Pressing the tips of his fingers to his lips, Rhett's shaking hand reached out to lightly trace the chiseled word at the top of her headstone.
He came here everyday since his return home. He wanted to stay away, he knew that continuing his vigil only wounded him still further, but he could not help himself. She had been so young. She had been too young to die so unexpectedly, too young to die when she had a lifetime yet to live. Who could say what she would have become given time. He'd loved her more than he ever expected to love another person.
There were moments when he felt as if he could let her go; times when he thought that it would be alright to let her memory fade a little. But, just when he was ready to move forward, he would swear that he could hear her light tread running up the stairs. Several times he'd thought he'd seen her outside, playing with Ella in the summer sun. Of course, these sounds and visions were simply figments of wishful thinking. She was gone and had been for some time.
How many times had he come from his study to find an empty staircase or rushed outside to find Ella alone? Ten, twenty, possibly thirty times? And every time he did it would all rush back in a wave of agony that drove him to visit her grave, to confirm that she was indeed gone.
Some nights he awoke, his heart pounding, groping blindly in the darkness. His voice, rough from sleep and unshed tears, breaking as he called her name. Praying that this would be the night when he awoke to find her curled on her side. He saw how it would be in his mind's eye hundreds of times; her dark hair fanned across the pillow, her small, red lips in a petulant little half pout.
But each time he lit the bedside lamp, she wasn't there. He always woke to a world from which she'd gone.
If he were still on speaking terms with God, he would thank him for sparing her any pain. At least she was sparred the agony of lingering in that twilight place between life and death where pain and suffering reigned supreme. Doctor Meade had repeatedly assured him that she'd died peacefully, most likely in an instant.
Yet, it was cold comfort that Doctor Meade offered, all he could ever offer given the situation. There were no words that could act as balm on his pain. She was gone, it was his fault she was gone; what words could fix that relentless ache?
There was a memory that his subconscious had found, a flash to his unpleasant childhood. A raccoon had bitten Bear, his dog who he'd raised from a pup. A few days later Bear began to show signs of going rabid.
His father was in the gunroom preparing to go and shoot Bear, to put him out of his misery. How old was he the summer Bear died, Rhett wondered, six maybe seven years old? Over forty years later, the memory still pained him. It was the first death of something he loved, that's why the memory lingered. Or perhaps, it lingered because of what happened next.
Just as his father was about to leave, his Grandfather Butler caught his father's arm. It should be Rhett that did it, his grandfather said. If his mother had been at the Landing, it would have never gone further than a suggestion; she would have put her foot down and stopped them. But she hadn't been home; she was gone, visiting cousins in Augusta.
That was when he'd learned not to depend on others, a vital lesson to be learned at the tender age of seven.
His grandfather had taken him down to the shed where Bear was quarantined. The dog, already in agony, stilled when he heard the sound of his young master's voice. Rhett believed that the dog thought he was there to help him. Bear loved him unconditionally, as no other person or beast ever would. Bear would have believed that Rhett could banish the sickness roaring through his body.
He'd hesitated in the doorway but his grandfather firmly propelled him through the door. He resisted, twisting away from the hand on his shoulder.
"Why do I have to do this," he asked his grandfather.
"Because you loved him, you cared for him, and now he needs you to end his pain. Part of becoming a man is being able to kill what you love for a greater good," his grandfather replied.
Becoming a man, Rhett scoffed silently, he was seven years old at the time, hardly ready for one of the most bitter lessons of manhood. He hoped his father and grandfather were keeping one another company in hell.
Taking up the gun, he cocked it but then he made the mistake of looking into Bear's soft amber colored eyes. The little dog had done nothing but adore him since the day he was weaned, how could he end such a special life? He couldn't. Instead, he fired into the roof, bringing down sawdust and a few shingles. Then, before his grandfather could stop him, he bolted, running away from the shed as fast as his legs would carry him. Away from Bear, and his pleading eyes, away from his friend who needed him more in that moment then he ever had before.
But, no matter how fast, it wasn't fast enough to escape the two sharp retorts that came from the shed a minute later.
