To Alica who read this more times than anyone should have had to and to Dani for just being Dani.
The following is a work based on Charles Dickens classic 'A Christmas Carol 'and Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone With the Wind.' I own neither. This story should be a chapter every few days till Christmas. This story is also in part thanks to Barbie's 'A Christmas Carol.' My daughter made me watch it and I was pleasantly surprised to find Barbie was playing Scrooge.
This story should be a chapter every few days till Christmas.
This story is also in part thanks to Barbie's 'A Christmas Carol.' My daughter made me watch it and I was pleasantly surprised to find Barbie was playing Scrooge...from there, an idea was born.
Melanie Wilkes was dead; to begin with. There was no doubt what so ever about that. Her funeral had been well attended by the old guard and the few members of new Atlanta that were not considered Yankee carpet bagging trash. And then, there was Scarlett.
During that grim pageant, she stood, alone, under the shelter of the umbrella that Pork held aloft as the heavens poured down on the black clad mourners. Scarlett herself had signed the papers for the undertaker, Ashley a shade of the man he'd once been had been useless, unable to execute such a final task. And Scarlett's signature was as good as gold these days for she had a small fortune amassed in her own name.
But none of that mattered, for Melanie Wilkes was dead and had been since the first week in October.
Scarlett knew she was dead. Of course she did. How could it be otherwise? Scarlett and Melanie had been closer than most sister were for over a decade. Certainly, they'd been closer that she was to either of her own blood sisters. Melanie was her only defender, her sole protector. She had been her only friend and, had positions been reversed, Scarlett suspected Melanie Wilkes would have been her only mourner.
Since the death of Bonnie, Scarlett had become a master of hiding her emotions from a prying world. There were those among the quality folks in Atlanta who swore that Scarlett O'Hara Butler was not very cut up by the sad event. Shaking their heads, they whispered about how she went about her usual business, going so far as to attend to business at the store on the very day of the funeral.
The day of the funeral, Scarlett felt sick to her stomach and ordered the coachman to stop at the store on some flimsy premise. In reality, she'd gone into her office and was violently ill for several minutes. But who would have believed that of Scarlett O'Hara? Who among that hateful, judgmental assembly would have considered that the thought of facing yet another funeral could bring her to her knees?
Writing about the funeral of Melanie Wilkes brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Melanie Wilkes was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet's father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts.
Change did not come easily to Scarlett. On the surface, she moved with the times, such as they were. She seemed the first to abandon the past, thinking only on tomorrow and the present day. She was often heard to remake that she would think about things tomorrow. It could have been said that Scarlett O'Hara had missed much of her adult life, always living in tomorrow, but seldom experiencing the present.
The past was dead to her, never to be mentioned or revisited.
Taking for instance, the name Kennedy over her store. Scarlett never painted out Frank Kennedy's name. The business was known as Kennedy's and Wilkes. Sometimes people new to Atlanta called Scarlett Mrs. Kennedy and sometimes Mrs. Wilkes. She was once so careful to correct those people and give them her proper name, Butler. But in these dark days, since Melly's passing and Rhett leaving her, now it was all the same to her. Kennedy, Wilkes, Butler; what did it matter what anyone called her?
Once it had given her a secret thrill, in her heart of hearts, to be mistakenly called Mrs. Wilkes. Though she kept her expression neutral when she corrected the customer, sweetly informing them that her name was in fact Mrs. Kennedy and later Butler, inside she would sound out the title in her head. It made her content to think of a world in which she was Mrs. Scarlett Wilkes. With that customer, she was usually at her best. She would smile and suggest and make that lucky man or woman feel as though there was no place better to shop then Kennedy and Wilkes.
She heard what people said about her, how could she not? She heard that she was tight-fisted, that she never stopped working from dawn till long after dark. She heard people who once, long ago, had been her friends wonder if Scarlett ever turned away from the grindstone.
That Scarlett O'Hara, people would mutter bitterly. They called her every name they could think of. She was a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous outcast! They all knew that Rhett Butler had deserted her. In this knowledge they delighted, all the while clucking their tongues saying it was a shame to see her as solitary as if she were exiled to the moon.
After nearly two months alone in the mammoth, echoing house she'd begun to harden herself against human feeling. Love! What good had love done her? Love; there was a word she could stand to go the rest of her life without hearing ever again. She'd loved Ashley with all her heart and soul. Or at least, she thought she had. How she had felt and why and when she had stopped was jumbled now in her weary mind. But in the end what had the love gotten her? Her blind, disastrous search for love made her a social pariah. But still, she could have faced everything that had come after Melly's death if only Rhett remained with her. But no, the love she'd felt for him had made no difference. She'd confessed her love to him, kneeling before him, begging to be loved.
Pathetic! She had been pathetic that night. Only at the end would she manage to reclaim some fragile semblance of dignity. Only enough so that he did not completely despise her. But he'd pitied her. It was all that was left of the great storehouse of feelings that he'd once held for her. Passion and love, desire and hatred; they were exhausted now, and all that was left was pity.
