"Well don't think," he would say gently, opening his eyes and searching for hers. "You need your rest, my pet." And then he would pull her close and kiss her softly on the lips and then the forehead, holding her protectively in his arms. She would sigh out of slight frustration at not getting any relief from her tormenting thoughts, but the warmth of his body pressing against hers always acted as a tonic and she would slowly drift off to sleep, thinking that the next day, things would be different.
Scarlett's moods swung like the changing of the seasons outside, and though it bewildered Rhett, he stayed on guard and took it in stride. Sometimes she was very kind and appreciative of his deeds, and he enjoyed being around her and hearing the soft golden tone of her laughter and seeing the light in her green eyes. But just as quickly she would turn on him, cranky, negative, telling him to go away and leave her alone. He knew it was all attributed to her being pregnant, but it confused him just the same, and during her good moods she was always clinging to him so he hardly ever got a moment to himself, the latter of which constantly grated on his nerves.
It was during one of her bad moods, on the first Monday of September, that she haughtily sent him to the telegraph office with a letter to New York and the Wilkes family, and Rhett was only too happy to obey. Scarlett had sent and invitation to Melanie about a month ago asking if she would like to come and visit, and Melanie had replied that she would be delighted to come home to Atlanta if only for a short stay. So, Scarlett had written back asking if Ashley and Beau would be joining her, and this was the letter that Rhett had with him that day.
When he got to the telegraph office, he pulled out the letter and handed it to the clerk behind the large wooden desk. As the clerk started tapping in the contents of the letter in Morse code, Rhett fleetingly wondered if Ashley Wilkes would be accompanying Melanie to Atlanta. He hoped he wouldn't, but Beau was not old enough to be in school yet, and someone had to take care of him. Well, he thought to himself, at least he was almost completely sure that Scarlett harbored no feelings for that blond-haired, sandy-eyed coward. If only she would tell him, Rhett, that she loved him. Then he would rest assured that she did not love Ashley anymore.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?" the clerk asked Rhett after he was done sending the telegram.
Rhett had been leaning against the counter, absorbed in his thoughts, and the clerk's voice startled him with its clarity. "Oh, um, well you'd better please check if there are any telegrams for Butler."
The clerk nodded and turned around, sorting through the telegrams on the back counter that had yet to be delivered by the messenger boys. After a minute, he turned around holding a piece of yellow paper up in front of Rhett. "Butler. Here you go, sir. Came yesterday."
Rhett took the telegram and thanked the clerk before turning and walking outside onto the street teeming with Yankees and Confederates alike; everyone seemed busy on this late summer day. He tipped his hat somewhat sarcastically to one of the Old Guard members who gazed at him skeptically from their carriage, and, leaning forward against the wood railing on the porch of the telegraph office, he read the telegram.
It was from Thomas Holden. He was in Louisville now and was wondering if Rhett had changed his mind about joining him on his excursion.
"Do let me know. Hoping you changed your mind," it said, and listed the address of Thomas's hotel.
Rhett lifted his head from the telegram and peered out over the busy street. Besides the few old passers by who scowled at him under their bonnets and caps, no one seemed to notice him. He was one of many in this crowd, a man minding his own business. But the familiar faces transformed into the unknown multitude of a foreign port. The people's horses turned into the racing thoroughbreds of the races in Kentucky and Virginia, and his mind was off to distant places again; the yearning for adventure creeping up in his chest like a storm as he clenched his fists. He thought of Scarlett at home. God knew what kind of mood she would be in, clinging to him, suffocating him, and suddenly the thought of getting away, if only for a month or so, was so strong in him.
Melanie would be coming soon and she could keep Scarlett company, though he knew Scarlett could take care of herself. But Melanie would not let Scarlett outdo herself. She would make sure Scarlett was safe, that the baby was safe. He thought nothing of how Scarlett would react to the news of him leaving, so strong was the thought of one last adventure. He would be back before Scarlett had the baby, and then—and then he could settle down for good.
Having made up his mind on a whim, Rhett nodded his head and re-entered the telegraph office. The same clerk who had sent Scarlett's telegram off just minutes before looked over the steel rims of his glasses at Rhett.
"Can I help you?"
Rhett asked for a piece of paper and began scrawling a note in his masculine handwriting. "Here," he instructed, "send this overnight." He handed the note over to the clerk and then held out the telegram from Thomas, pointing at the bottom of the paper, "Make sure you send it to this address."
The house was silent when Rhett returned home from the telegraph office that afternoon. He guessed that Scarlett was probably upstairs or out in the garden, and he started toward the stairs to freshen up for dinner when the muffled sound of laughter stopped him. He stood on the ornate Oriental rug at the foot of the staircase and strained his ears, and then he heard it again—the high pitched feminine laughter that could only belong to his high-spirited wife. It was coming from the direction of the kitchen and he was impelled to follow it to its source, but he impulsively held himself back.
He had not thought at all on his way home of how or when he would tell Scarlett of his impending leave of absence. Should he do it now or wait until later? Either way it had to be done tonight, for he had stopped by the depot on the way back and purchased a one way ticket to Kentucky on the first train tomorrow morning. He now felt the impending weight of his decision in his chest and he did not know how long he would be able to keep it a secret from Scarlett. She would be angry, he was sure, but he could not undo his decision now, not when he had sent off the telegram to Thomas saying he would come and meet him. He did not want to change his mind, for whether Scarlett liked it or not, this was a decision he had made on his own behalf. Only now that he was back in the house, back in the presence of that woman that held his heart, he became unsure of himself, of how to break the news in a way that would have the least possible repercussions. When his mind stopped grappling with these burdensome questions, Rhett decided that he would wait until later that night, when he and Scarlett were alone, to tell her of his decision. This way, he told himself assuredly, he would be able to spend at least part of the night in a peaceful atmosphere with her instead of a whole night with her being angry at him. Coming to the conclusion that this was the best choice, Rhett turned and walked toward the kitchen and Scarlett's voice.
She was standing at the counter with her back toward him, handing Mammy spoons or ingredients as the old black lady huffed and puffed over the food she was preparing for supper. Rhett watched from the doorway and listened as Scarlett asked Mammy silly questions about how to make things and then laughed when Mammy told her, "It ain't fittin' fo' a young lady lahk you to be in heya toilin' about makin' suppuh when you's supposed to be restin' upstaihs. Mammy can take care of dis, and what would Mistah Rhett say if he caught you in heya?"
"I think she's doing a wonderful job helping, Mammy," Rhett chuckled from the doorway.
Scarlett and Mammy both turned around at his voice, and Scarlett smiled prettily. "Rhett," she said as her eyes lit up like twin emeralds sparkling in the bright sun. Rhett was pleased because her temper had seemingly cooled down from earlier that morning and the tantrum had passed, leaving a beaming Scarlett in its place. Rhett walked toward her with a smile, taking all of her in with his glance, from her red satin slippers that matched her scarlet linen dress, to her rosy cheeks, crimson lips and long jet black hair that cascaded down her back. She hardly ever wore her hair up in a coif or elaborate fashion these days, and Rhett preferred it so, for he loved her hair, loved running his fingers through it and inhaling the scent of roses that often lingered there. Suddenly he thought of how much he would miss burying his lips in her hair while he was gone, but he quickly pushed that thought out of his mind and came up in front of her, taking her waist in his hands.
Mammy saw the scene that was about to unfold and respectfully turned the other direction to check on the bread in the oven.
"What a good wife I have," Rhett smiled, leaning down for a kiss, "making my dinner for me."
"I'm not making anything for you, Rhett Butler," Scarlett grinned. "I was only supervising."
Rhett frowned in a teasing manner, "Then alas my hopes of finally sampling your culinary skills have been blighted. I don't recall any gallant soldiers at the bazaar during the war dying of the cakes you and your Aunt Pitty had prepared, and so you must be an adequate chef."
Scarlett's eyes crackled with fire at his remark, and she grinned wickedly, "No, but I'd have made sure to sell you a poisoned one." Then she stood on her tiptoes, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him sweetly on the cheek. When she pulled away she put her arm through his and walked out of the kitchen into the dining room to wait for supper to be served.
"Did you send the telegram to Melly?" Scarlett questioned.
"Yes. When exactly is she coming?"
"She said next Wednesday she'd be coming on the train. I wonder if Ashley and Beau will be coming too. I haven't seen them in so long." Rhett barely noticed that her voice held none of the former feeling it used to when she spoke of Ashley. His mind was swiftly calculating how many days until Melanie came. Scarlett would be without company, save for the servants, for nine days. He wished Melanie would be arriving sooner, but Scarlett would have to make do. And it was not as if she'd be completely alone, Rhett reasoned. She was still on good terms with the young ladies of Atlanta, though he knew that he himself was barely tolerated, and she could invite them over for socializing.
Rhett sat down in his usual chair at the dining room table and pulled Scarlett onto his lap. "I'm glad Mrs. Wilkes is coming to visit. Are you sure you can handle it?" Rhett was teasing her, reminding her of how much contempt she used to harbor for Melanie Wilkes.
Scarlett laughed and started playing absent mindedly with the hair on the back of his head. "Well, I would like some different company for a change. Besides," she smiled curtly, putting her lips against his ear, "I know I'll have you here to distract me if I get too bored with Melly's talk of books and life in New York."
While Scarlett's breath sent a quiver of attraction up his spine, her words caused a knot of guilt to form in his stomach and a slight sense of shame brought heat to his tanned cheeks. He looked deep into her in the eyes, but he could not tell her of his decision now, not here. He did not know what to say, and he did not want to lie to her, so he pulled her close to him and put his hand on the back of her head and kissed her, as he always did when words failed him. He wanted to cherish these last hours with her, for these were the memories he would have to survive on for at least a month, maybe longer, and he would not let his decision torment her any longer than was necessary. Rhett ran his fingers through her hair while Scarlett made circles on his back with her palms, tasting the slight salty flavor of his lips and thinking that she had to be the luckiest woman in the world to have caught a husband as handsome and thoughtful as Rhett Butler.
It was not as warm in the study as it was in the rest of the house; the open window let in a cool night breeze that filled the room with a pleasant and comfortable temperature. Rhett sat in the corner of the sofa and Scarlett sat next to him, letting his arm drape across her shoulders. They had not talked much since coming in this room after supper, but the silence was peaceful, and Scarlett enjoyed times like these when it was not awkward because of an argument they'd had, because this was when she felt the closest to Rhett. This was when she felt that they were in their own little world, shut out from any disturbances and distractions outside.
Scarlett laid her cheek against his strong chest, staring at the glass of brandy in his hand. It was his habit to drink brandy after supper, and Scarlett had never really noticed, but suddenly she felt compelled to ask him about it. "Rhett?" she asked, "Why do you drink brandy after supper all of the time?"
Rhett chuckled and looked down at his wife, but he could only see her face in profile. "What makes you ask that?"
"I'm just curious, that's all," she mumbled.
Rhett was silent for a moment and Scarlett could tell that he was thinking the matter over. "Well," he said contemplatively, "I suppose it's just become a habit over the years. A man has to carry his liquor well, you know. Plus I suppose it makes me feel good."
Scarlett was confused, for she had never drunk anything more potent than wine, and it had been a while. Sitting up and looking into his eyes, she questioned innocently, "Don't I make you feel good?"
Rhett yelped with laughter, throwing his dark head back in great amusement, and Scarlett smiled quizzically, tilting her head to the side. When he had calmed down, Rhett set his glass on the table in front of the sofa and turned toward Scarlett, reaching out to brush his thumb across her cheek in a gentle caress. "My sweet innocent," he grinned, trying to suppress his lingering laughter, "what a question! You of all people should know the power you hold over me."
Scarlett blushed and bit her lower lip. She knew she made Rhett feel good, but it was fun to hear it from his mouth. Just then, Rhett turned serious and placed his hands on her stomach and when he spoke his voice was soft and tender, "And what about you, my darling, how are you feeling? You're not having any trouble are you?" His eyebrows were raised in concern. He would never forgive himself if anything happened to her or this baby, and he wanted to make sure that everything was alright before he left.
Scarlett blushed and turned her eyes from him. Such genuine concern, and especially because it was about the baby, was something that often left her feeling embarrassed. She did not know many men as masculine as Rhett who would be so concerned about their wives or their children. "Oh, I'm alright, Rhett," she said softly, and when he did not respond she looked into his eyes. "I'm fine, really…I just wish I'd have this baby already. I want my figure and my old clothes back."
"She will be here sooner than you think," Rhett grinned, kissing Scarlett's forehead.
"My feet sometimes hurt," she added with a pout.
"Well then let's see if I can remedy that problem." Scarlett grinned and scooted back on the couch, pulling her heavy skirts up so she could move her legs onto Rhett's lap. He removed her dainty slippers and began rubbing her tired feet. "You're so good to me, Rhett," she sighed with a dreamy smile. Rhett returned the smile and leaned against the back of the sofa.
"What are we going to name this baby, anyhow Scarlett?"
With her eyes closed to the feeling of is hands massaging her feet, she mumbled, "Oh, I don't know. If it's a boy I may just call it Rhett."
"Now what kind of name is that?" Rhett teased. "Besides, I already told you, it's going to be a girl, and I won't have my daughter named after me."
"Oh, all right," she laughed. "You decide then."
"Well, it will take some thought. It has to be special."
Scarlett opened her eyes just a crack and gazed at him. "Why is that?" she asked curiously.
"Because it's our first, that's why."
"Oh." She closed her eyes again and lay back on the sofa.
After a period of small talk spotted with intervals of silence, Rhett suggested that they retire to their room. "It's getting late," he said, putting her legs down and helping her up from the couch.
"The leaves are already turning brown and falling from the trees." Rhett stood by the window in their bedroom looking out into the night, his voice floating out from the shadows. The small, pale sliver of a moon offered little in terms of light and so Rhett had lit the oil lamp on the bedside table, and the orange glow strikingly brought out the sharp features in his face.
Scarlett had just come out of the dressing room donning a peach silk nightgown that showed her expanding figure a bit more than she pleased, but she knew Rhett liked it; after all, he had picked it out and bought it for her just three weeks ago.
"Who cares about leaves and trees," she murmured seductively, walking up behind Rhett and wrapping her arms around his torso. He was still wearing his black tailored trousers, but his shirt was draped lazily across the footboard of the bed, and in the soft light his dark skin seemed to shimmer. Scarlett closed her eyes and trailed a series of light kisses from his shoulder blade to his spine, listening with pleasure as his breathing became more ragged, and feeling his taut stomach muscles flex involuntarily under her roaming fingers.
Rhett swallowed deeply, clutching the windowsill with his fingers and trying to keep his thoughts from fading into the haze that his growing desire was creating. He had to tell Scarlett that he was leaving tomorrow. The thought of not mentioning it and just leaving in the middle of the night was something he had considered. But he knew he could not do that, for then she would think the wildest possibilities behind his motives—that he had ran out on her, their baby, their life together without a thought of coming back. No, he would tell her. This way at least he could explain things and try to make her understand. It was only fair to her for him to tell her, but things had been so peaceful, so personal, so intimate and caring between them tonight that he had come close to forgetting that he was leaving, and he wanted to prolong this happiness as long as possible—consequences be damned. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as Scarlett's hands wandered up to his pectorals and back down his stomach until she was slyly fingering the waistband of his pants.
Scarlett smiled against his back as Rhett unsuccessfully tried to stifle a low groan. If there was one place where she had learned that she could have control over her husband it was in the bedroom, and she knew Rhett was aware of this. Yet, wasn't it he who had taught her to be adventurous and demanding? Her pulse quickened as she slid her hands farther down his pants, lightly grazing the length of his desire with the tips of her fingers, feeling the muscles of his body quiver.
"Why do you torture me like this?" he whispered deeply. His hands took hold of her wrists and removed them from his pants before turning in her arms. Scarlett could feel her entire body flush with heat and her heart hammered in her chest so hard she was sure Rhett could see it. His black eyes were inky; a look she knew full well meant that he was overcome with he same feeling that she was. But despite her aching desire to feel him inside of her, she stood resolute and grinned devilishly at his question.