It was a memory that never really left him. It was that day that forever destroyed his faith in God and the infallibility of his elders. What sort of merciful God allows a boy's only friend to contract rabies? What kind of a man instructs a seven year old to shoot his dog?
He'd told Scarlett that story one night about a month after they'd returned to Atlanta. At first, she was rendered speechless. It was the most personal story he'd ever told her and that was a great deal of what was wrong with the first half of their marriage. She never understood him because he never told her anything beyond the superficial.
Taking out his handkerchief, he wiped a bit of lichen from her headstone. He was finally able to find comfort in his children. In their mannerisms, their expressions, their uncanny ability to resemble her just when he missed her most. When he'd first lost Bonnie, he had closed himself off from both Wade and Ella. Now, he saw that he should have spent time with them, they would have helped him heal.
It was in Ella that he saw her most.
Wade was distant these days; nothing he did pleased the boy. He tried but too much had happened. One day, he hoped that Wade would see things from his side. It hurt to be estranged from his son, especially now, when Rhett needed him most.
Losing Bonnie had nearly destroyed him. If not for Wade and Ella, losing Scarlett and their baby would have finished him.
Removing the burgundy rose from his buttonhole, he lightly traced the bloom over her name before placing it gently on the headstone. It was a familiar ritual, one he'd repeated nearly every day for the last year since she'd died.
It seemed as if it happened only yesterday. He could still recall, in haunting detail, that last terrible morning. Coming back to the house after an early morning meeting at the bank to find her curled on her side, her face turned toward the window, the sunlight illuminating her pale skin. She glowed with the light of the morning sun, he'd thought reaching out to stroke her bare shoulder. Her skin was cool to the touch, not cold exactly, but he knew. She was gone and had been for some time, perhaps even hours.
He knew in his cool, logical mind that she was dead, that no one who was living could be so cold and their skin so unyielding. His mind knew all these things but his heart refused to accept and so he begged her to live. He pleaded with her even though he knew it was in vain. He even begged God, losing her brought him so low as to ask a favor of that omnipotent bastard. He had begged God not to take her, reminded God that he'd taken Bonnie already he couldn't take Scarlett and their child too.
Some of the servants must have heard him because suddenly, Doctor Meade was taking him by the arm. The elderly doctor tried to escort him from the room but he fought like a cornered animal. He had some dim memories of Pork and several of the stable hands forcibly removing him from her side. He also remembered screaming for her, her name echoing as his voice bounced off the high ceiling in their bedroom.
Just before Doctor Meade closed the door, he heard the echo fade away into a whisper; it seemed as if the house itself was calling for its lost mistress.
Doctor Meade said it was her heart. He suggested that she'd never fully recovered from her fall down the stairs and the subsequent miscarriage thereafter. There might have been damage beyond what he'd been able to ascertain Doctor Meade had explained to the silent, expressionless man sitting across from him. A man who he doubted would ever feel again.
There was nothing left without her.
She'd died peacefully continued Doctor Meade, attempting to comfort Rhett. He pointed out that her expression was that of peaceful slumber; tranquil and lost somewhere in dreams. As it happened, lost for all time.
He only had a few hazy memories of what happened next. He recalled throwing Doctor Meade out of the house and locking himself in the study. Henry Hamilton finally persuaded him to open the door. After pouring a large tumbler of brandy, he drained it in only a few swallows. The drink consumed seemed to fortified his courage. Having been told by Doctor Meade about what had previously transpired he began by softly asking if Rhett understood that Scarlett was gone.
In an innocent attempt to judge Rhett's sanity, he only succeeded in making Rhett lash out.
"I know she's dead, God damn it Henry, I'm drunk not crazy."
"I didn't mean to imply anything; Doctor Meade sent for me so I wanted to come and see you."
"So now you've seen me, so get the hell out of my house."
"Rhett, I think I should stay. You need to have people around you. I know this is difficult, it's a tragedy but,"
"I don't need people, I need Scarlett." Rhett moved past him but Henry caught his arm.
"You listen to me Rhett Butler, I know you want to drink yourself into a stupor so you don't have to deal with this. God knows I don't begrudge you that instinct, but you have two children who need you desperately. Melly is gone, and now so is Scarlett. Wade and Ella are going to need you to be strong."