Had she known the story of Pandora and her box, even Scarlett, despite her complete ignorance concerning the classics, might have seen the parallel between hope and pity. Not that she would have cared, but still she might have seen it.
Though she was still beautiful, in the months since Bonnie's death, Scarlett had begun a metamorphosis that was very nearly complete. People talked about her behind her back, but few would have dared to speak those condemning words to her face. The cold glare that would have been their compensation froze them to the marrow, making it difficult to dole out what they considered to be richly deserved venom.
Where once she tilted her chin to look at men as if they were far more clever than they really were, now her nose remained in the air; never once acknowledging the bad opinions of the old guard. Her eyes were sometimes red in the morning from sleepless nights but she no longer cared. Faint lines were slowly etching at the corners of her eyes, a testament to how restless her lonely nights truly were. Beneath her slightly slanting green eyes, shadows had begun to increasingly appear. In any other woman, these signs of age and sadness would have detracted from her appearance. But in a face already rich with character the soft gray smudges only served to make her eyes seem ever more luminous then they'd been before.
In the last two months, she'd enclosed herself in ice. Never once did she thaw, not a single degree. Christmas, the season of love, hope and joy had never been a particularly joyous season to her, not since she'd been a young girl at Tara. In the whole of her adult years, which at present seemed to numerous to count, she'd only spent one Christmas joyfully. The Christmas that Ashley had his furlough from the army, that had been a holiday whose coming she'd anticipated with great merriment. And even that longed for holiday had ended bitterly. The night ended with her beloved, her Ashley, retiring for the night to his marital bed with his wife. No, Christmas had never held any great personal joy and these days; she barely considered the coming season.
This winter, Atlanta was cold. According to Grandpa Merewether and his cronies, the other old men who played checkers all day at Kilkenny's two doors down, it had been some years previous since it had been so cold. They insisted, as the elderly often do, that the last time it had been so cold was generally a decade before the listener was born.
At this juncture, a word before we continue. Through out time, it has become a fairly well known and widely accepted fact that when the young and old discuss any topic it should be assumed that the elder is immediately correct. Being older than most of you, gentle readers, I know this to be true.
But still, Scarlett scarcely noticed. No matter how long she sat before the fire, she was still chilled to the bone. Nothing could warm her. The wind that swept through Atlanta howled at night but she paid no heed for no wind that blew was bitterer than she. The skies opened up and drenched the town, causing numerous cases of pneumonia and a myriad of other illnesses, but Scarlett was seemingly immune. The foul weather suited her, why should the world be bright and the weather pleasant? It seemed fitting.
She was alone, unwelcome and an outcast. Nobody ever stopped her in the street with a "Dear Scarlett, how are you? When will you come to call on me?" No man or woman had spoken kindly to her that was not in her employ or likewise in trade since Melly died. Even the newcomers to Atlanta appeared to know of her; and when they saw her coming, they would turn into the doorway of a shop or direct their attentions to a window display.
They knew that an association with Scarlett would in no way benefit them if they hoped to gain entry to polite society.
Fie, what did she care, her damaged heart cried out. It was the better this way. To edge along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance, really that was best. To open herself up to people, that would only lead to disappointment; to loss and to hurt. No, better to be alone. Even the children were gone, sent straight on from Marietta to Tara.
She'd been out there a few times in the last three months, a few being two over night trips and one day trip in which the children clung to Sue and made monosyllable replies when Scarlett questioned them about their general welfare. It had been an awkward interview for all concerned and one she was not looking forward to repeating anytime soon. She'd sent them all a multitude of presents and a note saying that she wished she could spend the holiday with them but it was not possible. She made vague promises about New Year's eve but she doubted she would go.
Once upon a time, for isn't that how the best of tales must start, but then again perhaps liberties may be taken and we may say that this story begins thusly…
Once Upon a Christmas Eve, (for it was that sacred day) Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler sat busy in her office at the store. Outside the temperature was steadily dropping but despite the chill in the air, she could hear the people in the street outside calling holiday greetings to one another. The Dutch clock on the wall had just chummed three but it was nearly dusk outside already. In the evergreen decked windows of the other stores, candles flickered warmly, bright pinpricks of light in the growing darkness. Her own shades were drawn, blocking out the sights if not the sounds of the growing joviality of the crowed streets.
The door of Scarlett's office was open, her desk angled just so, with the express purpose of being able to keep her eye on the clerks that ran the store. George had been hired by Frank and still clung to the annoying habit of referring to that period as "when Mister Kennedy saw to things." A mocking chuckle always threatened to spill from her lips when George said that. When did Frank ever see to things? That he'd built the original business, she allowed, but it was already in danger of collapse when she'd married him. For the cold that felled him two weeks after their wedding, she'd always given thanks. If not for that, she would never have gotten her hands on the store's books. Had that happy event not occurred, she would never been able to do something about the outstanding debts before they buried them.