"Do you want me to stop?" she asked, feigning innocence. Oh, what would her mother say if she knew her baby girl found so much pleasure in being so shameless and brazenly open with her husband? And she was expecting her own child none-the-less! Well, Scarlett had stopped caring about such silly rules long ago. She knew Rhett did not care either because he took her hands in his and brought them up to his mouth. "Never," he declared passionately. Oh how her heart soared when she heard him say that! Smiling mischievously, Scarlett took his hand and led him to the side of the bed. He sat down and put his hands on her waist, pulling her to him slowly until she stood right in front of him. He leaned in and kissed her stomach, letting his lips linger there, and she ran her hands through his hair. When he looked back up at her, his eyes were burning with intensity. He ran his fingers over the curve of her hip, toying with the smooth silk of her nightgown.
"This is nice," he said, referring to her nightgown.
"Well I'm glad you like it, you're the one that bought it."
"Well, I do like it. I like to think I've improved your taste somewhat," he joked.
Scarlett frowned, "My taste is just fine, thank you. I'm wearing this, aren't I?"
"Touche, my dear." His fingers started tugging the hem of her nightgown higher and when it was around her waist he slid his hands underneath it and slipped it over her head before he carelessly tossed it aside as if it were cotton and not expensive silk. Scarlett stood in the glowing light watching Rhett take her in with his eyes before she stepped over and blew out the lamp. When she came back to him, he was sliding his pants to the floor, revealing himself in his full glory, and even in the darkness she could distinguish his well built form, waiting for her, expecting her. He reached for her and drew her in to him, capturing her mouth with his and wrapping his arms around her back and shoulders. Rhett was so strong and comforting that even had she wanted to break their embrace she would not have been able to. His kisses and his distinct scent filled her senses and clouded her mind; she never wanted to leave his arms. She ground her hips into his and he reached down to her lower back to hold her there as if he were committing the feeling of their closeness to his memory. Her hands caressed his chest, his shoulders and tousled his hair; their kisses becoming all encompassing, clouding their minds and blotting out anything that was not part of this moment.
Rhett broke the kiss first and both of them took in a sufficient quantity of air, their breathing audible and ragged. For an unknown period of time they stood looking at one another in the darkness; Rhett caressed her hair and she in turn ran her fingertips down his back. They barely had time to collect their breath before Rhett was kissing her again, sharp demanding kisses mixed with tender elongated ones, and then he lowered her to the bed, climbing on top of her and straddling her on all fours, like a predatory animal eyeing his next victim. But Scarlett was just as fierce and not at all helpless. She reached up and brought his face to hers, kissing first his upper lip and then his lower one as Rhett lowered himself on top of her in the most compromising position that her body would allow.
Their mouths danced together as their hands caressed knowingly, enticing whimpers and moans for each other's lips. When they could no longer control their urges, Scarlett wrapped her legs around Rhett's waist and he entered her slowly, completely, extracting a unified sigh from both of them. They did not speak but it did not matter for their actions spoke volumes. Rhett moved slow, but there was a heightened feeling of sensitivity, urgency even, in each movement, as if they wanted to savor it—as if it would be the last time. After a blissful eternity, their movements were no longer graceful, but fast and rough. Yet they clung to each other until at the same time, Rhett groaned loudly and Scarlett screamed a cry of ecstasy so loud that Rhett had to cover her mouth with his before anyone else in the house heard her. And then it was over. Rhett rolled over to lay beside his wife and Scarlett closed her eyes, frantically trying to catch her breath. She wanted nothing more than to sleep, and in the quiet aftermath of their coupling, Scarlett, aided by the rise and fall of Rhett's chest under her ear, fell into a peaceful slumber she was sure would last forever.
Rhett, however, lay awake in the darkness. He had let things go this far, not that he was at all ashamed or sorry, but he was afraid to ruin things with tidings of news that would surely be bad in Scarlett's eyes. How would he tell her? What would he say? He stared at the high ceiling, collecting his thoughts. How long he lay awake thinking, he did not know, but suddenly he decided to get it out of the way.
"Scarlett?" he said quietly. When she did not answer, he figured she must be asleep. He hated to rouse her from such a much deserved slumber, but he said her name again and this time she murmured in response. "Are you awake, my darling?"
"Barely," came her quiet voice in the stillness.
"I need to talk to you," Rhett said.
Scarlett moaned and shifted under the covers. "Can't it wait till morning? I'm so tired," she mumbled.
Rhett carefully sat up, which caused Scarlett to do the same, and he reached over and fumbled in the darkness for a match to light the lamp. Soon they were lit up in the familiar orange light.
"What is it?" Scarlett sighed.
Rhett looked at her. Her hair was tousled, she was sleepy, but she still looked so beautiful to him. The same wave of guilt that had been tormenting him since their argument last week came back with renewed force as she lay her cheek tiredly on his shoulder.
"Scarlett…do you remember the night that Thomas was here and I told you that he was going on a trip?"
"Mmm," she mumbled, too tired to understand what he was talking about.
Rhett hesitated for a moment and then delivered the blow, "I-I've decided to go with him, Scarlett."
Just as he had suspected, Scarlett's eyes shot open and she sat up straight, wide awake. "What did you say?" Had she heard him right?
Rhett cast his eyes down and he began absent mindedly picking at something on the sheets. "I said I'm going with him. The train for Kentucky leaves tomorrow morning."
Scarlett shook her head as if she were dreaming. When Rhett finally turned his eyes toward her face again he saw that she was white as the sheets they were sleeping on. Her mouth hung slightly open and her face was locked in an unbelieving expression. But then the truth of his words hit her like a blow and tears fell from her eyes, streaming down her face. Was he serious? This was not right, she told herself, where did this come from? And why now? She felt a hot swell of anger and confusion rise up in her chest but she could not move.
Rhett, guilt stricken, reached out and gently took her hand in his, but she removed hers quickly, mechanically. "Why?" That was the only word that escaped her lips.
"I just—I know this will be hard for you to understand…" Rhett's eyes were pleading with her to listen, and in her numb state that was all she could do. "It's only for a couple of months, and I promise I'll write to you—"
"Why are you leaving me?" she asked, still unable to process the situation completely.
"Scarlett, it's not about you. It's me. I just—I don't want to settle down when I feel I haven't finished living my old life yet." Christ, that was not how he wanted it to sound, and Scarlett reacted accordingly.
"You don't love me?" she whispered, her lips trembling and her hands clutching the sheets. "You don't want the baby? But—but we just talked about it and you said it was special and-" he voice broke into a heart wrenching sob.
Rhett sighed and gave her the most sorrowful look she had ever seen. "Oh, my sweet, that's not what I meant. Please understand! I love you more than anything, and this baby too."
He tried to put his arms around her but she resisted, struggling to understand how it could be that they had been so happy and had just made the most passionate love she had ever experienced and now he tells her doesn't want to settle down.
"I just need to do this for me, Scarlett, one last adventure before everything changes. Please, do you understand?"
"No, I don't understand!" she yelled. "If you didn't want to settle down, why did you marry me? So you could use me and pretend you love me, put me in this situation and leave me!"
"You know it's not like that," Rhett said passionately, grasping her arms and trying to remain calm. But while he tried to steady himself, Scarlett's temper was on the rise. "I'll come back, Scarlett."
"What if the baby comes and you're not here, and you promised me!" she sobbed, finally allowing his arms to go around her.
"That won't happen," he tried to assure her. "Melly is coming next week and she can keep you company until I get back."
"Damn Melanie!' Scarlett screamed. "It's you I need! It's just like the night you left me on the road to Tara during the war! You always leave me when I need you the most." Scarlett covered her face with her hands and sobbed, rocking herself back and forth. She did not notice the expression on Rhett's face, could not read the shame and torment in his dark eyes as he watched her helplessly.
"You said you had forgiven me for that," he whispered, but she did not hear him. Instead she chocked on her broken sobs and savagely wiped her face.
"You're doing this for you? Why are you letting your friend influence you? What about me, what about me?" she cried.
"I am thinking of you," Rhett said.
Scarlett's mind was reeling with confusion and despair. She needed him! Rhett was trying to tell her his reasoning behind his decision, that he loved her but he needed to do this or he'd be miserable, but she barely heard anything he said. Her mind kept screaming, 'he's leaving you! He's leaving you! Do something!"
"You're not going!" she said frantically.
"Yes, Scarlett, I am."
"No!' she cried desperately. "I won't let you go!"
Rhett took her arms and held her in front of him, his gaze hard. "Scarlett, do you love me?"
"Oh! What has that got to do with anything?" she sobbed.
Frustration flashed across Rhett's face. His brows rushed together and he turned his head away to gather his bearings. Then he turned back to her and through gritted teeth said, "You've never said it, and I need to know. Do you love me or not?"
His voice was so savage, so desperate, and she locked her wild gaze on him. Didn't he know?
"Do you love me?"
With tears streaming down her face and anguish tearing at her heart, Scarlett nodded her head up and down. "Yes, I love you," she choked.
Rhett's eyes lit up, but then he turned serious again. "Scarlett, if you love me, you'll let me go."
What? How could he say that? What about her? If he loved her, he'd stay. "That's not fair!" she cried. "How can I live for two months without you?"
"I'm sorry, Scarlett." He hated to see her so upset, and he blamed himself, but he could not change his mind or he'd go crazy! It was not as if he'd never come back. He just desperately needed to go on this trip, to get away before love and a baby took him in a new direction. "Listen to me," he pleaded, cupping her face in his hands, "you'll be fine, my brave girl. I wouldn't leave if I wasn't sure of that."
Scarlett's face scrunched up and her shoulders shook with silent sobs. Her tears streamed over Rhett's fingers and her mind again pleaded for her to do something, anything to keep him here. She opened her eyes and stared at him, her chest heaving, and this time she saw the guilt on his face. If anything, this could be the key to prevent him from leaving. Her mind was working in overdrive, telling her that if Rhett's guilt became too great, he would change his mind. Suddenly, in one fluid movement, she kissed him, rough and hard, and she felt his hands splay on her back, pressing her against him. Soon they were making love again, but instead of the gentle, graceful movements from earlier, they were hard and frantic, tumbling about the bed in both a fit of anger and passion. This time, when it was over, both of them were too tired to think of what had just transpired, of the words that had passed between them, and they both fell asleep clutching each other.
Rhett awoke sometime later and noticed that the lamp, though burning low on oil, was still aflame. He picked up his pocket watch from the table and notice it was 4 am. He had instructed Pork to meet him out front with the carriage at 4:30 because the first train left at 5. Scarlett was sleeping deeply, her arm draped across his stomach, and he gently moved out of her grasp and got out of bed. His bags, which Pork had packed last night, were already downstairs, and so all he had to do was get dressed. He hastily washed his face in the washbasin and picked out a suit from the dressing room. When he was ready to leave, he padded back over to the bed and blew out the lamp before walking over to Scarlett's side. She looked so serene, and Rhett thought that amazing considering what she had gone through—what they both had gone through. It was better to leave before she woke up, he reasoned; he could only stand so many tears. He stood looking at her in the faint moonlight until he knew he could prolong his stay no longer. Leaning over, he softly kissed her forehead and her lips, and then he knelt down beside her and placed his hand on her stomach and felt a faint kick from the baby, as if it were saying goodbye. Rhett smiled and placed his lips where his hand had been. "I love you, Scarlett," he whispered, and then he walked toward the door. But before he made it all the way across the room, he heard Scarlett call out to him.
Scarlett had felt him kiss her and his retreating footsteps roused her from her sleep. She was confused at first, but then all that had transpired earlier fell upon her and her heart leapt in her throat. "Rhett, don't leave me, please!" She heard him pause, but she could not see him in the darkness. Then, after an agonizing silence, his words tore at her heart: "I'm leaving, Scarlett."
She did not know what to do. Renewed tears stung her eyes as they fell down her cheeks and she kicked the mattress in frustration, like she used to do when all of her tricks failed her and she did not get what she wanted. But this was different than anything that had happened in her childhood. She was angry at Rhett for leaving, at herself for not being able to keep him here, at everything, and without thinking she said angrily, "If you go, I don't care if you never come back."
She heard nothing at first, but Rhett's face fell at her words and he looked down at the floor. Then she heard him faintly, "Goodbye, Scarlett," and he was gone.
It was with a heavy heart that Scarlett awoke to face the sunshine of the new day. She squinted at the light pouring through the window and knew it was time to get up and eat breakfast, but she felt as if she did not have the strength to move. Her fists clenched as she thought of all that had transpired between her and Rhett the night before—their passionate lovemaking, his confession that he was going on that trip he had only told her a few weeks prior that he had declined because of her, her heartfelt confession of love for her husband, and the accumulation of him walking out the door in the early hours of the morning. Had it all really happened? Had he really left her? "Oh, don't be such a goose," she scolded herself, "he's gone and won't be back for God knows how long."
Why did he leave in the first place? She did not understand and it frustrated her. Why now, of all times? If he wanted so badly to live his old life he should have done so before putting her in this situation that was entirely new to her or, and a tear slid down her cheek at the thought, he should have never married her to begin with…Oh but what would she have done if Rhett had never come to save her? It seemed so long ago—a lifetime ago, though it had only been two years. Still, she told herself stubbornly, he should not have left her! In her mind, this meant that obviously neither she nor their unborn child came as a top priority to Rhett, and it added fuel to the fire of her anger. In those first few days, Scarlett walked around the house in a daze, as if she were one of the dead who came back to walk among the living. Yes, she was angry, and this feeling engulfed her day in and day out. Anger mixed with hot tears of loneliness and frustration was all that her mind could grasp for a week until the day came when Melanie arrived from New York. God's nightgown! What would she tell Melanie about Rhett? She would put it off until Melanie asked, and she would not bring it up herself.
When at last the designated date arrived, Scarlett was sitting on the sofa in the parlor, answering notes and looking over bills that had come in the mail since Rhett had left, desperately trying to bring some normalcy in to fill the space in her life right now when Rhett was not here. She hastily threw down her stack of papers and jumped up when she heard the knock on the door. When she came out into the foyer, Melanie Wilkes, her once hated foe turned cherished friend was standing in the bright light smiling kindly at Pork. Mammy and Dilcey rushed into the foyer as well when they heard her soft voice and she embraced them all like long-lost friends, and then she turned to Scarlett and her face lit up like the summer sun.
A flush of warmth coursed through Scarlett's soul when she heard Melanie's voice, and for the first time since Rhett had walked out the door nearly a week earlier, Scarlett smiled; a genuine smile that brought back memories of the girl in the white sprigged muslin surrounded by beaux at the bar-b-que at Twelve Oaks so long ago. "Hello, Melly," she said quietly and moved to embrace her sister-in-law and closest friend (besides Rhett, of course). "How was the trip?" She looked around and noticed that neither Ashley nor beau had accompanied Melly from New York. That's strange, Scarlett thought, in Melly's last telegram she said that Ashley and Beau had planned to come to Atlanta with her. "Ashley decided not to come?"
"Oh, no, darling, Beau is getting over a cold and we decided that he should not come on the train. I volunteered to stay and take care of him and send Ashley down here to visit. I know you two are so close and have known each other longer than you and I, but he insisted that I come."
Scarlett thought it odd that Ashley would refuse to come and see her; after all, it had been nearly two years. He must have gotten over his love for me, she decided. She was glad she had come to this conclusion because she suddenly realized that it would be uncomfortable having Ashley in the house practically alone with her when Rhett was not there. While her mind was pondering these thoughts, Melly stepped back to examine Scarlett's figure.
"How wonderful you look, darling! Oh, you must be so happy to be having a baby!"
Scarlett smiled warmly. Though it had been Melanie who had always set such store by children, Scarlett was happy she was having this baby. She did not feel pretty, but Rhett said she was, and just as long as other people thought so, she was content. "How you do run on, Melly!" she smiled.