Sitting heavily, Rhett cradled his head in his hands. "Wade's at Tara, how can I tell him that she's gone?" He looked up at Henry, "You could go to Tara and tell him, bring him home."
"I don't think I should. It has to be you Rhett. He needs you to tell him, you have to do this for him."
He looked up at Henry, his dark eyes bloodshot and red rimmed. "Part of becoming a man is being able to kill what you love for a greater good," he said. Then he fell silent, his head falling back into the cradle of his hands.
Seeing the shape Rhett was in, Henry knew that he had to do something. Rhett had placed the blame squarely on himself. Giving Rhett a few minutes to compose himself, Henry offered a deal. If Rhett would get dressed, Henry would send for one of his clients, a Doctor Raithe, come to the house and examine Scarlett to see if he could ascertain what had happened.
Fortified by several cups of black coffee, Rhett answered the young physician's questions to the best of his knowledge. How had she been feeling proved to be particularly reveling. If asked that question the day before she died, he would have said she was fine. Tired, but looking forward to the baby's arrival. But now, forced to examine her health in minute detail, he saw that she hadn't been well. She'd taken to napping in the afternoon. The store had been placed under the care of a manager that she trusted to oversee the day to day running. That alone should have severed as an indicator. Scarlett trusted no one when it came to her businesses.
The doctor used his questions to probe deep, like a surgeon with a scalpel. He made Rhett see that Scarlett must have been feeling unwell for some time but she'd been concealing it from him. Probably, he now realized, in an attempt to spare him.
So he wouldn't worry.
Gently, Doctor Raithe told Rhett that without an autopsy they could never know for certain what precisely had gone wrong, but he could make an educated guess without one. Having learned during his questioning of Rhett that Scarlett preferred to sleep on her back, he ventured a hypothesis. There was a school of thought, emerging from Harvard's medical college, that said a woman should not sleep on her back as the weight of the womb could compress the vena cava, a major collection of blood vessels. In a woman who was in perfect health, this would merely cause a moment of breathlessness or perhaps a spell of lightheadedness. In Scarlett's case, she had already been unwell so the constant pressure on the vena cava had only exacerbated the situation.
Rhett remembered nodding, thanking the doctor and then asking him to leave. Henry tried to intervene, but the young Doctor was astute. He offered his condolences and told Rhett to send for him if he was needed further.
In those first terrible days after she'd died, he moved through life without emotions, she was gone and nothing else mattered. Nothing, except the question of where to bury her and their unborn child.
He decided to return to Charleston. It was the only place for him and the children. Scarlett hadn't cared for it, but she would have understood. Atlanta was a land of loss and regrets.
It made complete sense to him. Instead of interring Scarlett out at Tara or next to Bonnie, he would have her buried in the Butler burial ground at the Landing. She had been his wife. She had been the only woman he ever really loved. The Butler burial ground was where she belonged, near him always, until the day he died.
It was that decision that had irreparably harmed his relationship with Wade. He was already distraught but when Rhett had informed him of his decision, Wade broke down into a fit of rage. Since then, they'd barely spoken.
On the day of the memorial in Atlanta, the boy had accused him of being selfish, of knowingly going against Scarlett's wishes. He insisted she would want to be at Tara, that to bury her anywhere else was an act of supreme treachery against Scarlett's memory.
In the end, it took the combined efforts of Will and Ashley Wilkes to silence Wade. They took Wade aside and begged him, for Scarlett's sake, to be still and allow the service to continue.
Wade, who was truly his mother's son, refused to be still, crying out that his mother loved Tara and that's where she belonged. Then, with tears streaming down his face, Wade declared he would never forgive him for killing Scarlett. Henry tried to stop him, but the boy would not be silenced. It was Rhett's fault; he should have known this could happen. He should have protected her as he promised he would.
Finally, Ashley was able to quiet him and the service continued. From his seat next to his cousin and uncle, Wade stared straight ahead, an air of defeat clinging to him.
Now, more than a year later, their relationship was still damaged.
Ella was devastated by the loss of Scarlett. She'd asked to go back to Tara with Will and Suellen after the service, but he refused. He could not and would not leave her to be raised by a woman who despised Scarlett so vehemently.