That afternoon lingered still in her mind. After settling herself next to the pot-belled stove, George, then the junior clerk, had left muttering about women and business. He'd shared Frank's view that a woman had no place in business. Little did George know that in the course of two year's time, Scarlett would not only be in business, she would be his employer.
Allowing herself a moment's reflection, she could still see him in the door, unexpected but still a welcome sight. How handsome Rhett had been that day. The time in jail hadn't touched him, at least not physically. He was shaved and well groomed, a knowing smirk on his lips. That day she'd learned something about Rhett, something that she had clung to for a time after he'd left, but now she was letting go of old dreams.
"Merry Christmas Auntie, "cried a cheerful voice. Shocked from her sojourn in the past she looked up to find Beau Wilkes standing before her desk. Looking past him, she found Ashley just behind him in the doorway. Trying hard to force a smile for her nephew, Scarlett felt her lips drawing back, her teeth bared in a imitation of a smile. "Beau," said Scarlett, struggling to compose herself "go and tell George I said you were to have one of the paper sacks for the penny candy, help yourself to whatever you like. If there isn't enough room in the first sack, take another."
Bundled up against the cold in a heavy woolen coat and a peaked cap, Beau was all aglow; his sweet heart shaped face was ruddy and handsome while his brown eyes sparkled. On his lips was a grin that was very nearly infectious. But only very nearly, failing in her attempted to smile, she gestured toward the store. "Run along Beau, let me speak to your father."
Waiting until the boy was out of earshot, she glared hotly at the man who'd once been the center of her universe. "You really shouldn't have come Ashley. I haven't the time for company, as you can see I have a lot of work to…"
"Can't your work wait? It's Christmas, or it will be in a few hours."
"It can not wait. Christmas is a bunch of nonsense, good for filling the strong box at the end of the night and nothing more. I will thank you to leave me out of it."
"Christmas, nonsense? You don't mean that," sputtered Ashley.
"I do," said Scarlett. "'Merry Christmas'! What's so merry about it I'd like to know?"
"You are one of the wealthiest women in Atlanta, probably in all of Georgia", returned Ashley in an attempt at frivolity, "you have a beautiful house, two lovely children, and a thriving business empire. And, as you said, Christmas is good for filling up the cash box. It certainly seems to be filling up your coffers. So in all, it should be a very Merry Christmas, at least for your bank account."
Scarlett, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, narrowed her eyes, trying to convey to him her annoyance with the course of the conversation. "Fiddle dee dee Ashley Wilkes, how you do run on." There was no warmth in her voice and he smiled a little, extending his hands in a silent entreaty.
"Don't be cross Scarlett."
"I am not cross, I am a realist", replied Scarlett tartly, "when I look at the fools who traipse in here this time of year, I cringe at their shortsightedness. What's Christmas time to any of them but a time for incurring bills without knowing precisely when one will have the money to pay them."
"I wasn't done. It's nothing but the end of another year, a time for finding yourself a year older and nothing to show for that time. If I had my way," continued Scarlett indignantly, as she warned to the topic, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own collard greens, and then buried with a stake of holly through his heart."
"What? It's true!" She declared emphatically.
"I wish you wouldn't say such things Scarlett, I remember a time when you loved Christmas, don't you remember when you'd come to Twelve Oaks to admire the ornaments my mother bought in Europe on her honeymoon?"
"You are remembering a girl who doesn't exist anymore, indeed if she ever really did. Ashley, you've spent all your life wearing blinders when it comes to me." She turned away, going back to her desk. "Keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine," she advised wearily.
"But you don't keep it at all."
"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scarlett. "Besides, I've never felt less like celebrating than I do this year. I can't find any good in the whole of the holidays and, quite honestly, I am surprised you can. What good does Christmas do anyone? At least the store profits from it, but I can't imagine the lumber yards have seen much of an increase in business just because of the holidays."
"You are right my dear. But despite the lack of coin that Christmas has put into my pockets, I enjoy it all the same. I have always thought of Christmas time, as being something beautiful, something sacred. Apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, it is a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time. Scarlett, its the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their hearts and hands freely."
"Stop it. I want you to go, now."
"No, not until you hear me out. This time of year was Melanie's favorite. It was the one time of year when people become their best or at least allow their best natures to guide them. It's the time of year when people give a thought to their fellow man beyond what can be gotten from him. Outside Scarlett, people are smiling. Whether they known one another or not, they are blessing one another, wishing each other well."
"You are talking mighty foolish Ashley Wilkes."
"Maybe so Scarlett, but I know that Christmas has done me good, I miss Melly with all my heart, but at this time of year the best way I know to honor her is to show Beau what the world can be if given the chance. Christmas has done me good in the past and I continue to believe it will; and I say, God bless it, God Bless Christmas!"
She heard George mutter at the counter, "Well said Mr. Wilkes."