"Well, it's true, you always look so pretty. And babies are God's blessing. You and Captain Butler must be over the moon about it!"
At Rhett's name, Scarlett's smile faded, but she checked herself and replaced it before Melanie could notice. She did not want to talk about Rhett right now, it would only make her upset. Eager to steer the conversation in a different direction, Scarlett took Melly by the arm and offered to show her to her room. "You must be tired from such a long trip, Melly," Scarlett said.
"Yes, I am rather weary from being on the train so long."
"Let me show you to your room, it's upstairs. Supper will be served shortly, and you want to make sure you have enough appetite for Mammy's cooking."
"Oh, how lovely! Will Captain Butler be here? I should like to see him again, he's such a kind man," Melly said brightly, not taking notice of Scarlett's frown. She couldn't tell Melly the truth of where Rhett was, then what would she think? No, she would tell a white lie instead.
"He's away on business, Melly."
Scarlett could not sleep. The bed seemed too big with only her in it and the lack of Rhett's presence beside her made things even worse. She had never slept away from his comforting arms during their marriage except for that night that she had banished him from their bedroom on a charge of adultery and then this past week, and she was not used to it. Where was he now and what was he doing? Did he miss her or regret having left her? Or had he found other, looser women to take her place and had dismissed her from his mind completely? This last question tormented Scarlett the most, but she could not help but think about it, and it made her groan in frustration. Why had he not written to her like he said he would?
Scarlett tossed and turned under the sheets, trying to find sleep, but it would not come and after a while she gave up. She got out of bed, walked to the dressing room and pulled out one of Rhett's dressing gowns. It was navy blue satin, and Rhett's scent lingered on it since he often wore it during the warmer months. He had playfully wrapped her in it numerous times in their intimate moments, and as Scarlett remembered this she smiled lightly. Maybe Rhett had left it here on purpose so that she could in some way feel closer to him when he was gone. Wrapping it around her and tying the sash in front, Scarlett opened the door and quietly stole down the stairs.
The house was dark and silent but she made her way to the kitchen by way of memory and got herself a glass of milk before going to the dining room and taking Rhett's usual seat at the table. She had not told Melanie of the real situation; she had tried hard to keep their conversation away from that subject as best she could lest she become upset and Melanie should suspect that something was wrong. She was relieved that Melly was here to keep her company and she would not be so lonely without Rhett, but even Melanie's presence could not distract her fully from the wrath that burned in her chest whenever she thought of Rhett walking out the door that night. She had not even told Mammy what had happened, though she was sure Mammy must have known. Mammy knew everything. Yet tonight, like every night since she had been left alone, Scarlett sat in the dark and tried to analyze what had happened. Had she somehow driven Rhett away? She did not understand, and her analysis proved fruitless, for she never came any closer to understanding than she had the night he held her in his arms and told her that he must go on that trip for himself. "Even when I told him I loved him, it did not make him stay," she whispered sadly into the blackness that surrounded her.
Suddenly she was startled by a rustling noise coming down the hallway and the light of a candle seemed to float toward her. For a fleeting moment, her superstitious Irish mind told her that she had seen a ghost, but then reality set in and she realized it was a person. "Hello?" She called faintly.
The light paused and then came toward her and she saw it was Melanie holding the candle from her bedroom. "Oh! Scarlett, you startled me!" Melly said and laughed nervously.
"How do you think I feel?"
"I'm sorry, darling, I was just thirsty and did not want to wake Mammy by ringing for her so I thought I'd come downstairs myself. Darling, what are you doing down here in the dark?" she asked, taking note of the man's dressing gown Scarlett was wearing.
"I couldn't sleep," Scarlett said blandly, clutching the glass of milk in her hand.
Melanie seemed to forget all about the reason why she came downstairs and instead pulled out the chair next to Scarlett's and set the candle on the table before sitting herself. "Is it the baby that's keeping you up? Because I know when I was with Beau I had the most terrible time being able to fall asleep—"
"No," Scarlett cut in. "I'm just not tired," she added in a softer tone, avoiding Melly's eyes in the harsh light of the open flame.
Melanie was silent for a moment as she studied Scarlett carefully, concernedly, and when she finally did speak it was in a soft, knowing tone. "Is it about Captain Butler?"
Startled, Scarlett's eyes shot toward Melly's and she wondered how Melly always seemed to be able to read people's thoughts; just like Rhett, she thought. "What on earth makes you think that, Melly?" Scarlett said coolly. "Rhett's away on business, I told you."
"I ask," Melanie said carefully, "because I remember how it was for me when Ashley was away during the war. I could not sleep, and it was different than just Beau keeping me up. I would often lie awake and wonder if Ashley was dead or alive, if he was thinking of me and when he would come home, why he had to go in the first place…"
Scarlett stared at the woman next to her, saw her thin profile, her mass of curly dark hair, her kind eyes—it was just as Scarlett had remembered Melly from so long ago, back when she had been thinking of Ashley away at war. Now it amazed Scarlett that Melanie had been thinking the same thing, had been suffering the same things she had been suffering, only on a different level that ran deeper than hers, for she had never really loved Ashley. But then she realized that Melanie had read her thoughts about Rhett and she turned away, resting her forehead in her hands.
As if Scarlett's silent action had conveyed the words out loud, Melly spoke, "Oh, Scarlett, what happened?" Her voice was sympathetic and she put her hand on Scarlett's arm comfortingly. At this action, Scarlett slowly turned her gaze back to Melanie's, and through the blur of the stagnant tears that threatened to fall, Scarlett saw that Melly's eyes were kind, soft, understanding, and all of the sudden the emotion that had been gathering in her chest for the past week escaped.
"Rhett left me, Melly," Scarlett whispered. Her face was pale, frightened as a child who is left alone in the dark, and tears silently rolled down her cheeks.
"Left you? Oh, Scarlett, what happened?"
At Melanie's insistence, Scarlett poured her heart out. She told every detail from when Thomas came to visit to when Rhett walked out the door in the depths of night, leaving her alone. "He-he told me he had to do it for himself; that he was not ready to settle down. Oh, Melly!" Scarlett sobbed, laying her head in her folded arms on the table.
Melanie's eyes threatened to spill their own tears at seeing her sister-in-law suffer like this. "Hush, hush," Melly said soothingly, rubbing Scarlett's back in effort to stop her crying.
"Melly," Scarlett sniffed, "he said he'd write and he hasn't, and I don't know when or if he'll be back. He said he'd be here when the baby came."
"Oh but Scarlett, of course he'll come back. He loves you so! You know the mail takes a while to come by train, you must not worry! He promised he'd write and he will, just be patient. He'll come home."
"How do you know? How do you know he loves me? If he loved me he would not have left me here, not now!" Scarlett cried, tying the dressing gown tighter around her to keep out the draft.
Melly smiled softly. "I know he loves you. I've known since the day at the bazaar in Atlanta during the first year of the war. Darling, he adored you, and he would not have risked his life to drive you with the burden of a baby, a sick woman and a darky through a burning city to bring them home to Tara without loving you to distraction."
"I suppose," Scarlett said softly. Though Rhett had left her on the road to Tara on that night of hell, he had saved her because she asked him to. And she remembered suddenly that she had forgiven him a long time ago. "Buy why did he leave, Melly?"
"Darling, I don't know, but he's a man and he knows what he's doing. But you must have faith in his love for you and your love for him. He'll come back soon, I know he will. He's such a kind gentleman, Scarlett, and he wouldn't break his word to you."
"Do you really think so, Melly?" Scarlett's eyes widened and she looked like a small child instead of a woman of twenty two. Melanie nodded and smiled kindly, reaching out to pull Scarlett into a warm embrace, and Scarlett felt comforted.
Pulling away, another thought struck Scarlett and she hung her head tiredly. "Oh, but Melly, I don't even know where Rhett is."
"You'll get a letter soon, I'm sure of it."
Scarlett smiled half-heartedly. Hearing reassurance from someone else that Rhett would come back and that he did love her helped to dispel her fears and some of her anger. "Thank you, Melly," Scarlett sniffled.
Melanie's eyes glowed with warmth and kindness. "Now I think you should come back upstairs and try to get some sleep. That baby could probably use it." Scarlett nodded and the two friends walked out of the dining room toward the staircase with Melanie holding the candle.
Since the discussion with Melanie in the dining room that night, Scarlett's anger at Rhett for having left slowly began to subside an in its place settled the strong wish for him to come home. She missed him so much, and when at last a letter addressed to her in Rhett's handwriting arrived in the post, Scarlett flew up to her room as fast as she could, not even acknowledging anyone else's presence. When she got upstairs, she closed the door, locked it, and sat down on the bed, opening the white envelope with shaking fingers and pulling out the letter inside.
My precious wife,
Are you well? And what about our baby? I pray every night that nothing has happened to you, but I know you can take care of yourself, and I trust Melanie is there with you. I wanted to tell you first how sorry I am for making you so upset the night I left. Your face haunted me from the second I stepped out the door, and I had the strong desire to turn back and take you in my arms, to kiss your tears away. I miss you, and I wish you were with me on this adventure. Were you not with child I would have asked you to come along, for you must know that I am suffering being so far away from you. Scarlett, I know you must hate me for leaving, but please know that I did not mean to deliberately hurt you, and that I love you very much. I love you so much that everywhere I turn I am reminded of you. I must be the damnedest fellow here, trying to look interested in the horses at the races but thinking of you instead. Do you ever think of giving me any peace by leaving my mind?
Scarlett could not help but smile at this, for she knew he was joking. She read on…
Ah, but Scarlett, I am having a good time. Thomas and these fellows are a rough bunch of ill-bred men, but they remind me of the old days before the war. Do you remember how I used to tell you stories of my many misdeeds and how you would laugh? I think you would laugh now if you saw me here. Oh, and did I tell you I'm writing from Louisville. I saw the finest black stallion today at the races and I had the strongest desire to bring him home to Atlanta. And I saw a fine little brown and white Shetland pony too. I'll buy one for the baby when she's old enough to sit in a saddle and she'll be a wonderful horsewoman.
I know you have probably put this letter down by now as long winded speeches such as this bore you to tears, but I wanted to say one more thing before I sign this letter. I'm leaving tomorrow and Thomas and I are going to Richmond. I don't know how long we will be there or where I will be next and when, so I discourage you from trying to write to me. I am afraid that by the time your letter reaches its destination I will not be there to receive it, and I do not want you to worry. I will write to you again shortly. Scarlett I love you and I promise I'll be home before you know it. Sleep well, my baby.
Tears of joy poured from Scarlett's eyes as she re-read the letter. So he had not forgotten her! He still loved her, and he was coming back! The anger and worry that had resided in her heart since that night was completely wiped away when she read this letter, and she brought the paper up to her lips and kissed it repeatedly. She did not even think of a day so long ago when she had stood in Melly's room at Aunt Pitty's house and read Ashley's letter from the front. She did not remember that she had told herself if her husband ever wrote such eloquent twaddle-twaddle, he'd hear from her! No, she only knew she understood everything Rhett said, as if he were here beside her speaking out loud, and he said that he loved her and would come home.
Her spirits brightened by Rhett's correspondence, Scarlett carefully folded the letter again and put it back in the envelope. It was a letter she would read many more times in the future. She reached over and took the daguerreotype off of the bedside table and opened it. There she was looking so pretty with her large eyes sparking, and beside her was Rhett, the man she loved so much, looking at her as if he knew nothing else in the world existed. What a pair they made! I was foolish to think that he did not love me, she told herself, staring at the picture. Of course he loves me! She should not have worried so. Rhett said he would be home sooner than she knew it, and she was not angry anymore, but wished ardently for his speedy return. Bringing the daguerreotype up to her lips, she kissed it as she had done the letter, letting her lips rest on the glass where Rhett's face was, as if by some unearthly power, he could feel it and know she was thinking of him.
There would be more letters from Rhett in the next month and a half, and with each one, Scarlett would take it up to her room as she had done with the first. Rhett wrote of what he saw, often mentioning a piece of jewelry or a frock that he thought she'd like and promising to bring it home for her, and of the people he'd met, many of whom he told her that he would not let her consort with should she ever meet them. And of course, he assured her that all of the women he met paled in comparison to her beauty and charms. He had been in Virginia, had gone up to Washington and back down to South Carolina where he said he was taking a ship to Europe. But with each letter he promised that soon he would be home again soon, and Scarlett clung to these words, hoping that what he said was true and he would discontinue his traveling to make the journey back to Atlanta and her eager arms.
As her pregnancy entered its final two months, Scarlett grew fearful that she would have the baby before he got back, and truth be told, she was terrified. He had promised to be there with her and she knew that as long as he was there everything would be alright. And so she would whisper to her baby and ask it not to hurry, to wait until Daddy came home. But the days crept by and still Rhett did not come home. Melanie tried to comfort her by saying that surely he was on his way right now, and Scarlett tried her best to believe her, but as autumn slowly fused with the first faint chills of winter and still there was no sign of Rhett, Scarlett's feverish hopes slowly began to fade.
The darkness was still, and not a breath of wind rattled the bare tree branches outside. The enormous house, so quiet and empty with the lack of Rhett's presence, was engulfed in the black abyss of night; and in the master bedroom, a single body lay buried beneath the voluminous covers.
Scarlett lay on her back with the heavy down quilt pulled up to her chin. Dawn would not break for a few more hours, and in the dark void, she lay still, deep in the arms of sleep that was so much needed but seldom came easy without Rhett's warmth next to her. Nothing breathed, nothing moved—all was still as if frozen in the silver light of the moon when suddenly, Scarlett's eyes snapped open and she sat up in bed. Her throat constricted and he heart raced as a cold sweat covered her body and made her shiver. She did not remember having dreamed anything, but a strange, almost throbbing empty feeling suddenly tore at her from inside like the claws of a tiger, and one word escaped her dry lips: "Rhett."
His name had come out as a whisper, and she could feel it hanging in the air. She felt so confused and strange, as if something that had been a great part of her being suddenly vanished into the late October mist, and she trembled uncontrollably. Her mind was numb and groggy with fatigue, but she was alert, as a child is when just waking from the clutches of a terrible nightmare. But she had not been dreaming, and this feeling of emptiness that all of the sudden consumed her made her frightened. Instinctively her hands flew to her large stomach, but she felt the baby kick as a reassuring sign that it was safe, and part of her was relived.
But if it was not the baby, what was it that left her so feeling so irrationally strange? Scarlett clutched the quilt with both of her hands as she tried to focus her eyes in the darkness. The familiar objects in the room took on a horrific quality in the milky moonlight, and Scarlett, recognizing she was afraid, whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut, wishing with all her might that when she opened them again Rhett would be sleeping next to her. But it was not so.
Why had she whispered—no, nearly gasped his name? Why did she have this oppressive feeling that something was terribly wrong—something out of her control? Rhett was in Ireland from what his last letter read, but oh how she wished he was here comforting her now. She needed to feel the warmth of his body, his strong arms wrapped around her, his kisses and his smooth voice telling her that she would be alright, and that everything was right with the world.
But she was alone in the thick darkness, and all she could do was lay back down, shut her eyes, and whisper through trembling lips that she was dreaming, that there was no reason for this irrational fear, and that she must get some sleep. "Oh Rhett, I need you so bad," she thought. But the empty feeling in her heart remained and did not comfort her or calm her beating heart. She pulled the covers tighter around her and tried to go back to sleep; everything would be fine in the morning. But even though it was warmer than usual for being late October, Scarlett shivered for the rest of the night.
She woke in the morning later than usual. She must have finally drifted off to sleep in the early hours of the dawn for she remembered watching with heavy eyes as the soft pink light crept upon her, and that was all she knew. When she came downstairs, Melly was in the dining room, drinking coffee, but she stood when she saw Scarlett.
"Darling, you have dark circles under your eyes. Did you not sleep well last night?"