Ella was better off with him and his mother in Charleston. She attended the convent school where her Aunt Careen taught and was slowly coming out of the cocoon she'd encased herself in since Scarlett's death.
At least, that's what he told himself.
In reality Ella was withdrawn now, often losing herself in daydreams. The giddy, chattering child she'd once been was gone now, replaced with a shy, retiring little girl who cringed when singled out for attention.
He'd tried to talk to her about Scarlett several times. Each time she would start to cry quietly until he excused her. Then, once he gave permission for her to leave, she would run from the room as if the hounds of hell were nipping at her heels
He was failing her. Scarlett would have expected him to care for her children, to help them cope with her loss. Instead he only made Ella uncomfortable and Wade...Wade hated him.
.Every other week, they would receive a terse letter from Wade. He was attending an exclusive boarding school in Richmond. Rhett offered to send him to one of the seven schools suitable for a boy of his promise in Charleston or Colombia but Wade insisted on being away.
His letters were short and to the point. He assured his sister that he was well and inquired after her health and that of Mrs. Butler. Never did his letters mention Rhett. When he came to visit on school holidays he stayed secluded in his room. One night, when he was smoking on the piazza, Wade came out but when he saw Rhett, he turned to leave.
"Wait, Wade" Rhett called, "We need to talk. I know you're angry with me."
"You don't know what I am," replied the boy coldly. "I don't even know what I am. If I don't know, how could you?"
"When I decided to bring your mother here, I did what I thought was..."
Wade's face twisted, turning ugly in the light of the waning moon. For a split second he looked as Scarlett had that afternoon in the jail, when she'd come wearing her mother's curtains. The way his eyes narrowed, the sheer loathing in his expression; Rhett had seen them before.
"Don't you pretend you thought bringing her here was right. She hated Charleston. She told me that she did. She would have wanted to be with my grandparents at Tara and you know that." He turned away, his shoulders shaking as he tried to push his emotions under control. "I could almost understand if you'd wanted to bury her next to Bonnie that would make sense to me. But you know what you did when you took her here? You stole my mother's body!"
"Wade, that isn't so, I brought her here because she was my wife-"
"She was my mother! When I asked you if she was in any danger from having another baby, do you remember what you told me? You swore that everything was going to be alright, does this look like alright to you?" His hands balled into fists at his sides. "Well, does it?"
"Wade I'm sorry. I thought that she would be fine. I never thought things would end as they did."
"But they did end this way. Mother is dead and you're not. You're here and she isn't. Maybe that was how you wanted it to work out. Maybe, this is what you wanted all along, to have one less encumbrance," he spat out, throwing Rhett's admission from the previous year back in his face.
Before he could think of a reply, Wade fled, his bedroom door slamming behind him a few seconds later. He tried to talk to him the next day, before he left to go back to school, but it was no use, what could he say against Wade's accusations? Yes, he'd brought Scarlett's body back to Charleston for entirely selfish reasons. There was nothing he could offer to refute that.
Sitting down on a chunk of masonry that had broken off from his great grandfather's crypt, he tried once again to talk to her as if she were present. It never worked. He had never felt her presence, not once, since she'd died. Ironically, he would have been grateful if she haunted him as a spirit. There was never a time where he felt her near him.
She was gone.
Since his return, people would stop by his mother's house, offering their condolences. Rhett found his was just able to force himself to accept them. He hated the moment when a person's expression changed just slightly and he knew what was coming next. He could see the look of sympathy in their eyes just before they began. First, the small sigh, then the patting of his hand, and finally the words, "Oh Rhett, I only just heard...I'm so sorry."
But what he really hated with a passion was the continued interest in his marital state. Twice in the last two months he'd overheard his mother's friends speculating on whether he would marry again. It was a topic that fascinated people, would Rhett Butler remain a widower?
Even his normally sensible mother had suggested, in a very round about way, that Ella needed a mother and perhaps he needed someone to love again.
How could he love someone else? He barely knew how he'd fallen in love with Scarlett. It wasn't something planned. Love wasn't something he'd ever sought out. It certainly wasn't something that he'd wanted, but that night he kissed her on the way to Tara; he'd known. He'd fallen in love with her so completely that it shut out the possibility of loving anyone else.