Slamming the first door between her office and the store, Scarlett pivoted on her heel. Facing Ashley, her green eyes snapped furiously and for the first time since his arrival, indeed, for the first time since Rhett Butler had left in October there was a trace of the woman who'd once been Scarlett O'Hara. "Stop it, do you hear me, just stop it", cried Scarlett. "You come in here with your talk of Christmas and love and goodwill. You're quite a powerful speaker; I wonder you don't go into politics. You could be Senator Wilkes before you know it."
"Don't be angry, dearest. Dilcey told me that you weren't going out to Tara. Why don't you come over tomorrow, have Christmas supper with us."
"Have supper at the same table as India?" She smiled sardonically, "She'd have rat poison in my soup before the first course was done."
"I promise you, India will be on her best behavior. We've already discussed the possibility that you would join us."
"Because I want you there," he said simply.
"People would talk," she warned.
"Then let them talk. Why shouldn't you come, you are family after all. Melanie wouldn't have wanted to see you alone in that house, not on Christmas Day."
"Don't wait on me, I won't be there."
"Why not? Just give me a reason for not coming."
"I simply don't want to, or am I not allowed to chose which invitations I accept and which I decline?" She opened the office door and, standing aside, she waited expectantly. "Good afternoon," said Scarlett pointedly.
Catching her by the hand, he took her completely unaware. Pulling her none to gently back into the office, Ashley closed the interior door so that they could speak without being observed. Looking at her with a mixture of exasperation and understanding, he shook his head. "I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why can't you come to dinner, you've been avoiding me for so long now, I wanted…I hoped that we could be friends as we once were?"
"Are you mad," she hissed, opening the door back up. "We can't be in here alone with the door closed, the whole town would tear you to pieces." She lowered her voice, disappointing both clerks who were trying to feign in interest in anything except their employer. "And besides, I am not sure we ever truly were friends. At least, not in the way you thought."
"I'm sorry to find you so resolved. I miss you. I came here today to tell you so. I want you to come to supper tomorrow, and even though you say no, I will look for you and there will be a place set for you. I hope that you'll reconsider but if you don't, I wish you a Merry Christmas Scarlett."
"Good bye Ashley," said Scarlett.
"Good bye Scarlett."
He left without an angry word, but the disappointment radiated from him. He stopped at the counter to wish both men a Merry Christmas. She could hear them all discussing their plans for the following day. Hearing them all so happy made her blood boil.
"Fools the lot of them", muttered Scarlett. "None of them have the sense God gave a goat. Running on about Christmas when they should be seeing to customers."
Ashley sent Beau back to thank her for the sweets and she managed a few pleasant words for him. As she escorted him out, two new visitors came in. They were both well known to her though neither looked at all pleased to find themselves in Scarlett's store. In her claw like grip, Mrs. Meade clutched a small book and Mrs. Elsing had a small tin. Both women nodded stiffly to Scarlett.
"Scarlett," said Mrs. Meade, trying to keep the distaste from her voice, "merry Christmas."
"If you say so," she replied, wanting nothing more than for them to finish their business and leave, "ladies, what may I do for you?"
"We are here to ask you for a donation, Frank used to make one every year to the…"
"Frank has been dead for seven years," Scarlett replied. Her brow creased as she considered her previous statement. "He died seven years ago, why ask for a donation in his name now?"
"The foundation for widows and orphans is suffering this year without poor Melly," said Mrs. Meade, clutching the book tightly. "We've always tried to make some provision for the poor and destitute, those who have so little. We've tried our best to raise as much as we have in previous years, but without Captain Butler's generous contribution and Melly's tireless work on behalf of the foundation…."
"Poor and destitute? More like thieve and nere'do wells. Are there no jails?" Asked Scarlett. "No work offices? Is there nothing these poor wretches can do to help themselves? I tell you, they do nothing because people like you ladies come and take care of them, rewarding them for their lazy ways."
Mrs. Meade's hand went to her mouth as though she'd been slapped. "Scarlett Butler, really! Why, if Melly could hear you now-"
"I'd be very glad to have her hear it. She wore herself out taking care of everyone but herself, maybe if she had looked to herself for a change she would still be here now."
"Surely you must have a heart in there somewhere," pleaded Mrs. Elsing," why we choose this time of year because it is a time when people seem to recognize the plight of their fellow man. Surely, you will give something?"
"Nothing!" Scarlett replied.
Mrs. Meade pursed her lips. "If you are worried about your reputation," she commented snidely, "we could simply not mention your name. Perhaps you wish to be anonymous?"
"I wish to be left alone," said Scarlett. "Since you ask me what I wish, that is my answer. I don't care at all about Christmas and I can't afford to make people who won't help themselves merry. My taxes go to support the establishments I have mentioned, they cost enough; and those who want to help themselves, well then, they have to go there."
"Scarlett, they can't go to the work offices, those are run by Yankees. The jobs offered there are menial; degrading and low. They spit in the face of everything we fought for," Mrs. Elsing's doughy face was a mask of misery. She did not like Scarlett, but she wanted to treat her with some kindness. Melly Wilkes had thought highly of her not to mention her husband seemed to have deserted her and now it was Christmas and he still had not returned. There were few people in Atlanta who believed he ever would. "Most people would rather die then beg aid from the people who broke us."