Scarlett shook her head back and forth. She was still tired, and rattled, for the empty feeling that had come upon her the night before had not left. Trying to banish this feeling by not thinking about it, Scarlett looked at Melly and smiled, for her friend always showed the utmost concern.
"I'm just tired, Melly, and hungry."
"Of course, let me go get Mammy and have her make you some breakfast." Then, seeing Scarlett yawn, Melly rushed to her side and helped her sit down at the table. "Oh, you poor thing! Here, you must rest, for the baby's sake."
"Were you always tired when you had Beau, Melly?" asked Scarlett quietly.
"It's natural, darling." Scarlett nodded and Melly left the room to find Mammy.
When she returned, she brought with her a steaming cup of tea for Scarlett. Then, taking a seat next to her sister-in-law, she commenced to talking about her old friends in Atlanta, and how strange it was that the weather had been so warm lately, "Like an Indian summer, almost," she said. Scarlett was only half listening to Melly's voice. She felt strange; a sadness was upon her, but she could not name its source. She lowered her eyes to the table and remained silent. It was a few moments later when she felt Melly's hand upon hers, and the other woman's voice was soft.
"You're thinking about Captain Butler, aren't you?"
Scarlett sighed and ran a hand over her tired face. "He's all I ever think about, Melly. I was so angry when he left, and now I wish for nothing but his return. When will he come home, Melly?" Scarlett's voice broke at the end of the sentence, and she put her face in her hands.
"You mustn't be upset, Scarlett. He'll be home soon."
"But," Scarlett sniffled, "but what if he doesn't come home? What if the baby is born before he gets back? He promised he'd be here, Melly."
"Darling," Melly whispered, and Scarlett saw the concern for her written all over her pale face. "He'll be home in time for the baby to be born. Captain Butler is too kind to break a promise such as that, and he loves you so much…Oh, Scarlett, I know how hard it is to be away from the man you love for so long. During the war…"
Melanie was discussing Ashley and how she'd missed him so all of those years when he was away fighting for the Confederacy. Of course, Scarlett had missed Ashley too during that time, more so than anyone, she had thought, for it had been Ashley she loved back then. But now, as she half-heard Melanie looking back, her mind formed a scenario she had never thought of before. Rhett had been in the army for a year, had fought at Franklin, and had many times recounted his tales of walking miles barefoot and contracting the worst case of dysentery any man in hell ever suffered through. Scarlett knew Rhett was an expert shot. "I can drill a dime at fifty yards," he used to boast about his talents with a pistol. And she knew he must have been an expert sharpshooter in the artillery. But what if Rhett had been like so many unlucky soldiers, and had been killed in battle? What if he had never come to Tara to save her? She shuddered as a cold snake slithered down her spine. Worrying about Ashley during the war seemed so miniscule and unworthy now, for she could have handled news of Ashley's death, in time, but she did not know what she would do without Rhett.
"Melly, don't let's talk about the war and things now," Scarlett said tiredly. She appreciated her friend's good intentions, but she did not want to think of the past now.
"Of course, I'm so sorry, dear," Melly said sympathetically. Then, changing the subject, "What have you and Captain Butler decided to name the baby when it comes?"
Scarlett couldn't help but smile when Melanie mentioned the baby. But she was surprised at the question, for she and Rhett had never really come to an agreement about what they would name it. Of course, Rhett only threw out girl's names, for he was certain it would be a girl. "Well, we haven't really decided," Scarlett said. "Rhett, who apparently knows everything about babies, says he knows it will be a girl."
Melanie laughed, in that honey sweet sound that distinguished her from everyone else. "Captain Butler seems excited to be a father. But he doesn't want a son for his first child?"
"He doesn't seem to mind. I'm the one who keeps telling him that it could be a boy just as well as it could be a girl, but he stands firm in his belief that his first born will be a daughter." Scarlett sighed, her eyes sparkling with diamonds as she remembered all of the times she had lain with Rhett and he had gently but eagerly placed his hand on her growing stomach, trying to feel the baby kick, or when he'd put on a straight face and put his ear close to her to see if he could hear anything. This always made Scarlett laugh because he would tease her and say that this baby would have, "an Irish temper to match your father's. But hopefully she'll look like you." God, how she missed Rhett. But she did not want to think about that now when she knew she could do nothing to bring him home sooner; all she could do was wait with each passing day for the moment when he would walk in the door and she would be in his arms again.
Two days later, Scarlett was downstairs in the kitchen helping Mammy bake an assortment of pies and cakes for a tea party Scarlett was giving that afternoon. Melanie had suggested that it might do Scarlett some good to socialize and relax among the other young ladies of Atlanta, as she noticed her sister-in-law had been on edge since the morning she had come downstairs half asleep.
It was about ten o'clock in the morning, and Scarlett had just licked a delicious glob of sweet raspberry jam off her finger when someone knocked on the door. Mammy and Scarlett turned to each other and Scarlett brow furrowed in curiosity. Her guests were not expected until after noon. Melanie was upstairs, and Pork must not have heard the sound, for a minute passed and the knock repeated. Wiping her floury hands on her apron, Scarlett sighed and went to answer the door herself. She turned the knob and opened the door a crack to let the light in before peering outside. On the steps was a messenger boy dressed in brown corduroy short pants with a matching jacket over his rumpled, off white shirt. His sandy blonde hair hung partly in his eyes, and he fidgeted as if he were nervous. He could not have been more than fifteen, Scarlett guessed. She opened the door wider. "Yes?" she asked.
The boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow piece of paper. Then, looking up timidly to meet Scarlett's green eyes, he said, "I have a telegram for a Mrs. Butler, ma'am."
"I am Mrs. Butler."
The boy held out his hand and Scarlett took the telegram without reading it. "Thank you," she said courteously as she started to close the door.
"Ma'am?" The boy said shyly.
Scarlett looked at him incredulously, and then realized she hadn't given him a tip for his services. It was not as if she could not spare some change. "Oh, yes," she said to herself, and then "Pork!" At her voice, the tall black man came scurrying around the corner.
"Yes, Miz Schalett?"
"Pork, hand this boy a few gold coins will you?" Pork did as he was told and the boy tipped his hat at Scarlett's kind smile before he was off down the steps.
"What's all the commotion about down here?" Melanie's voice floated down the staircase as she came to join the others in the entryway. "Was someone at the door?"
"Oh, it's just a telegram, Melly," Scarlett replied, holding up the piece of paper in her hand. "I haven't read it yet."
Melanie smiled softly, her large brown eyes mischievous. "Maybe it's from Captain Butler. Maybe he's outside waiting for you, right now."
Scarlett knew she was being teased, but she also knew it was with the best of intentions to lighten her spirits. "Fiddle-dee-dee, Melly. Rhett only sends handwritten letters. I bet it's from Ashley, saying he's coming to visit."
"Well, let's read it," suggested Melanie.
Scarlett smiled to herself, thinking back to Melanie's words just a few moments ago. What if Rhett was standing outside the door, or if he was surprising her by being at the station and was coming home this instant? She certainly would not put it past him to pull a trick such as that. Spontaneity was one of Rhett's many charms, and the thought of him coming home that day made her giddy with happiness, for she longed to see him again.
Turning her attention to the present task, Scarlett flipped the piece of paper over and dropped her eyes on the bold, black print. It was not Rhett's handwriting. She scanned the contents quickly, not really connecting the massage in her brain. It was dated that morning from Wilmington. Scarlett furrowed her brow in confusion and her smile faded, causing Melanie to put a hand on Scarlett's arm in concern.
"What is it, darling? What does it say?"
Scarlett re-read the telegram and suddenly her hands began to tremble and her lips went white as a strong feeling of nausea swept over her like a brisk winter wind. She blinked once, and focused on the words.
Sherrif's office, Wilmington, North Carolina. URGENT
Mrs. Butler: Your presence is requested immediately concerning a very important matter. Please come to the office in Wilmington as soon as possible.
Captain John Rivers
"Oh, my God," Scarlett whispered before unsteadily handing the telegram to Melly who read it swiftly.
"I don't understand. Why are you being requested in Wilmington, and it says urgent too."
Scarlett put her head in her hand and whispered, "Rhett."
"But darling, why would Rhett be in North Carolina? I don't understand."
The room around her started to spin and a lump formed in Scarlett's chest, moving up to her throat, burning, choking her as tears wildly stung the backs of her eyes. She knew something was wrong, and suddenly she became irritated at Melly's questions. "Oh, I don't know!" She choked. "I just know it's him!"
Melly's eyes held a concerned look for her sister-in-law, who was obviously fighting to control some emotion that was struggling to escape. "Hush, hush," she said in a soothing voice a Scarlett furiously wiped at her eyes in a sorry attempt not to cry, "calm down." She helped Scarlett sit in one of the high-backed chairs that lined the wall next to the foot of the staircase and then she crouched down in front of her. "Scarlett, darling, try to concentrate. What is it that has you upset? Why do you think this has something to do with Captain Butler?"
Scarlett had begun to tremble and her hands gripped the arms of the chair so hard that her knuckles had turned white. She was overcome with the same sense of dread and fear that had engulfed her the night she woke up in a cold sweat and called Rhett's name. It was
overpowering her senses, unable to let her mind work, but Melly's pleading eyes and soft voice helped Scarlett concentrate and she focused her tired green eyes on her sister-in-law, using all of the strength she could muster.
"I just know—but I don't know—I—I, I don't know what it is, I just know it's him!" Then, after a short silence, Scarlett's eyes widened and she clutched Melanie's small shoulders, "Melly, what if he's in jail and they're going to hang him! Oh, Melly, what would I do if they hanged him?" She broke down into fresh sobs, the picture of Rhett's tall, strong body hanging limp from the gallows rushing through her mind and making her nauseous.
"Darling, the war is over! There, there," Melly crooned in the tone of a mother soothing a frightened child. "Why would they hang him?"
"What if the Yankees found out he did something during the war? What if—what if he killed someone or stole some money?" She knew it was possible that Rhett could have done a number of things during the war that were unlawful; after all, he had run the blockade for profit. Oh, why did Rhett leave on this trip anyhow? If he had stayed home, he wouldn't be in trouble, and she would not have suffered such anxiety and heartache. Why would this nagging feeling of dread not leave her alone?
Her thoughts were interrupted again by Melanie's voice, "Oh, darling, Rhett hasn't done anything wrong, you're just upset. Don't worry so, he's fine. The Yankees can't do anything to him now anyway." Seeing the stagnant tears continue to ooze out of Scarlett's tired eyes, she continued quietly, "Darling, we'll just send a telegram back to Wilmington and ask them to tell us what this is all about, and then you'll see that it's nothing to worry about. Surely they are kind people and would give you the information."
Then, in a moment of clarity, Scarlett sat up straight in the chair and took the telegram from Melanie's hands, reading it over again. She knew it was about Rhett, and if they wanted her to go to Wilmington, she would go. Rhett needed her. Melanie saw the look of determination that had been so constant during the years at Tara during the war creep into Scarlett's eyes.
"Pork," Scarlett said calmly to the tall black man who had been standing worriedly next to his mistress. "I want you to go down to the station and purchase a ticket to Wilmington, North Carolina."
"But, Miz Scahlett, you's—"
"Scarlett, darling, you can't go to all that way in your condition, it's dangerous." Scarlett's eyes hardened and she turned to Melanie with a sharp glance, but her sister-in-law seemed not to notice. "Darling, Captain Butler would not want you to harm yourself or your baby."
"Captain Butler might need me. I'm going whether you like it or not and you can't stop me. Now you can either go with me or you can stay here, I don't care, but I'm going," Scarlett said firmly.
Melanie sighed in defeat. She knew there was no talking Scarlett out of a decision she had already made up her mind about. Well, she'd go too then to be by Scarlett's side if anything should happen. "Alright, Pork, you'd better buy two tickets…no, make it three, Scarlett, do you think Mammy will want to go too? Yes, make it three."
Scarlett gave Melanie a grateful look. She was glad she would not have to go into this alone—whatever it might be. Surely Rhett would understand if she came to see him. What if he needed her? Yes she'd go, even if it was dangerous. Sighing heavily, stood up from the chair and brushed past Melanie, trudging up the stairs to her room to pack some things in a trunk. "Oh, Rhett. What have you gotten yourself into?" she whispered with a heavy heart. She had to be brave as she set out on this quest into the unknown; Rhett would not want her to be otherwise.
The journey to Wilmington took three days. The tracks that had been destroyed by Sherman's army were still in the process of being rebuilt and the journey was tedious. Scarlett sat close to the large window in the berth she was sharing with Melly and Mammy, staring aimlessly at the horizon as tiny white pinpricks of light began to appear in the fading peach-colored sky. The moon, full on the night that they had set out from Atlanta, was beginning to wane, yet to Scarlett it still seemed whole and bright, a distant mystery guiding them to their destination.
She slept little on that journey; her mind was locked inside a state of fear and curiosity. Rhett would surely be angry with her for making the trip across two states when she was nearly eight months pregnant, but she would deal with that when the time came. She knew she had been summoned because of something that had to do with Rhett; she was sure of it, for she had no relatives or acquaintances in North Carolina. But the telegram had said "URGENT". What could be so urgent that she had to go so far? She leaned her throbbing forehead against the cold glass of the window as the possibilities assaulted her. Was he being held in prison? Had some Yankee official called him out for the money he made during the war? What if he was hurt or sick and needed her right now? Or worse yet, what if they were going to hang him? Oh! She mustn't think of these things, but she couldn't help it, and the worry tugged at her heart, tore at her insides until she wanted to scream.
At last the train pulled into the depot and Scarlett, weary from lack of sleep and tormenting thoughts, was assisted off the train by Mammy and Melanie. When her feet were on solid ground, Scarlett squeezed her stinging eyes shut an re-opened them before pulling her heavy wool coat tighter around her; partly because the sea wind was cold, but mostly to obscure her obvious condition as much as possible so she would not attract unwanted attention.
The air was very crisp on that early November morning, and Scarlett could see people's breath in the air as they walked past her, and she could feel her own cheeks and nose tingle. Melanie came up beside her while Mammy trudged heavily behind.
"Where do we need to go?" asked Melanie. Scarlett looked about the station at the mass of people. She had no idea what to do.
"The telegram said Wilmington sheriff's office, but I have no idea where that is," Scarlett answered tiredly.
Just then, a carriage driven by a somewhat scraggly man stopped near them. He was buttoned up to the chin in a worn coat, his dirty red beard scruffy and thick. His hands were thinly gloved as he held the reins of the puffing horse, and as she looked at them through half-closed eyes, he spat a wad of tobacco over the side of the driver's seat. "You ladies need a ride?" the man asked gruffly.
Scarlett looked from the driver to Melanie to Mammy and back again. Both ladies wore looks of modest disapproval, but Scarlett, tired from the long journey and from standing in the cold with her swollen ankles causing her feet great discomfort, quickly said, "Yes."
The man smiled, showing tobacco stained teeth, and got down from the carriage and surveying the three women and then the trunks on the platform next to them. They had packed lightly, not expecting an extended stay. Melanie had encouraged Scarlett so much that she became sure that when whatever the problem was got sorted out, Rhett would buy them new frocks if need be and then they would all go back to Atlanta together.
"Those your trunks?"
The three ladies nodded.
"Where to?" he asked again when everyone was situated in the carriage.
"The police station" Scarlett answered quietly, hugging her black mink muff closer to her as if trying to hide her condition even more. The driver did not notice but kept his sharp eyes on the road as the horse maneuvered through the crowded station. They passed the port where dockworkers carrying canvas bags, helping to haul the catch of the day across the slippery walkways were rushing by and sailors hurried about. Large sailing vessels with white lateen sails clogged the waterways, and Scarlett caught her first glimpse of the ships Rhett owned and commanded during the war. These ships were only look-alikes, of course; Rhett told her once that his boats were docked in Charleston.