She was in his blood, alive again in his dreams. There were nights when he awoke in the middle of making love to her, only to find himself in an empty bed. Those were the nights when he drew on his clothes and walked. He would walk and walk until he was so physically exhausted that when he returned to the house he would collapse into bed and sleep undisturbed for a few hours.
Some nights, while walking, he would find himself in one of Charleston's more opulent whorehouses. Just as before, when she'd left him, he chose blondes and redheads. Never the pretty, made up girls with dark locks. No woman that in some incidental way might resemble Scarlett. He was impossible to please, most nights he just allowed the girls to perform until he achieved some sort of physical release. It was only a physical response, his heart and mind weren't present and most of the girls he took upstairs sensed it.
He was in agony. Every morning he awoke to a world without her. Suddenly he understood the Taj Mahal. He understood why men through the ages built towering monuments to grief. Every waking minute of every day his grief threatened to spill forth constantly.
Just once, when a friend of his mother's asked, "How are you Rhett", he'd like to tell her the truth. He'd like to unleash all of the pain in his heart and choke the nosy bitch with it.
Margaret and Ross had been blessed with a beautiful baby girl. They stepped lightly around him; trying hard not to let their baby, Olivia, get underfoot when they stopped by his mother's house. Their daughter Olivia was a chubby, pretty little baby. Looking at the child only served to remind him of what he'd lost.
Lately, they were careful to bring the baby over only when they were sure he was at the Landing. Not that he blamed them, who would want a man in his current state around a small child?
Walking to the docks, he waited for the launch to take him back to the battery. Even sailing no longer gave him any peace. The Bonnie Blue had been replaced with another sailboat, a trim white craft named Beloved. He'd spent hours trying to lose himself between the waves and sky but she was never far from his thoughts.
A glare off the water blinded him all momentarily; he pretended that was what brought sharp, sudden tears to his eyes. There was a poem that he'd learned many years ago drummed into him by some long forgotten tutor. The words were never far from his mind now:
And so we to came where the rest have come,
To where each dreamed, each drew, the other home
From all distractions,
Where each had found, each other.
For that we came, and knew that we must know
The thing we knew of but we did not know.
We said then, What if this were now no more
Than a faint shade of what we dreamed before?
If love should here find little joy or none,
And done, it were as if it were not done,
Would we not love still? What if none can know
The thing we know of but we do not know.
How could she be gone, he thought, as the launch docked, when she wouldn't leave him alone?
Surprised? Yeah, I guess you might be. I am actually surprised too. Maybe you didn't see it ending this way. I don't know how I saw it ending.
Look it happen like this. I gave Dani a choice, it was either Scarlett here or Toby the dog from Facing the Enemy. Someone was dying. She picked Scarlett so this is how it ended. I want to just say, Toby had a really touching funeral written out, but easy come easy go. Besides, I did kill Rhett's childhood so there was still a dead dog.
And so ends the one shot that would not die. Thank you everyone for reading
PS Thanks Alica, now you have me hooked on the voice recognition software.
A reader questioned if this could have really been a cause of death so I wanted to clarify.
Remember that this was an emerging study in 1874. A study from the 1870's might not hold up to modern standards. Also in the Harvard study I read (lol, yeah there is a thing as too much research, they termed the vena cava, as both vein and a major collection of blood vessels. For all the Doctor knew, it could have been a stroke, aneurysm, a blood clot or just one of those fun little who knows until we cut the body open.
Could you imagine Rhett Butler allowing Scarlett to be autopsied? Not me.
I am also open to a combination of sleep apnea and some unknown. LOL, I picture Scarlett to be a snorer.
However, women are to this day cautioned not to sleep on their backs later into their pregnancies. While I was pregnant, my obgyn gave me a packet that cites the phrase S.O.S (sleep on side) because I told him that yes I am a back sleeper.
If you have a further interest in where my diagnosis came from also research Supine hypotensive syndrome (and Inferior vena cava syndrome) or visit women's pregnancy and health forums, this is often a topic of interest discussion.
I forgot to include it in my PM to the reviewer, www DOT bio DASH medicine DOT org is my new fav site, you might like it.