"If they would rather die," said Scarlett, "they had better do it and fast. Let them die and decrease the surplus population."
"Scarlett, can you so callously ignore the suffering of others? How can you be Ellen O'Hara's daughter? It scarcely seems possible."
"Mother made helping others her business and in the end, her kindness killed her. The poor, they are not my business", Scarlett said, her chin high. "I have found that it's better not to interfere with other people's business. Mine own occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, ladies."
Seeing that it would be useless to continue, the ladies withdrew. Scarlett returned to the ledgers with a dour expression, muttering to herself about people being fools and deserving whatever came of it.
Meanwhile the darkness thickened. People ran about with renewed vigor, calling out to friend on foot, on horseback and in carriages. The merriment was growing as the hour of five o'clock drew closer. Finally the bells of Saint Catherine's chimed the half hour, drawing Scarlett's head up.
Drawn to the window, she moved the shade slightly, observing the bustling street outside. The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries glowed in the light cast by lamps and candles made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Most people were carrying bow-bedecked packages and none of them seemed to be calculating the cost of such frivolities.
Then, from a group of men on the street corner came the traces of an old carol, one that Gerald had sang to her and her sisters when they were small, changing the words slightly, he would sing in his boisterous brogue,
"God bless you, merry little girls!
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior,
Was born upon this day,
Scarlett slammed the shade back into place with such energy of action that both clerks moved to the front of the store; leaving the counter unattended, least either of them catch her eye thus drawing her wrath.
Five o'clock came finally. Locking the ledgers in her desk, Scarlett left the office and came out into the store. Both clerks were behind the counter, waiting for her to give them permission to leave. George, in a small show of defiance, had already put on his overcoat, his hat and gloves sat on the counter.
"You'll want all day tomorrow, I suppose?" Commented Scarlett irritably.
Richard glanced at George in mute appeal. This was a familiar conversation, in previous years, it had been a pleasant conversation, one in which Scarlett teased a little, but this year it was apparent to both men that she was in no mood for levity. "Yes Mrs. Butler, if its convenient for you ma'am."
"It's not a bit convenient," said Scarlett, "and what's more, it's not fair. If I were to dock you a dollar for it you'd think yourself abused by me, wouldn't you?"
Richard shook his head adamantly, George once again acting as spokesman spoken in a placating tone. "No Mrs. Butler, we'd never think such a thing."
"And yet", said Scarlett, "you don't think that you are taking advantage of me, when I pay a day's wages for no work."
Richard, stuttering nervously, observed that it was only once a year.
"A poor excuse for robbing me every twenty–fifth of December," said Scarlett, "but I suppose you must have the whole day otherwise the whole town would cluck their gossip loving tongues at what an ogre I am." She threw her hands up in the air. "Fine, but be here all the earlier the next morning or I'll fire you both, understand?"
The clerks promised that they would. Scarlett, still in a temper, stalked back into her office without another word. The store was closed in a twinkling, and the clerks, free at last of the formidable Scarlett Butler, went home to their respective and eager families.
Scarlett took a melancholy dinner in her office. The dinner was ordered earlier from the National hotel, as was now her usual habit. At least four nights a week she ordered dinner from the hotel's dinning room, anything to keep from eating alone in the Peachtree Street house, though she'd never admit it. Having read all the newspapers, she unlocked her desk and went over the ledgers for the store again, taking grim satisfaction in the figures for the last month of the year. The Saloon had done well; she would be once again ahead of her own projections for the end of the year. The saloon she now owned silently, leaving Philip Stark as its proprietor. She thought it an amusing joke, that she owned a saloon that people sat in discussing her latest scandals.
Finally, after exhausting every diversion, she went home to bed. After Rhett left in October, she'd moved into his room. She hated herself for it but she was longing to be closer to him, even if it was in such a small way. They were a gloomy suite of rooms, made gloomier still by holding traces of her late daughter and the man that she both longed for and despised. Or at least, tried to despise. It wasn't fair, that she who should have everything sat now in a giant echoing house, alone and unloved.
The house should have been the home to a family, children playing at hide–and–seek with each other; their laughter ringing through the rooms. As she walked through the empty rooms, her footsteps her only companions, she wondered how it had come to this? Sometimes, when she would sit on Bonnie's bed, banished to one of the unused guest rooms, she would cry, her face in her hands to smother the sound. She wondered if there was any way out of her nightmarish existence baring taking her own life. The Catholic she'd once been knew that suicide was a venial sin, one that could never be forgiven. She still had enough faith in the dogmas learned in her youth to know that to be true.
Many of the rooms were shut up now; there were no guests to occupy them, no friends coming to stay for the holidays. She occasionally lifted dust clothes to look at the furniture she once found so magnificent. Now, too late, she realized that it was a dreary house. It was furnished in heavy, uncomfortable furniture with dark hues that made the house seem even drearier, if that were at all possible. An empty, echoing house had never really been a home. Except for the few servants she kept on, nobody lived there now but Scarlett. The children were unlikely to return. During her visit to Tara, they'd seemed attached to Sue and at present, she had no desire to take them from where they were obviously happy.