The sheriff's office was located on the far side of a row of newly erected buildings that faced the harbor. The carriage pulled up in front of it and the driver helped the ladies down before unloading their luggage and leaving it on the sidewalk. Then he climbed back into the driver's seat, tipped his hat and was off into the city.
The three ladies stood watching the carriage disappear into the chilly morning, and when Scarlett finally turned around she was startled to see two Yankee officers standing guard outside the sheriff's station. Though the war was over they still wore their suits of blue; that hated color that brought fear to the hearts of so many. Scarlett remembered the soldier who was buried under the arbor at Tara, the mass of stragglers who had come back a second time to pillage the house of any valuables that were left, who set fire to the kitchen and the hard- picked cotton in the slave quarters. She remembered suddenly Rhett's words that day she had come out of the hospital in Atlanta and made him take her riding: "The Yankees would not rape you, but they'd want to."
Scarlett hesitantly looked at the men before her, her heart in her throat. Her impression of Yankees was as fresh in her mind as if the war were just yesterday instead of over a year later, and she was no doubt uncomfortable by the way their eyes raked over her body. Her green eyes flashed with fire and the blond one on the right snickered. She felt Melanie take her arm and she felt Melanie's hand tremble. God's nightgown! Melanie lived among these villains and yet she was afraid. Well, she, Scarlett, knew she should not be afraid, for she knew that if either of these ill bed men laid even one finger on either she, Melanie or Mammy, Rhett would kill them. Rhett, her heart cried, if only he were here protecting her now. He was inside that building, but it seemed like such a distance from her heart to his from her vantage point out on the street. The guards continued to stare at her, hungry looks in their eyes. Yes, she was afraid, but she had to see Rhett. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her dark head with dignity, Scarlett pulled the telegram from Captain John Rivers from her handbag and stepped forward toward the hated men in blue.
"What're you ladies doing out here in the cold this morning?" the one who had snickered at her earlier said. What a nasty voice he had, she said to herself.
Scarlett took a shaky breath and stepped closer, holding out the telegram. "I received this at my home in Atlanta. I'd like to speak to the captain." The same soldier took the telegram from her unsteady gloved hand. He read it over and quickly looked back up at Scarlett. There was something in his startling blue eyes that disturbed her; it looked like a silent apology—pitiful even. But she couldn't be sure.
"Mrs. Butler," he said in a voice much more kind than when he had spoken earlier. When he said her name, the other guard stood up straight as if coming to attention under a military officer's command.
Scarlett's voice was steadier this time, the kind tone of the man's voice relieving some of her fears. "If you would please, tell the captain that Scarlett Butler is here to see him." The men nodded and walked inside the sheriff's station, leaving Scarlett, Melanie and Mammy alone outside in the cold. Scarlett stood staring ahead at the newly erected building, her mind far away. She was thinking of Rhett—his smile, his dark eyes, his deep voice. Oh! Why wouldn't those men hurry up and let her go in and see him so they could go home?
"You ain't got no business bein' up heyah an out in de cold when you's expec'in Mistah Rhett's chile, Miz Scahlett." Mammy's voice cut the air like a knife and Scarlett nearly jumped out of her skin. She had momentarily forgotten that she was not alone. Mammy had insisted on accompanying her and Melanie on this trip, and Scarlett had been grateful that the old woman had understood her reasons for wanting to come to North Carolina in her condition. But now, in this moment, that statement irritated Scarlett, for she could do nothing but stand here in the cold and wait.
"Oh, hush up!" she snapped. "It doesn't matter now. I'm here and I'll stay here until I find out what this is about." She looked to Melanie whose delicate hand was still clutching her arm. Melanie's large brown eyes were supportive and Scarlett felt a little more at ease knowing that someone cared enough to stand behind her.
A few minutes later both soldiers came back outside and allowed the ladies to come into the building. It was much warmer inside, and Scarlett took off her muff and shawl, handing them to Mammy. The room was dim, but Scarlett could discern its hasty building by the lack of paint on the wooden walls.
"The captain is in his office and wishes to speak to you, ma'am," one of the soldiers addressed Scarlett. "They'd better wait out here."
Taking a deep breath, Scarlett looked at mammy and Melanie who stood rooted in place, concerned looks on their faces. They were obviously just as confused about what was going on as she was. But she had to be brave, she could not let them see that she was afraid—afraid of them, but most of all afraid of what was to come. Turning her attention back to the soldiers, she allowed them to lead her through the door beyond.
Captain Rivers sat behind his big wooden desk. He was a plump man with a long, dignified dirty blond beard. A blue uniform, just like the other soldiers', was pulled tight around his large body, and Scarlett could tell by his badges that he had been a more dignified officer in the army. She did not open her mouth to speak, but only stood still, studying the man in front of her and tying to determine whether or not he could be trusted. The soldiers that had escorted her in were standing off to one side of the room and Scarlett eyed them cautiously.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Butler," the captain said kindly. "How was you trip, I hope it was not too tedious," he added, obviously noticing her advanced state of pregnancy. Scarlett blushed to the roots of her hair with embarrassment, but still, she said nothing, only swallowing and setting her eyes firmly on the captain. She was in no mood for small talk. All she wanted was to get to the bottom of this—whatever it was.
"I came as the telegram said," Scarlett finally spoke, "but I should like to know why I was urgently requested here of all places." Her voice was firm, but she took a difficult breath, looking nervously around the room; her next question would confirm or deny her suspicions that Rhett was the reason she was here. "Is this about my husband?"
Captain Rivers leaned forward and placed his arms on the desk. "Yes, Mrs. Butler. Please, sit down, I don't want to be known for bad hospitality."
Scarlett obeyed and sat down in the pulled-out wooden chair on the other side of the desk. "Why have you called me here, captain? What has Rhett done?" She felt uneasy at the sympathetic look in his eyes.
"He hasn't done anything, Mrs. Butler-"
Well then why is he here?" Scarlett interjected tartly. "The war is over, you can't hold him for anything."
"You needn't worry, we aren't holding him for anything."
Scarlett furrowed her brow in confusion. What was this all about? "Well then let me speak to him. Release him!"
Slowly, the captain glanced from Scarlett to the officers standing silent against the wall and back again. He took a deep breath, his expression regretful, and Scarlett shivered as the knot of uncertainty formed again in the pit of her stomach. Why was this man looking at her as if he knew something she didn't? Why was Rhett here if there were no charges against him?
"Please," she begged unsteadily, her eyes soft and large, and her hands trembling. "Let me see my husband."
"I'm afraid we can't do that."
"Why?" Scarlett pleaded, a desperate note filtering into her smooth voice.
"Captain Butler is not here."
Scarlett shook her head in great confusion. If Rhett was not in jail, where on earth was he? "What do you mean? Where is he then?"
"Please believe me, Mrs. Butler. Had I known about your…well, to put it plainly, your condition, I would not have asked you to come here." Seeing the pleading look on Scarlett's face caused Captain Rivers' heart to fall. She was so beautiful and so young; so obviously in love with her husband. He didn't like giving people bad news, especially women, but seeing her here in front of him, her green eyes blazing, expecting a child so soon, made the task even more difficult. Yet it must be done, he told himself.
"Mrs. Butler, I'll try and put this lightly," he said gently so as not to startle Scarlett any more than necessary. "There was a shipwreck last week of the coast of North Carolina." He paused, observing Scarlett's face as it paled and he became uncomfortable. Yet he pressed on, "Have you ever heard of a ship called the Rebel?"
"I don't—"She couldn't think, her mind was overflowing with confusion and uneasiness, and her answer went unfinished. "No," she finally said.
She saw the captain look at the soldiers against the wall and back at her before he spoke again. "The Rebel was a ship owned and operated by your husband, Rhett Butler, during his blockade running days in the war…" Every time he paused, Scarlett's heart leapt up into her throat and her pulse quickened, the knot in her stomach constricting. "It was the ship that was lost."
Rhett never mentioned anything about his own ships in his letters. This still was not making sense to her. "What are you trying to tell me? Please tell me where my husband is."
"He's in the hospital on the other side of town. We called you up here to—"
"Hospital?" Scarlett gasped, interrupting the captain's sentence. Her right hand flew to her breast as if she were trying to still her beating heart. Like so many times in the past two months tears rushed to her eyes, blurring her vision as she fought so hard to keep them at bay. But this feeling of trepidation had overcome her and she could not speak nor think clearly. "Is he alright? Is he badly hurt?" she croaked. Oh, please let him be alright! She was visibly shaking, but she could not control herself. Her mind was working in overdrive to push back thoughts she had refused to let herself think about, and did not dare ask; though in her heart she already knew.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Butler. Your husband drowned."
The words cut into Scarlett's soul like a knife, stabbed her until she thought her heart would bleed. They echoed in her head and she stared blankly ahead of her, but she refused to believe it. It wasn't true—it couldn't be true! No, not her Rhett! "Oh please!" her heart screamed. "Please let this be some nightmare." It had to be a nightmare, for she had never felt so shaken or utterly without control in her life. Rhett couldn't be gone! No, no, it wasn't possible. Just then a flicker of hope dashed across Scarlett's mind and she rallied herself.
"It could be a mistake; it could be someone else in the hospital!" She choked on her last words and she could not fight her tears any longer. She knew it was Rhett but she could not let herself believe it was possible. "How do you know it's him?"
"A body washed up on shore three days ago along with pieces of the wreckage. Based on the notoriety of your husband up North due to his blockading and exchange during the war, we were able to determine his identity." Scarlett whimpered and sank back in the chair, causing Captain Rivers to start and look at her sympathetically. There was a slight chance that there had been a mistake and that the man lying in the morgue at the hospital was not the famous Captain Rhett Butler, and he had summoned Scarlett here to identify the body. But now, especially given her delicate condition, he felt it was not a good idea. Perhaps if he just said he was completely sure it was Captain Butler, she would not ask to see him.
But he did not know Scarlett, and he observed her quizzically as she wiped her eyes and composed herself. Then, squaring her shoulders and raising her head, her eyes alight with passion, she declared, "Take me to see my husband."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"I want to see my husband!" she yelled, unable to control herself as the tears again poured down her cheeks. Suddenly the door opened and Mammy entered the room followed by Melanie who wore a worried expression on her face.
"Scarlett, what's happened?"
"I want to see Rhett!" she cried, looking helplessly at Melanie.
Scarlett's sister-in-law, seemingly forgetting her nervousness in the presence of the Yankees from earlier, turned her brown eyes on the captain, who was sitting helplessly behind his desk. Melanie's brow furrowed and she spoke clearly. "Captain, surely you can let my sister-in-law see her husband. We've made such a long trip and she hasn't seen him in so long." Melanie had no idea of the conversation that had transpired between Scarlett and the captain, had no idea of the true reason behind Scarlett's tears. She just assumed that Rhett was here and for some reason Scarlett was being denied the right to speak to him. Scarlett had dropped her head into her hands and her shoulders shook with violent sobs. Seeing this, Melanie tried to comfort her, but it was no use. "Please, captain, can't you see she's upset?"
Captain Rivers sighed heavily as he looked at Melanie and then Scarlett. It was no use fighting both of them. For Scarlett's sake he did not want to show her Rhett's body, God only knew what would happen when she saw him if the mere words of his death had such a devastating effect on her. He did not want to have some other calamity such as a miscarriage on his hands, but he could not resist crying and torment from a woman, and so he agreed to take Scarlett, Melanie and Mammy to the hospital.
The carriage jostled through the street toward the other end of the city, the cold air whipping at their faces as they sat in the open seats. Melanie tried again to comfort Scarlett with reassuring words and pats on the arm, but Scarlett noticed none of it. She sat staring out into the open void in front of her, seeing nothing. Her heart was leaden, her head hurt, and her eyes burned from the hot tears that seemed to have constantly assaulted her for the past two months; and she knew if what the captain said about Rhett was true, the worst was yet to come. So she tried not to think of anything, she had to be strong, and the thread of hope that it was all a mistake and that Rhett was still alive was what she fiercely clung to as she had never clung to anything in her life.
When at last the carriage arrived at the hospital, Scarlett fiercely clung to Melanie's hand as they followed Captain Rivers inside. The halls were dimly lit, as if they were reflecting Scarlett's mood, and she discerned faint cries of pain, smells of sickness that wafted past her nostrils and reminded her of her nursing days during the war. But she did not let these things get to her. The only thing that was strong and alive in her at that moment was the hammering of her heart that said, "Please let him be alright, please let him be alright."
The captain led them down another corridor and stopped before a wooden door at the end of the hall. Swiftly he turned around, directing his gaze on Scarlett who shrunk back and swallowed visibly. "In here," was all he said. Scarlett shut her eyes momentarily, collecting her courage. She understood that whatever she saw, whoever was in that room would not be pleasant. But if it was in fact Rhett, she had to be prepared for the worst, and, clinging to the last thread of hope her soul could muster, she opened her eyes again and nodded to the captain to permit her admittance.
The door opened slowly and Scarlett advanced, keeping her eyes directed toward the floor, one of the soldiers following behind her in case something should happen. A small window on the wall to her left allowed a faint gray light to creep inside, giving the room a haunting feeling that unsettled Scarlett and added to the nightmarish effect that the past few hours had created in her mind. The soldier, whom Scarlett had not noticed had followed her into the room, walked over and lit an oil lamp in the windowsill, casting a sharp orange glow to the corners of the room. When Scarlett looked up, deliberately keeping her eyes from the center of the room where a body lay under a crisp white sheet, she told the soldier to leave her alone.
"I have orders, ma'am—"
"I said leave me be!" Scarlett snapped, irritated at his insolence. Her green eyes bore into his and finally he did as she told him. When the door clicked shut and she was alone, Scarlett took a deep breath and finally turned her eyes to the table. She walked closer and when she could see the man's face, she let out a single horrified cry. Her hand flew to her mouth and her knees gave way, causing her to clutch the side of the table with all of the strength she had in her. It was Rhett, but this could not be real. He was so still, so pale, not animate and dark as he was supposed to be. Captain River's words echoed in her head again "drowned, drowned, drowned." Dead. "Rhett?" she whispered, gingerly reaching out with shaking fingers to touch his face, but he was so cold. He did not move, and she allowed her eyes to roam over his body as her mind relived every moment they had spent together—good and bad. It was then that the realization that he was not going to wake up hit her with full force and a long moan escaped her lips; all of the anxiety, the feverish hope that he would come home to her, it had built up in her chest and finally exploded, causing anguished sobs to rack her body and leave her with tears streaming down her face as she cried out his name over and over.
This realization hurt more than anything she had ever gone through. She had dealt with death many times; her mother, her father, and countless soldiers during the war, but nothing compared to this. Rhett, her Rhett—her strength, her hero, her love, her life—he was lying there in front of her and she could not feel him, could not kiss him and take away his pain, tell him she loved him and that all would be alright, for he had already passed to the warmth of the world beyond and had left her behind in the cold. He had understood her, had matched her will and her wits, had loved her with everything in him and she had done that same in return. She had not gotten to say good-bye, had not gotten to feel his lips on hers one last time, had not gotten to feel his strong arms around her nor his deep but loving voice telling her that she must not cry, that he loved her and would always be with her.
Half blind from the hot tears flooding her eyes, Scarlett again reached out to him. She ran her fingertips over his pale lips, lips that had once been red and warm, capable of making her forget herself, comforting, gentle yet sometimes rough, but always forgiving in the end. His close-clipped moustache, so unmistakable yet so fitting to his character, tickled her fingers and she sniffled, closing her eyes and bringing her fingers up to graze her cheek where she had been so ticklish when he kissed her. A shaky smile that ended with a heart-rending sob crossed her face as she gently brushed that lock of back hair out of his eyes. How many times had she done that? How many times had his black eyes been smiling at her under lowered lashes as she lovingly performed the task that she knew was reserved solely for her? She was the only one permitted to run her hands through his shiny black locks in fits of passion, to ruffle his hair in a playful manner before he lovingly kissed her.
She carefully pulled back the sheet that covered the length of his body, revealing his chest and torso. Captain Rivers had not told her, but she fleetingly realized, and was grateful, that the doctors had embalmed him before she had come here, for she knew that if she saw him in any worse state, she would have fainted. Her fingers ran down his chest softly, feeling the hard muscles under taut tanned skin for the last time. She gently traced the raised white scar in his abdomen, again shutting her eyes as she remembered how she had rested her cheek on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, and had traced that scar, causing him to tighten his grip on her because the skin around it was still sensitive even after all those years. None of this seemed real to her, but she knew it was a reality, that he would never kiss her, never hold her, never smile nor laugh and tease her again.
"Why?" she whispered through her tears. Why did this have to happen to her? Why did he have to leave her now? She had never envisioned Rhett dying; he had always seemed so invincible, so stalwart and courageous. They were supposed to grow old together, have many children and grandchildren, and make so many more memories. Now he would not even get to see his only child when it made its appearance into the world. Would not get to watch he or she grow up and get married. The bitter irony and unfairness of it all burned in Scarlett's chest and she let out fresh sobs, sinking into a wooden chair next to the table and wishing she would die right now so she could be with him. A year; that was all they had been granted with each other. One year that held the memories that would have to last a lifetime. Later she would realize that she would have rather lived one year with Rhett than a lifetime without him, and that the memories of their rocky relationship before the war and before their marriage were sacred to her as well for she must have always loved him. But now, in this moment of crushing sadness, the only thing she could think of was how unfair God was to have taken the thing that mattered most away from her. Had she really been so bad, done so many wrongs that she deserved such a punishment?
Everyone else was still outside, probably wondering what had happened to her and if she was alright. But she didn't care. She sat there and cried endless tears for Rhett, for her baby that would grow up ever knowing its father, for the cruel twist that fate had thrown at her, and for the love that she had lost but would never forget.
Outside, Captain Rivers had explained the situation to Melanie and Mammy, and had held them back from disturbing Scarlett, even when they heard her through the door crying Rhett's name. But they understood that Scarlett needed this time alone with her husband, and so they consented to give it to her. After an indeterminate amount of time, and after the muffled sobs had ceased, they had opened the door and found Scarlett sitting erect in the chair, staring blankly ahead at the body of her husband, lost in her own world of memories as the tears slipped silently down her cheeks. It was a heart wrenching sight for those who witnessed it, especially for Mammy and Melanie who had known how close Scarlett was with Rhett and how much they had loved each other. But they knew that Scarlett would have to leave and preparations for Rhett's burial would have to be made.
Hesitantly, Melanie stepped forward and with tears in her eyes, knelt down before her sister-in-law and took her shaking hand. "Darling," she whispered, and Scarlett slowly turned her head to look at her friend. "Oh Scarlett, I'm so sorry."
Scarlett, seeing the sympathy in Melanie's eyes, bit her lip as her face contorted and she silently sobbed, laying her head on Melanie's shoulder as her tears soaked the other woman's shawl. But Melanie did not mind. She pulled Scarlett into a hug and whispered condolences as tears rolled down her own cheeks. Mammy, who had been standing at a distance, her own heart aching for her lamb, walked up to them and laid her black hand on Melanie's shoulder, silently telling her that it was time to go home.
Melanie nodded in understanding and turned back to whisper to Scarlett, "Come on, darling. It's time."
Scarlett allowed Melanie to help her up from the chair, but then she shook off Melanie's hand and turned to look upon her husband for the last time. "I love you," she whispered through her tears. "I'll always love you." And, kissing her fingertips, Scarlett placed them over Rhett's lips and turned away before Captain Rivers pulled the sheet back over Rhett's face, leaning heavily on Melanie as she left the room.
Scarlett was silent as the train made is way back along the same tracks upon which it had come to take them to Wilmington three days prior. She had ardently hoped that Rhett would be sitting next to her on this return journey. But instead she was alone. Captain Rivers had told her that he did not know any details behind the shipwreck, nor did he know if there were any survivors, and Scarlett, too tired to question any further, had nodded her head in weak understanding and prepared for the journey home. After a shaky attempt to clear her head, Scarlett had sent a telegram to Rhett's mother and sister in Charleston with the news of his passing. When she had received word back the next day, she sent Melanie and Mammy back on the earlier train, and accompanied Rhett to Jonesborough later that evening, for having told his mother that Rhett had not felt welcome in his birthplace, it was agreed that he would be buried at Tara, since it was their home now.
Standing under the knotted oak tree in the burying ground at Tara, Scarlett listened as the preacher read the last rights at the head of her husband's open grave, and the rain drops pitter-pattered on the headstones and on the hard red earth at her feet. She glanced up through her veil of crepe and tears at those gathered around to pay their last respects. Mammy, who had come to respect Rhett when she was how good he was to Scarlett. Eleanor Butler and Rhett's sister, Rosemary were huddled close together under a large black umbrella. Suellen, who had come with her husband Frank Kennedy to comfort her big sister in her time of need despite the fact that she and Scarlett had not spoken in some time, glanced up at Scarlett with eyes full of sympathy and silent apology. Carreen, Scarlett's baby sister, stood next to her, holding Scarlett's hand comfortingly. Many people from the County and from Atlanta, whom Scarlett knew had not respected Rhett for one reason or another, had turned up to comfort her. Finally, Scarlett looked to her left and saw Melanie, Ashley, and little Beau staring silently into the black pit before them. Ashley—she had thought she loved him so long ago, and now seeing him again, she felt nothing for him. She remembered when she had married Charles Hamilton just to spite Ashley, and how when he had died of pneumonia during the war, her heart was supposed to have been in the grave. It hadn't been then, but it was now. She saw Ashley turn his head and glance at her, his eyes understanding and soft. But there was something in his glance that conveyed to her that he knew she had been happy with Rhett, and that he was truly apologetic for her loss, and she felt comforted in the smallest way.
Turning her head back to the grave before her, Scarlett once again relived every memory that she and Rhett had shared not only in their marriage but before it as well. She remembered the first time she saw him at Twelve Oaks, his swarthy face and his crooked smile, the electricity she had felt the first time he had kissed her, the first time he had told her he loved her. She remembered taking his hand in marriage under the oak tree on the front lawn, just around the corner, their adventures here at Tara when he had brought her here just a few short months ago. Everything flashed in her mind like a series of photographs, the good and the bad, and here, this was the last photograph. From now on, she realized bitterly, she would be alone.
When the preacher finished the sermon, Scarlett, watched as the coffin was lowered into the blood-red earth, and with it, her heart, which would forever belong to Rhett. Then, she leaned down and picked up a wet clump of clay and watched in slow motion as her hand opened and the dirt fell onto the flowers that lay on the coffin, being flattened by the monotonous chill rain of early November.
After two days at Tara, Scarlett had returned to the mansion in Atlanta with Melanie and Ashley. The house was overwhelmingly huge and oppressing when she first walked through the door, but Scarlett knew she would not sell it, for there were too many memories of Rhett here. She was so tired from everything that had transpired recently, and so when Melanie suggested she lie down and sleep, Scarlett was only too willing to do so. Up in her room, Scarlett sunk down on the large bed that would be occupied by only her now. Her limbs were heavy and she felt as if she were Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, and her heart held a dull pain that she knew would never subside.
Mammy brought her up a cup of tea and helped her settle into bed. Through half closed eyes, Scarlett asked Mammy to bring her the mail that had been delivered to the house in the past week since she had been gone. Mammy came back and handed the pile of letters and bills to Scarlett and she sifted through them slowly, not really paying attention to what any of them contained. She would think about all of that later when she had the strength. She was about to put the letters down on the nightstand when a small piece of yellow paper caught her eye. Slowly taking it up in her hand, she sucked in her breath when she read it. It was from Rhett and had been sent on October 24th from Galway, Ireland. The words were simple, yet the irony of the message carried more weight than he could have ever known when he wrote it:
"My darling, I am coming home. I ache to see you again and hope you have not forgotten me.
She thought she had cried all of the tears she was capable of crying, and up until now she had been as strong as she could. But reading those words was too much, and she let out a soul-shaking moan as her heart was wrung with more force than she thought possible. He had been on his way home to her. October 24th, that was exactly five days before the night she had woken up in the darkness and whispered his name. Making the connection, she realized that she had felt it when he had died, as if her soul was connected to his and the thread was severed when he closed his eyes forever. Scarlett held the telegram to her breast and buried her face in the pillow, crying for Rhett until her body could not hold out any longer and she fell into a deep, tormented sleep.
Scarlett's baby was born two weeks after her husband had been laid to rest. It was a difficult labor; the exhaustion and depression she had suffered in the past few weeks had dilapidated nearly all of her physical strength, and the pain and agony had been nearly too much to bear. She remembered Melanie holding her hand and wiping the damp hair out of her face, and the doctor with his tired, worried expression as he stood at the foot of the bed, alternating between giving Mammy instructions and encouraging Scarlett to give it her all. But his words were inaudible to Scarlett; everything was becoming softer and distant, fading away into nothingness, and she closed her eyes tight against another shooting pain. When she tiredly opened them again, it was not Melanie or Mammy standing over her, but Rhett, her darling Rhett. All noise had ceased and they were alone in the room. Scarlett felt nothing, no pain, no heartache, only the pressure of Rhett's strong hand as he held onto hers.
Had she died? Was she here now, in Heaven, reunited with the man she loved? She locked her eyes on Rhett's. His were so deep and vibrant, just as she had remembered. His black hair fell in his face, and she reached up weakly to brush it out of his eyes like she had so many times. Oh, this was too good to be true—to be with him again. If only she could stay here forever. She squeezed Rhett's hand in her own and he leaned over, bringing his face close to hers.
"Rhett," she whispered, smiling weakly. He smiled in return and cupped her cheek in his other hand.
"My darling; my love," he said. His voice held a mystical quality, as if it were floating out from the fog of a dream—and maybe she was dreaming.
"Am I—Am I dead?"
Rhett's eyes smiled and he ran his fingers over her pale cheek and brushed the hair off her forehead. "No," he said quietly. "You shouldn't be here now. You must go back."
"No," she whispered, tightening her grip on his hand. "I don't want to go back without you."
Rhett's smile faded and he became stern and serious, but he did not let go of her hand. Instead he sat down on the bed and lifted her body so she was leaning against his chest. He felt warm, solid, and her mind told her that this could not be real but her heart nearly burst with joy at being able to touch him. This peace that surrounded them in a protective shield felt so good compared to the turmoil she had been through recently.
"I don't want to go anywhere," she whispered again, her voice forlorn and far away. "I'm so tired, Rhett." And she was tired, from the anxiety and depression she had been and still was suffering, from the constant bombardment of letters and visitors who wanted to make their condolences, from the physical pain of childbirth she had just somehow magically escaped mentally, if not physically. But Rhett was here now, and even if it was only her mind playing tricks on her, she did not want to leave him, not when she could physically see him as she remembered him; with his black eyes shining brilliantly as he looked at her, his hard muscles comforting her in her time of need.
"Scarlett, you have to go back. Our baby is counting on you."
A single tear rolled down Scarlett's cheek. "Please let me stay with you."
"You must be brave," he said. She felt his lips on her head and his fingers laced with hers, but she was becoming drowsy and she tried to turn around to see him but she could not. She wanted desperately to see him, to know he was still there. She could still feel his strong arms wrapped around her, but another sensation was creeping up on her, a sharp pain that was building and growing stronger and stronger.
She squeezed her eyes shut and cried out his name with fear in her voice, trying to grasp onto him, onto anything. Her eyes felt so heavy and she felt like she was swimming in a thick black void. "Rhett, it hurts!" she cried again, and from far away she heard him reply, "You know I will never leave you."
Suddenly Scarlett's eyes shot open and she let out a blood-curdling scream that was followed by the shrill cry of her newborn baby. She heard voices, familiar voices all around her, droning like bees busy in their hive, and she was able to discern certain phrases but nothing coherent that made any sense to her. She felt Melanie's hand wiping her sweaty forehead with a damp rag and heard her soft voice: "Oh, thank God! We thought we'd lost you, darling!" The doctor congratulated her, but for a moment she was confused about what was going on. Everything was hazy and her mouth was very dry, as if her tongue were made of cotton, making the process of speech virtually impossible. And she was tired, so tired. She saw a small group of people huddled at the foot of the bed, fussing about something, and suddenly Mammy broke off and came toward her, carrying a small bundle wrapped in a blanket.
"You did wonderful, Scarlett. Look at your beautiful daughter," Melanie said with tears in her eyes. Having a baby was the best gift a woman could be given, according to Melanie, and she didn't think she'd ever seen a baby more beautiful than the one that had just made her entrance into the world.
A daughter? The fact did not register in Scarlett's brain right away, but as soon as Mammy held the baby out to her and she caught a glimpse of the little pink face and the dark head of hair, Scarlett felt a new wave of pain in her heart and she turned her head away. So Rhett had been right; his silly prediction that their baby would be a girl had come true, but he would never get to see her. At this thought Scarlett gave in to the tears that mixed with her fatigue—tears for Rhett and the situation she had been left in. He had wanted this baby so much, and his happiness had in turn made her want the baby too. He had lessened her fears, and she had taken for granted his presence. But it had all been cruelly snatched from her so soon before their baby had been born. Scarlett weakly sobbed into the pillow. What in God's name was she supposed to do without Rhett?
She did not realize that she had fainted while she was having the baby—did not remember having seen Rhett in her subconscious. All she knew was that when she saw her daughter's face for the first time her heart ached for Rhett, and the pain was still too raw, too fresh in her mind and her soul to be wiped away by the sight of the little girl that was just as much a part of him as she was of her. Maybe in time the pain would fade and she would again be the Scarlett O'Hara that Rhett loved so much. But right now she felt like she would never be whole again, and that not even Rhett's baby could fill the hole that had been left in her heart. She closed her eyes as more tears oozed out from under her heavy lids. Mammy and Melanie interpreted her action differently, for they thought that she was just tired from the ordeal she had just been through, and Scarlett heard their hushed voices saying they would come back later and then she could hold the baby. Well Scarlett did not feel like sleeping, she felt like dying, but sleep was the only thing that came—a deep, encompassing sleep that engulfed her and protected her like a pair of strong, comforting arms. And before her mind completely succumbed to the realm of the subconscious, she felt momentarily calmed, as if there were a presence about her that she could not see, but she could feel it.
For the first week after her baby was born, Scarlett neither had the strength to get out of bed nor the courage to hold her child. A wet nurse had been hired so that the baby could eat, and Melanie and Mammy were the ones who took care of her. They attributed Scarlett's fatigue to the difficult labor, but they knew it ran deeper than that. She had been through so much in the past few months. Her depression was deepening, and each day that passed made the wish to wither away and die stronger. But she knew she would not die—could not die. Fate had meant for her to live on even if the love of her life was no longer with her physically. But what was it that Rhett had told her that day in the parlor when she cried for her mother?
"The ones we love most are never really gone." Yes, that was it. She tried to think of that sentiment, but it was so hard to accept the fact. Whenever she looked at the picture of her and Rhett that had been taken at Tara, her heart would constrict and she found it difficult to breathe. Would this pain ever subside? Finally, she decided that it hurt too much to look at that picture of them so obviously happy, so deeply in love, when he was not here now to share such things with her, that she decided it would be easier to not look at it at all. She would hide it away where the pain would not haunt her.
One cold early December night, after the baby had been laid in her cradle at the foot of Scarlett's bed and the whole house was asleep, Scarlett lay awake in the darkness. A faint, frosty shimmer of the moon was casting a light glow about the room—so like that night she had awoken and called Rhett's name; the night he died. Her mind was numb, as it had been since that night, but suddenly a noise allowed a sudden clarity to slip through the veil of sorrow, and Scarlett's eyes wandered to the foot of the bed. In her depression, she had practically forgotten that she had had a baby, but suddenly she was aware of the tiny creature sleeping in her room that belonged to her, and she became curious.