After Prissy undressed her, she poured a small snifter of brandy and going to the window, she moved the heavy drapery aside.
The yard was so dark that even Scarlett, who knew its every stone, was unable to see past the great terraces. A cold winter drizzle had started in the interim adding to the gloominess she was feeling. Watching the wispy tendrils of fog that drifted lazily across the property Scarlett wondered if there might be frost before morning
Finishing the brandy, she poured another before sitting at the small vanity table moved from her room into Rhett's. Unpinning a section of her hair, she began to brush it with the hundred strokes a night Ellen once proscribed and Mammy enforced.
Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the mirror that sat tilted atop the vanity except that it was very large. It is also a fact, that Scarlett had seen it, night and morning, during her whole residence in the grim house as it had been one of the first pieces acquired for her new residence.
It should also be stated that Scarlett had little of what is called fancy about her. Outside of the nightmares that haunted her dreams, she possessed a very limited and under used imagination. Even long ago, when considering a future with Ashley, her imagination only carried her so far as their wedding day. Once wed, she'd given little thought as to how they would spend the duration of married life.
This cold, rational woman, who only ever let her imagination soar when it came to calculating profits and dividends, was surprised beyond telling when she glanced in the mirror to find a face not her own. A face that was eerily familiar, yet still, not her own. In fact, it was a face that she'd never viewed in life. Racking her brain frantically, she found she was unable to place where it was she knew it from.
Now it bears mentioning that Scarlett would have not had cause to consider this face in a considerably long time. One night, at the end of the war, she'd given the face a great deal of consideration, but that was eight years past. The last time she'd heard the name belonging to the face spoken aloud was even longer ago than that.
The name came to her suddenly as if borne on the growling howls of wind that now shook the house. Solange Robillard! It was Solange Robillard's face! The face that she beheld in the mirror was not angry, nor was it ferocious, but it was as her Grandmother had looked in her portrait over the parlor mantle at Tara. Her dark, thick shinning hair, piled high atop her regally held head, was curiously stirred, as if by breath or hot air. Her sharp eyes were heavy lidded. From inside the mirror's frame they watched, regarding her with mild censure. Her pale skin, devoid of all living blood, made her horrible to behold.
As Scarlett stared wide eyed and slack mouthed, the ghostly apparition faded. Later, when she would tell the tale to the few people who had earned her trust, she could not lie about how she'd felt when she'd seen another woman's face in lieu of her own reflection. She was startled, but slowly the rational Scarlett returned. Given time to consider, she began thinking after a few moments contemplation that the face in the mirror was a trick of the light or one tumbler too many of after dinner brandy. She struggled to make herself believe that either of those scenarios were the right one. But she could not; her mind would not allow her to lie to herself. The stranger in the mirror was no stranger. She'd known those proud, French features from infancy, for they were similar to Ellen's.
Reaching out, an inch at a time, she extended a hand that only trembled slightly. Hesitating for a second or two, Scarlett finally thrust out her hand to find…nothing. Nothing but the smooth, cold surface of her vanity mirror.
She laughed then, the sound as loud as a gunshot to her ears, but she could not help herself. Seeing haunts on all Hallow's eve, that at least made sense, but on Christmas Eve? Ridiculous. "Scarlett O'Hara", she murmured, laughter still evident in her voice, "grow up." Then, in a moment of high sprits, she stuck out her tongue at her own reflection before laughing again.
The sound of her laughter resonated through the room, echoing a little, but Scarlett was not a woman to be frightened by echoes. Moving to the small demi-lune table to pour herself a glass of water, she found the pitcher empty. Grumbling at Prissy's inefficiency, she left the room. Walking across the hall and down the grand staircase she found that as she descended the light from the hallway did not penetrate the gloom. The foyer below was clothed in shadows and beyond the foyer; the other rooms were as black as pitch.
The foyer was huge, meant to impress guests upon their arrival to her home. It was grandiose in scope, she could have held a reception in the foyer with room to spare; which in retrospect, was not particularly welcoming. Even when lit, the gas lamps lining the walls did nothing to banish the gloom. A street lamp wouldn't have illuminated the entry hall completely.
The longer she stared into the darkness, the more she thought she could make out shadowy, indistinct shapes in the dark foyer. Gathering her wrapper in clenched fists, not caring if any of the servants saw her, she turned and bolted back up the stairs. By the time she reached her bedroom, she was breathing hard, her harsh gasping breaths echoing in her ears. She slammed the heavy door and locked it tight. Hating herself for it, she searched the room, looking behind the drapes even, but not because she actually believed that anyone was there but, just because. After all, it was better to be safe than sorry.
No longer caring for her dignity, she got down on her hands and knees to pull up the bed covers. Nobody was under the bed; nobody was in the closet and the shadowy figure huddled against the wall was only a dressing–gown, which to her mind was hanging up in a suspicious attitude against the wall.
All that was left now was her old bedroom, on the other side of the connecting door. Her dark, uninhabited in months bedroom. A huge, dark room with dozens of hiding places from which anyone could leap and…
Sprinting to the door, she turned the lock, locking herself in. Now both the doors leading in to the room were locked, effectively double–locking her in, which was not at all her usual habit. These measures satisfied her for all of five minutes. What if someone or something was on the other side of the door, lurking in her old room? What if, after she was settled into bed, someone began to test the door to her room? If the knob turned or the door rattled in its frame, she feared her heart might stop.
Making a decision, she reached down and removed her heeled slippers. Kicking them aside, she took a poker out of the large stand in front of the grate. Wielding it, ready to strike, she unlocked the door and crept into her old rooms.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she muttered under her breath, chastising herself.
After searching the dressing room and under the bed up on the dais, she went back to Rhett's room. Sitting in the chair before the fire, her glance happened to rest upon a bell pull. It was for the most part unused. Originally it had been meant to summon one of the servants to wait on the room's occupants, but Rhett having Pork, never used it When Bonnie was alive, she would pull on it constantly until Rhett told the household staff to disregard it if they heard it ringing.
So it was with great astonishment and a strange, inexplicable dread, that as she looked on the bell pull began to jerk downward.. Harder and harder until she was certain it would be yanked by the wall but whatever spectral force had engaged it. From the other side of the wall, precisely where the bell pull in her old room was located, she heard a series of thuds. The tinkling of bells carried through the house until she was sure that every bell in the house was ringing.
This might have lasted half a minute, a minute at most, but it seemed an hour. The bells ceased ringing as swiftly had begun. A few minutes later, a great hammering came at her door. She opened cautiously to reveal a panting Prissy, her hair up in rag curlers, her feet bare.
"Miz Scar'lt, wha wuz dat?"
From below, a heavy clanking came; the sound was like nothing Scarlett had ever heard before. Seizing Prissy by the forearm, she shook her slightly. "Go back upstairs, wake up a few of the grooms and whoever else you can find and tell them to search the house. Someone is playing a trick on me."
"Ma'be isa hant," the girl said quivering. "Ma'be iz Miz Bon…"
"Don't be silly," she snapped, annoyed to hear her early thoughts echoed, "just go on, before anything else happens."
Hearing the pattering of the girl's quick footsteps, Scarlett remembered a story Gerald had told about ghosts in haunted castles dragging chains. What better a house to haunt then hers, she thought with a wry smile. A restless spirit would certainly feel at home in such a grim environment.
A half an hour passed with voices echoing through the house. A half an hour in which Scarlett hoped the searching men would find someone, some rational explanation for the phenomena that had occurred.
Finally Olympia, one of the upstairs maids, came to her and swore that they'd searched the house from the cellars to the attics and found no one. Further more, nothing seemed out of place. The doors were all locked, the windows bolted. There was no explanation for the bells all ringing out. With ill humor, she accepted Olympia's report and bade her a chilly good night.
"It's nonsense!" Scarlett looked around the empty room. "There's no such thing as haunts. I know that there isn't. I know it," she added as if reassuring herself.
That resolution was shattered when, without a pause, something came through the heavy door and passed into the room before her eyes. The dying embers in the fireplace burst into flame once more. Then as quickly as they rose, they fell again into a sickly rust hued glow.
The face from the mirror, it was the very same face, thought Scarlett. Her grandmother stood before her, clothed in a dress nearly a half century out of date. A length of chain some of which she carried was clasped about her middle. It was long and attached to it in the manner of charms on a bracelet were mirrors, silver backed brushes, scrolls of papers, and heavy purses wrought in steel. She was transparent so that Scarlett, observing her with unbelieving eyes, could see the dressing gown that hung on the wall behind her.
There was no such thing as ghosts. No, she still did not believe in such things. Even though she stood face to transparent face with proof to the contrary, she could not accept the evidence presented by her own eyes. There simply was no such thing and in hopes of banishing the phantom back to whatever purgatory it had risen from she spoke out trying her best to keep the helpless quaver of doubt from her voice.
"Who are you?" asked Scarlett, trying to sound caustic and cold. "What do you want with me?"
"Much!" Replied the spirit in a Savannah drawl richly accented with the cool tones of someone for whom English was an afterthought. It was the same liquid, costal drawl that she'd heard in her own mother's voice, there was no doubt about that.
"Who are you?"
"Ask me who I was."
"Who were you then?" Demanded Scarlett, raising her voice.
"In life I was your grandmother, Solange Robillard."
Watching her hover inches above the floor, Scarlett grimaced. "Can you…can you sit down," asked Scarlett, watching in horrified fascination.
"Why don't you then. I can't think, watching you floating as you are."
Each of them took a seat, one on each side of the now low banked fire. Scarlett sat in silence, regarding the ghost with a skeptical eye.
"You don't believe in me," observed the Ghost.