Pushing back the warm covers that had covered her, Scarlett shakily stood up from the bed, tightly grasping the bedpost for support. She reached for her heavy wrapper draped across the chair next to the bed and put it on. The fire that Mammy had built earlier that evening was dying low, and a chill had filled the room. Taking unsteady steps, Scarlett slowly made her way to the foot of the bed and peered over the side of the cradle where her daughter lay bundled in a warm blanket, only a tiny little fist peeking out between the folds. This was the first time she had really looked at her daughter…she didn't even have a name yet. Oh, how she wished Rhett were here with her now, experiencing this. She did not know how long she stood here, just staring at the baby, but suddenly her little mouth opened and she let out a whimpering sound that startled Scarlett, and the baby soon began to cry. She looked around helplessly, but no one else was in the room and probably would not come in at this hour. What was she supposed to do? She had never been around children, especially babies, with the exception of little Beau the night he was born, and she felt completely helpless.
"It's okay, baby," she whispered, hoping that would help, but the newborn continued to wail. Finally, Scarlett reached down and awkwardly picked her daughter up. She's never held a baby before, and it continued to wail at the unfamiliarity of her mother's inexperienced arms. Letting out a shaky breath, Scarlett slowly walked over to the wooden rocking chair in the corner by the window—the chair Rhett had bough specifically for her—and sat down, rocking the baby back and forth in her arms. Still, she kept crying, and Scarlett finally came to the conclusion that she was hungry. With shaky fingers, Scarlett unbuttoned the top of her nightgown and held the baby to her breast, and her little hands, freed from the confines of the blanket, grasped her mother's long hair and the fabric of her nightgown.
"What will I call you?" Scarlett asked softly. She studied her daughter's tiny features—her button nose, faint brows that promised to be dark just like her own, her perfect mouth, and she had all of her fingers and toes, thank God. Yes, she was a beautiful baby and promised to be even more beautiful when she grew up, but Scarlett still felt awkward and distant. Yet the baby had to have a name, and Rhett had wanted it to be special. She had not really thought of what she wanted to name her baby should it be a girl; that task had been left up to her husband.
Scarlett continued to stare at the baby, running through names in her head, but nothing seemed right. She turned her head to look out the window. A cloud had passed over the moon and it had begun to snow, the thick flakes falling slowly to the ground as Scarlett watched mesmerized. When she turned her attention to the little bundle in her arms, it was suddenly clear. "Emma," she whispered. "Emma Victoria." She did not know where the name had come from, but it seemed perfect, and she had a feeling Rhett would approve of such a name for his princess.
The baby had finished nursing and yawned tiredly, and when Scarlett whispered the name again, she opened her eyes and Scarlett gasped. Two crystal blue orbs looked up at her, so trusting, so innocent and gentle. "Just like Pa's eyes," she thought, and a smile crept up on her face—the first real smile since the night Rhett had left. Her heart filled with an unexpected warmth as she stared into Emma's eyes, and she instinctively held her closer, her nervousness from earlier forgotten. She suddenly felt a strong connection to this little creature in her arms, and she realized in that moment that she would be alright, that she had someone to look after, to comfort, and who, in a spiritual way, would comfort her in return.
Fourteen years had passed since the night her child had been born. Fourteen years she had lived without Rhett by her side. Each day that passed had been a struggle to go on living, but Scarlett had made the best of it, if not for herself, for Emma, who would never know her real father. Emma was a good child, and Scarlett was thankful for that because though she loved her daughter very much, her patience with most things was not very strong.
After Rhett's death, Scarlett had been in a deep state of depression and Melanie, always loyal and concerned with her sister-in-law, had begged Ashley to move back to Atlanta so they could be near Scarlett and the baby, and Ashley, hesitant at first to leave his steady job at the bank in Manhattan, had finally given in. They had moved into a smaller house down the street from the Butler mansion, and Melanie came over nearly every day to visit and help Mammy in making sure that Scarlett was eating enough. She often took walks in the garden with Scarlett when she was well enough to move about after giving birth to Emma, and Scarlett was grateful for the support, for Melanie refrained from talking about things that might upset her unintentionally. It was enough that everything around the house reminded her of Rhett, and the memories of shy smiles, stolen kisses and passionate embraces in these places where they had loved to spend time together had been replaced by a palpable silence, and the emptiness was sometimes overwhelmingly despairing. Yet she could not bring herself to sell the property and move, for though she felt so small compared to everything in that house now that Rhett was not physically there, she somehow felt connected to him.
For perhaps longer than many people saw fit, Scarlett left Rhett's belongings in their rightful places around their bedroom, as if she was hoping that he would walk in the door any time with that smile she knew so well and go into the dressing room to change before supper…as if he would fade from memory if she changed anything. When she finally found the strength to sort through his possessions, she knew she could not keep everything, for though he had not been as frivolous as she had when buying material possessions, Rhett owned a fair amount of clothes and brick-a-brack. So, she separated the things which she would discard and kept the things which held a special significance to some memory; the elegant tuxedo he had worn the night he took her dancing under the stars when he first learned of her pregnancy, little gifts she had presented him with as tokens of her affection, the silk dressing gown she had worn the night she told Melanie he had left her. Everything was folded and packaged with such care; all of her love for Rhett went into this task as if it were her sole purpose in life. When she had placed the last items of Rhett's that she would keep into boxes, Scarlett stood on tired legs and stepped back to look at everything she had done. It still seemed so unreal to her that her beloved would never come back, and she had a feeling acceptance of this fact was still some time in coming. Her sad green eyes turned to the dressing room that had once been filled to the brim with both hers and his clothes, and the emptiness that stared back at her was a weight she could not deal with at that moment. Turning away, she slowly walked over to the other end of the room and sank down heavily into the soft mattress of the bed that was much to large for one person, and here she fell into an exhausted sleep that was aided by stinging tears of grief. It was only when the cry of her baby sounded in her tired mind that Scarlett woke up, and she was thankful for the distraction, for it was a reason to face reality.
As Emma grew older, Scarlett doted on her child anything the little girl wished, and the smiles and genuine affection she received in return made her forget her pain if only for a little while. Rhett had left her a rich woman, but all of their money ceased to be important to her after his death, and often she wished that she could trade it all if it meant he would come back. To be widowed at twenty-two with a child was not an uncommon occurrence among women, but the citizens of Atlanta seemed to find Scarlett's case special and they pitied her silently, for they thought it heartbreaking that she had lost the man who had finally tamed her and who she had obviously loved so much. Even if Rhett had not been well received after his antics during the war, there was a certain degree of unfairness that he should have been laid in the grave just two weeks before his daughter had been born.
Scarlett felt the sympathetic eyes on her every time she walked down the street clutching the small hand of the little girl beside her, and it infuriated her. She did not want pity, she never could stand it, and after a while sympathy started to grate on her nerves as well because every remark and comment about Rhett made it all come back to her just when she thought she was finally starting to see blue skies instead of the constant gray of despair. But Emma was her light through everything, her strength to go on, and Scarlett lavished her baby with attention, often taking her out to the park with the Wilkes's or calling to friends, and spoiling her zealously.
When Emma was two years old, Scarlett decided to take her to Tara. It was the first time she had been to the beloved white plantation house since Rhett's funeral, and she steeled herself for the tumult of emotions that would surely flood her there. For two days Scarlett had stayed in the house, letting the aura of her childhood home surround her and give her strength. When she finally felt she could stand it, she slipped out the door and made her way to the burial ground carrying a single red rose she had picked earlier from the rosebush behind the house. Her eyes wandered from grave to grave, slowly reading the names of those she had loved and lost—and she had lost so many—her mother, her father, her three baby brothers. Finally, her eyes came to rest on the gray carved stone that marked the resting place of the man she loved more than life itself, and she sank down on the green grass, not caring whether she got her white dress dirty. Reaching out, she ran her fingers over the engraved letters of the words that had been inscribed on the stone: "Beloved husband and father."
"Rhett," she whispered, and his name was carried on the breeze that suddenly surrounded her. Scarlett closed her eyes as the wind whispered through her dark hair and across her velvet skin like the caresses of a lover. When she opened them again she saw the pink of the dimming sky through the green canopy of leaves in the oak tree, saw the overly tall blades of grass sway to and fro, and suddenly she felt ashamed that she had not been here before this day. But it had been too hard—was still hard, and she bit her lip as she tried to stifle tears that fell despite her efforts.
"Rhett, I miss you so much." Could he hear her, see her even? Was he proud of her, of their beautiful baby, of the effort she was making to survive without him? "It's so hard without you, Rhett. I loved you so much," her voice broke at these words and ended in a silent sob. "Will I see you again one day?" Her voice ceased and her mind was carried away on the wind of her memories. She was so distracted she did not hear the heavy footsteps behind her until someone called her name and she turned around, startled, at the familiar voice. It was Mammy, and in her arms was the feisty little blue bundle that was Emma.
"Ah's sorry, Miz Scahlett, but she was cryin' foh you."
Whatever irritation Scarlett was feeling at being interrupted in the quiet time with her and Rhett, it was wiped clean when she saw the pouting face of her daughter. "Come here baby," she said softly. Mammy set the child down and watched with pride as Emma toddled into her mother's waiting arms. "You can go back in the house now, Mammy. She can stay out here with me."
Mammy lingered for a moment as if trying to decide whether she thought it fit for the little girl to be out in the cemetery, but then she nodded in agreement and returned to the house. Scarlett watched Mammy go and when the old lady was out of earshot, she turned to her daughter who was playing with the lace on the collar of her dress.
"Have you been a good girl for Mammy, sweetheart?"
Emma did not say anything but tucked her dark head into her mother's shoulder as if she were hiding from a stranger. Scarlett could not help but smile at her daughter's affectionate action. It made her feel special to know that this precious baby depended on her and loved her. She closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her daughter's black curls as she hugged the child to her, and she pictured Rhett sitting next to her and chuckling in adoration of the scene, only they were in a green meadow full of brightly colored flowers in bloom instead of the gloominess of the burying ground at Tara. In her imagination she saw Emma laughing as her father picked her up and held her above his head, screaming with delight when he told her she was flying. Scarlett smiled at the pictures her mind was creating, and cried bittersweet tears at the thought of what could have been, but when reality once again hit her, the tears of her fantasy turned into those of sorrow.
Sensing the change in her mother and not being able to comprehend the cause of her distress, Emma began to cry as well, clinging to Scarlett with her small hands.
"Oh, honey," Scarlett cooed into the little girl's ear, "please don't cry. Mama's sorry for making you upset." She picked Emma up and held her out in front of her, kissing both of her cheeks in a flood of motherly devotion. "There now, baby. Don't cry it's alright. Mama's just sad." Scarlett watched Emma's red face with sympathetic eyes until her own tears ceased. Would she ever be able to think about Rhett, to talk about him without getting upset? It broke her heart to see her little girl crying because of her. "Don't cry," she whispered again.
When Emma finally calmed down, she looked at her mother with those wide, innocent blue eyes and said, "Mama sad?"
Scarlett smiled forlornly at her daughter's naïve question. "Mama just misses your daddy, sweetheart." She knew Emma was too young to understand what she was talking about. She'd never even seen her father. Shifting Emma in her lap so that she was facing away from her, Scarlett asked if she could sit still and be a good girl, and when she received an affirmative nod from her daughter's little head she said quietly, "Can you say hello to your Daddy?"
"Where," Emma said.
Scarlett kissed the top of Emma's head and took her small hand in her own, pointing it toward the sky. "Daddy lives in Heaven, but he can see you and he knows how pretty you are, and he loves you very much."
She knew her words meant nothing to the little girl in her lap, but Scarlett felt this need to tell her about her father, to let her know of his previous existence, for in this moment she had the strength to do so, but the pain in her heart over losing Rhett did not dissipate, and she knew that once she left this place she would not be able to talk about it. "Isn't she beautiful, Rhett?" Scarlett whispered into the air, quietly enough that only she could hear. Scarlett leaned her cheek against Emma's head and a single tear fell onto her dark hair. She did not know how long they sat there, but as dusk approached, Scarlett realized they had to go inside, and standing up, she leaned down and handed the red rose she was holding earlier to her daughter. "This is for Daddy, will you put it over there?" she asked, pointing to the polished stone. Scarlett watched with a flood of emotion building up in her breast as Emma did as she was told, and when the little girl turned around and held up her arms, signaling that she wanted to be picked up, Scarlett swooped her up into her arms and held her close as she walked back to the house.
She had not been back to Tara since Emma was a toddler, and she did not speak of Rhett if she did not have to. Though the members of the Old Guard in Scarlett's circle had held their tongues until her official mourning period was over, they soon tried to suggest to her quietly and politely that she should consider re-marrying, at least for Emma's sake. "You're still so young, Scarlett, and your baby needs a father," they would say. Did they think she did not realize her situation? She knew only too well. Yes, she was still young, and men thought her attractive as they always had, and over the years she had had many suitors, but she never let things go as far as a marriage proposal, for she knew she would deny such a request. It was not that she was never lonely, but her heart had been buried along with Rhett and she felt that she could not give what she had left to any other man. Maybe some day she would marry again, but not now, and she did not want to re-marry, for she had known true love, and she was afraid of forgetting Rhett. As for the comments about the indecency of her daughter not having a father figure in her life, her eyes would blaze with courage as she said, "She does have a father, he's just not here."
Details of her father were never related to Emma, and she never asked anyone about him. Rhett had sent Scarlett a tin type of himself during the war, and for some reason unbeknownst to her at the time, she had kept it, and through this visual presence of Rhett, Emma knew what he looked like. The only thing Scarlett told her daughter was that Rhett was her father and he died before she was born. If ever Emma had wanted to find out more information about her father, she was too shy to ask her Aunt Melly or Uncle Ashley, and she knew better than to broach the subject with her mother, especially after the incident in the parlor when she was nine years old.
When she was a child, Scarlett discovered that her daughter found a knack for playing piano, and she let Melanie teach her until she became quite good on her own. Scarlett found that she liked listening to her daughter play piano in the afternoon, and sometimes she even sat and played with her, recalling from memory what she had been taught as a child. However, one summer afternoon when Scarlett was in the study going over some bills, she heard the fait chords of a song that she recognized but could not remember where she had heard it before. Getting up from the desk, Scarlett made her way across the plush carpet, going through her mind in search of the memory to match her recognition, and just as she got to the closed parlor door it hit her like the slap of a hand. My Old Kentucky Home—she had played that song for Rhett and the others at Aunt Pittypat's house during the war. Rhett had saved her from humiliation by accompanying her faulty soprano with his excellent bass. Oh, Rhett! Why did this always happen? Why did everything remind her of him, and why was it still so painful? Scarlett opened the door, stormed over to where her daughter was serenely sitting on the mahogany bench in her new green dress, her black hair shining in the warm afternoon sun, and without thinking, she grabbed Emma's arm with force, abruptly ending the song in the sickening muffled sound of an out of tune note. Emma cried out in pain, and seeing the bewildered expression in her child's bright blue eyes, Scarlett gasped and immediately let go of her arm, stepping back in astonishment of what she had just done.
"Baby—" She reached out to her child but Emma shied away as if she were afraid of being hurt again. Her mother had never shown any emotion as violent as the one she had just witnessed, and the sudden change terrified her.
"Honey, I'm so sorry."
"What did I do, Mama?" Emma asked in a small voice. "I was only playing my piano."
Scarlett swallowed and closed her eyes, trying to collect her emotions, and when she reopened them, she saw her daughter eagerly questioning her for an answer. She had done nothing wrong. "Where did you…where did you learn that song?"
"Aunt Melly gave me some sheet music for my birthday. She said it belonged to your aunt Pittypat and she wanted me to have it. The song was in there." Emma saw her mother's eyes well with tears. "Mama, what's wrong?"
Scarlett sat down softly on the bench next to her daughter and studied the girl's face. She looked so much like Rhett sometimes. "It—it's just that it reminded me of your father…"
Emma looked away and then back at her mother. "Mama, can I ask you something?"
"What, sweetie?" Scarlett said quietly.
"Did you love my father a whole lot?"
Without hesitation, Scarlett reached out and brought Emma in for a hug before whispering, "More than anything."
Scarlett let out a shaky sigh as she fingered the daguerreotype in her hands once more. It had been so long since she looked upon this object. After all these years it still pained her to think about Rhett, and here she was, reopening doors in her heart that had been shut and locked so long ago. But it was as if fate had willed her to find the picture she had hidden in the back of her vanity drawer in the days after her daughter was born. She never did find out the details behind the shipwreck that took her husband, and it was this major factor that prevented her, at least she thought, from being able to relish in his memory and to tell her daughter what a great man Rhett had been. If only she knew what had happened.
Just then a knock sounded on her bedroom door and Scarlett jumped at the unexpected noise. She rapidly shut the lid on the photograph and turned around to see her daughter standing in the doorway. Today was Emma's 14th birthday, and if Rhett had been there at that moment, he would have whispered to Scarlett how their daughter looked just as beautiful as she had the day he first laid eyes upon her at Twelve Oaks.
"Sorry to interrupt you, Mama, but Dilcey sent me up here to tell you that a man is here to see you. He's waiting in the parlor."
That's strange, though Scarlett. She was not expecting anyone today. "Is it Uncle Ashley?"
"No, I don't know his name." Emma smiled brightly at her mother; she had Rhett's smile. "Uncle Ashley and Aunt Melly and Beau are coming later with presents for me!"
Scarlett could not help but smile at her daughter's excitement for her birthday. "Thank you, darling. Go and tell Dilcey that I'll be down shortly and we can have cake and ice cream later, alright?"
Emma nodded and left the room leaving Scarlett to wonder briefly who it was that could be downstairs, but the she decided she'd find out soon enough and she turned back to examine herself in her vanity mirror. She pinned back a few loose strands of hair and wiped her eyes, applying powder underneath them to conceal the redness that had been caused by her crying earlier. When she was finished she was about to get up when something caught her eye. There, next to her rouge, was the bottle of perfume she had been looking for earlier when she found the daguerreotype in her drawer. It was right where she had left it. Had it been there the whole time? "It couldn't have been," she whispered out loud. She would have seen it before. Well, she did not have time to think when there was a visitor waiting for her. Picking up the bottle she sprinkled a few drops on her neck and behind her ears, letting the familiar scent hang in the air for a few seconds before following her daughter downstairs.
Scarlett entered the parlor quietly and saw a man standing by the window looking out as the snow-covered ground. She cleared her throat and he turned around to face her. There was something oddly familiar about him, as if she had met him before, but she could not put her finger on who he was or where she had seen him.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Butler," he said, smiling lightly. That smile, it looked so much like Rhett's.
"Um, perhaps you do not remember me. I was here some fourteen years ago; I paid a call to your husband."
Scarlett's face went white and she reached back to clutch the door handle for fear that her legs would give out. Now she knew who this man was. "Mr. Holden," she gasped.
"That's right," he said kindly.
Good Lord! This was much too bizarre for Scarlett to comprehend. What on earth was this man doing here? She had not seen him since he had come to visit Rhett, so what was the purpose of his call now? And then another thought hit her which turned her curiosity into burning rage. He had gone with Rhett on that fateful trip, had been on that ship with him…he had survived the wreck. This man had survived and Rhett had not, and now he was standing here in her parlor for reasons unbeknownst to her. She wanted to kill him. He had killed her husband and now she wanted to kill him.
"What are you doing here?" she asked with far more conviction than she was feeling at the moment.
"May I?" he asked, pointing to the settee. Scarlett nodded and he sat down, taking off his gloves. "You have a beautiful daughter. What is her name?" he asked in a quiet, almost shy tone.
"Emma," Scarlett said quietly, not moving from her place by the door.
"How old is she?"
"She's fourteen today."
Thomas nodded and remained silent for a minute. The situation was overly awkward. There were so many hot words on Scarlett's tongue, but she refrained from unleashing them. Instead she asked, "Mr. Holden—"
"Please, call me Thomas," he interrupted.
"Alright, Thomas. May I ask what brought you here?"
The bluntness of her question startled him, but none the less he answered. "You are the widow of my long-time friend, Rhett."
"Please," Scarlett said tiredly.
"Actually, I know this may seem awkward—it certainly does to me, but I felt the need, the responsibility, to come here to see how you were getting along and to…well, to apologize."
"Apologize?" Scarlett snapped, almost unintentionally, but his statement prevented her from being able to curb her civility any longer. However, she kept her voice low so as not to attract attention from anyone else in the house. "If it were not for you my husband would still be alive; my daughter would know her father! An apology will not bring him back."
"Please, Mrs. Butler. I know this does not seem fit and that the mere words of a declaration of guilt will not suffice, nor will they erase the pain, but believe me, I'm sorry for your loss…"
"Your words came fourteen years too late," Scarlett said coldly. "You don't know what it's like to lose the person you loved so much."
Thomas sucked in a breath as if realizing the truth of her words. "I realize that you may blame me for the loss of Rhett, and I understand. But please let me explain, and then perhaps you will be able to find peace. I thought perhaps you might want to know about Rhett's last few days."
Find peace? Scarlett closed her eyes momentarily to collect her thoughts. Peace. That was the one thing that had eluded her ever since Rhett left on that fateful trip. She needed closure but had never found it. Well, here, this might be her opportunity to finally be able to get rid of the demons that had haunted her since that night. With shoulders hunched in defeat, Scarlett hung her head and walked over to the large overstuffed chair by the fire where she sat down and prepared herself to take in the story that was too long in coming.
"Tell me what happened," Scarlett said tiredly, a hint of sadness in her voice.
Thomas shifted on the settee so that he was directly facing Scarlett. "First let me start off by saying that Rhett was a great friend of mine. We knew each other at West Point but had fallen out of touch for quite some time, as he probably told you. When I learned that he was living here in Atlanta, I decided to pay a visit to him and remember the old times. But the Rhett I met again was not the same man I had known before. He had grown up, but there was something else. He had changed—he was in love. At first I could not believe that Rhett Butler had settled down, but when he told me that this time it was real, the he had found the woman he would be with for the rest of his life…he loved you very much."
"Why did he go?" she whispered, more to herself than to Thomas.
"Rhett was an adventurer. He never could resist a challenge. I suppose he thought that this would be no different from any other time, but…he was distracted, far off, distant, disinterested in the things that used to give him pleasure. When we were on our way to Ireland, I asked him what was on his mind. Do you know what he said?"
Scarlett shook her head.
"He was thinking of you. He was so eager to get home, to see you." Thomas chuckled lightly, "He was worried he would not be home in time for the birth of his first child. I think part of him regretted going on that trip, but he enjoyed himself while he could, and you should know that. He died doing something he loved."
Scarlett gripped the arms of the chair as she listened to Thomas recounting Rhett's last days, but one thing had haunted her since the beginning, and she had to know…
"Rhett knew the sea," she sniffled, wiping away a stray tear with her thumb. "How could something like that have happened? He'd never been hurt before during the war."
"I'm afraid I can't quite explain it in words that would be understandable to you. You see, this time of year, the Atlantic is treacherous. We probably should not have gone to Ireland…" His voice became quiet and he paused for a moment, but seeing Scarlett pleading for him to give her details of her late husband, he continued. "We were in Charleston visiting some old friends when Rhett suggested we go to Ireland. He had business acquaintances who he thought could recommend and bargain for good race horses. I agreed and told him I would book passage on a steamer the next day, but Rhett said he would not pay for passage when we could take one of his ships; he said he missed being out at sea. He had a fine fleet of schooners, Mrs. Butler."
"Yes, I know," Scarlett said. Though she had never personally seen them, she knew Rhett settled for nothing less than the best that his money could buy, and that he took pride in everything he owned.
"The trip there went wonderfully smooth. I think your husband was one of the best sea captains I'd ever known. We stayed in Ireland for about a week when Rhett declared that he'd simply had enough of the freezing weather and wanted to get back to where it was warm, though I knew he was referring to coming back here to you even if he would not admit it.
"Everything started out smooth on the trip back, and I can tell you from memory that I'd never seen the sky so clear on those four days. Every star was visible in the black sky at night, and the sunsets—they were enough to take even the most hardened man's breath away. The night before the accident I found Rhett standing on deck peering out over the open sea. He was lost in his thoughts and at first I was not sure if I should disturb him, remembering from our time at West Point that he was often silent and brooding when angry and could turn violent in the blink of an eye. But I took my chances and approached him. I asked him what he was thinking about and at first he did not answer but continued to stare out over the horizon. I was about to ask again when he turned toward me and said, "Have you ever seen anything like that?" I looked out over the water and saw the sun blazing bright orange. The sky was a magnificent array of pink and blue, and I admitted that I had never seen anything quite so beautiful. I wondered if he had and he said yes."
Scarlett caulked her head to the side in question.
"'I wish Scarlett were here right now,' he said. 'I wish she could see this.'"
Picturing Rhett as she had known him, with the wind blowing through his black hair and that smile lighting up his face caused Scarlett's heart to ache with an old passion. She wished she could have been there with him. No, she wished he hadn't been there at all; he should have stayed here with her. But she listened to Thomas as he continued.
"I laughed and told him we'd be back in three days, but he just smiled and looked away as if embarrassed. He thought I didn't understand why he missed you so much; and maybe I didn't understand. Well, he wanted that damned trip to end, that much was obvious to me. The next morning the cabins were strangely quiet, and so Rhett and I made our way up on deck and found the rest of the crew murmuring about something that had to do with the sky. I didn't know much about sailing, I must tell you, and I did not find anything out of the ordinary. It was so clear that morning, and the sunrise was brilliantly red. Little did I know the old sea tale that a red sky at morning warns of the coming of a storm. Rhett went over and talked to one of the deckhands and I saw him look at the horizon and then to the west before he cursed out loud and started ordering everyone about. I didn't know what the problem was, and I asked him but he hurried past me and told me to get below deck.
"The storm was there within the hour. We were just 100 knots off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the waters there are very dangerous. The rain came down like a squall and the wind drove it with ferocity. I went up on deck to see what I could do to help and Rhett ordered me to hold down a line of rigging for one of the sails that had broken loose. Everyone was working frantically to keep the ship upright, but it was no use, and she capsized when she hit a crag in the shallow waters. The sound of the wood cracking and splitting was horrific. The next thing I knew I was underwater, and it was so cold. When I surfaced I looked around frantically for a sign of anyone from the crew but I could not see with the rain and the waves. I don't think I'd ever been more frightened in my life, but common sense told me to be as calm as I could, and I grabbed a hold of a piece of floating debris. That's all I remember. I must have blacked out from the cold, because when I woke up I was in a hospital bed."
Scarlett sat still in her chair, her mouth hanging ajar and her eyes focused on something that was not there. The horrendous scenario which Thomas had just described had made words impossible. She pictured everything that Rhett had gone through in her mind. How horrible it must have been for him! And he was so close to home—so close, yet so out of reach. She hoped ardently that he had not suffered, yet she was glad she did not know for it would be too much for her to bear even after all these years. Had he known she loved him and was waiting for him with as much anticipation as he had? It was something she'd regretted for so long—never telling him she loved him until the night before he left. Perhaps if she had he would have stayed. It was almost as if she blamed herself for his death, for if she had not been so demanding and possessive, perhaps he would not have had the impulse to be so defiant. Yet she had loved his impulsive nature—so much like her own.
Looking back up at Thomas, she found that her hatred that she felt when she first saw him had faded and was replaced by a sense of sorrow. He looked so apologetic, and she knew he was asking for forgiveness for her loss. She would grant him that at least, but first there was something else she needed to know.
"But why is it that you are only coming to me now, after so long, to tell me this? It's been fourteen years. You can't imagine what it's like to live for so long not knowing what happened to Rhett. I loved him so much, and it's so hard." Biting her lip, she shuddered as tears clouded her vision. But she wiped them away quickly.
Thomas stood and made his way over to where Scarlett was sitting, and leaning down, he gently placed his large hand over her small white one. "When I woke up, I could barely remember what happened or where I was. The doctors told me that they had found me on the beach, barely alive. There was a shipwreck, they said. I had a bad case of hypothermia and was in the hospital for several months. When they finally released me, they had given me as much information as they could. I was the only person that they found alive, and when I asked about Rhett they told me they did not know who he was or what had happened to him. I must have been in a different hospital."
"The sheriff in Wilmington, he—he told me that he did not know if there were any survivors. All I knew was that there had been a shipwreck and that Rhett had drowned. Oh, God! He was so pale and cold…" She choked on a sob and covered her mouth with her free hand, turning her head away so he would not see her cry. But his hand was warm as it closed around hers.
"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I waited so long to come here and I shouldn't have waited. I didn't know what happened to him until about a year after it happened, and then I could not bring myself to face you. I did not know what I would say, and I'm sorry."
Scarlett turned to him and studied his downcast face. The hand clasping hers was so sincere in its feeling, and she knew she had to say something.
"You have my forgiveness. You are right, you should have come sooner, it would not have erased the pain, but it would have helped lessen it." She sighed and squeezed his hand in return. "I'm glad you came. I needed to know what happened, even if it is only a small comfort." She slowly raised her other hand and placed it on top of Thomas' so she was holding hi hand in both of hers. "Thank you."
He raised his head and their eyes met in a moment of mutual understanding, and it was as if a large weight fell from Scarlett's shoulders. For fourteen years she had been living with the burden of self-blame, regret, uncertainty and sadness. But now she knew what had happened, and she realized it had not been her fault. "Thank you," she said again.
Thomas nodded and moved to collect his gloves and hat from the table beside the settee. Scarlett stood as well, drying her eyes with a lace handkerchief, before walking over to where he stood. Their interaction had lasted no longer than twenty minutes, but so much information that had been missing in the puzzle that had surrounded Rhett's death was now filled in. She thought of all of the strange things that had happened earlier that day; from her missing perfume that mysteriously reappeared in the same place she had left it the day before, to the finding of the daguerreotype that held so many repressed memories, to this out-of-nowhere visit by Rhett's long time friend. Was it all a coincidence? That would be the logical explanation, but Scarlett had a strange feeling that someone was watching out for her and had set this sequence of events into motion.
"If you'll excuse me, Mrs. Butler," Thomas said, bowing his head slightly, "I should take my leave now. Thank you for receiving me in your home even after all this time. It was a pleasure to see you, and I wish little Emma a happy birthday."
Scarlett nodded and thanked him again. She watched as he left the room, and when he was out of sight, she let out a heavy sigh. But it was not a sigh of defeat, it was a light feeling she carried in her chest. She had a feeling that she would not have to shut out memories of Rhett anymore, that she could talk about him and remember him as he once was. It would not hurt anymore, and she would not cry again. Going over to the mirror above the mantle of the fireplace, Scarlett fixed her hair and checked to see if she looked presentable. No puffy eyes or tear-stained cheeks would do today, for it was her baby's birthday, and she wanted it to be happy. Suddenly she thought of another present that she could give Emma on this special day. It was not a physical gift, but a sentimental one; today she would tell her daughter about her father. Finally, she felt she had the strength to share her memories with the one person who deserved to be a part of them.
Smoothing her dress and taking one last look in the mirror, Scarlett made her way to the door. She heard Emma's bright laughter in the dining room and a smile lit up her face as she walked down the hall. She could let go now and move on, and she knew Rhett would not be angry, nor would his memory ever fade from her mind or her heart, for she believed some day she would see him again.
"Did you plan this, Rhett?" she whispered, and just as she rounded the corner to the dining room she caught the faint, comforting scent of brandy and tobacco that she knew could only belong to one person. She could not see him, but she knew he was there. He would always be there.