"I don't," agreed Scarlett. She slowly was overcoming her initial shock at finding herself in the presence of her long dead grandmother and her usual suspicious nature was returning.
"What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?"
"I don't know," admitted Scarlett.
"Why do you doubt your senses?"
"Because", said Scarlett, "why should I believe them? After half of a bottle of brandy, they can't be trusted to give honest testimony. Why, even a poor meal can affect the mind as surely as it affects the belly," she said, grasping at straws. "Dinner tonight, it was awful. Really, I scarcely finished it. You may be an undigested bit of beef, maybe a blot of mustard. Maybe you've some times to the underdone carrots that I wouldn't have fed to a pig." Giving the ghost a look of appraisal, Scarlett nodded. "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are."
Scarlett was not much in the habit of making jokes. The truth was, that she was trying to lift her own spirits as a way of distracting her own attention, and keeping down her terror. Every time the ghost spoke, it was harder to deny the reality of her presence. Her voice was such that it made Scarlett's blood run cold, freezing it in her veins
To sit staring at those fixed glazed eyes the silence in the room a living beast ready to devour her drove Scarlett out onto the road to madness. Stories had to come from somewhere after all. Was it possible that ghosts really did walk the earth, bound to haunt others because of some unfulfilled obligation?
"I don't wish to see you any longer, I wish you would go," said Scarlett, meeting the ghost's cold stare with a look of what she hoped was equal disdain.
At this, the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise that Scarlett held on tightly to her chair, fighting valiantly to keep from falling in to a swoon. A rush of cold air buffeted her face, throwing her hair into wild disarray. Gradually, the wind grew in intensity until Scarlett slid from her chair and fell to her knees, clasping her hands over her ears to drown out the spirit's cries.
"Why are you here, what do you want from me," Scarlett screamed into the wind storm raging around her.
"Now you speak to me with respect!" Replied the Ghost. "Do you believe in me or not?"
"I do," whimpered Scarlett. "I must. I never really believed that spirits walked the earth but you being here, its proof that such things happen. But why have you come to me?
"It is required of every person," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within them should walk abroad among his or her fellow travelers on the road to eternity. If that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"
Again the ghost howled, shaking its chains and wringing its shadowy hands.
"The chains that you carry, what did you do to deserve them? Tell me, why do you carry them?"
"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard. Every time I neglected my children, every time I ignored those in need. Every time I let vanity and pride master me, I added another link." She extended a finger, pointing at the still kneeling Scarlett. "Perhaps some of the objects that are fettered to me, you recognize them?"
Scarlett trembled increasingly.
"Do you know the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it since. Truly it is a chain that the most miserly skinflint would be proud to call his own."
Scarlett glanced about her on the floor in the expectation of finding herself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but she could see nothing.
"Grandmother," she said, imploringly, "oh Grandmother, tell me more. Say something to comfort me, I beg you, please!"
"I have no comfort to give," the Ghost replied. "Comfort, Scarlett, is conveyed by ministers and other do gooders, to others who deserve it. Your spirit, like my own, never walked beyond the borders we set in our own small minds."
It was a habit with Scarlett, whenever she became thoughtful, to wring her hands. Pondering on what the Ghost had said, she did so now, but without lifting up her eyes, or getting off her knees.
"You must have been very selfish woman to still be wandering as a spirit after all these years."
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night that Scarlett was afraid Prissy or one of the other servants would come to her bedroom door.
"Selfish? You say that I was selfish? That's the pot calling the kettle black, is it not my dear? But you are correct I was selfish and cruel. At least now, albeit too late, do I see the error of my ways. So, in that, I am making progress. I was as cold as the grave in life and in death, I am denied the comfort of resting peacefully in a grave."
"But you were always well regarded Grandmother. Everyone spoke of your beauty, your straightforward manner, and the way that you…" faltered Scarlett, who now began to apply this to her self.
It held up a section of its chain, watching Scarlett with scorn as the words failed her.
"At this time of the year," the ghost said, "I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned away? Why did I never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to the babe who would become the savior of mankind? There were poor homes, shanties little better than mangers to which its light would have conducted me."
Scarlett was very much dismayed to hear the ghost going on at this rate, and began to rise from her knees.
"Be still Scarlett, my time is nearly gone."
"Please, tell me then, why have you appeared to me?"
" I have sat invisible beside you many time, hoping to dissuade you from the paths you'd chose for yourself, but each time I failed."
It was not an agreeable idea. Scarlett shivered, thinking that there were indeed times when she was at her lowest that she'd felt as if she were not alone. At those times, she liked to believe her mother watched over her. But watched her from afar, in heaven, not beside her. The idea that the restless spirit of her grandmother had haunted her was unsettling even to someone with Scarlett's lack of belief in the supernatural.
"I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance, a hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope that was of my procuring Scarlett."
"When I was younger, I wished that I could have known you, in life I mean. Mother spoke of you often, so did Mammy," said Scarlett. "
"Ellen was a saint that walked among us, but that came later after her own truth was revealed. To you I reveal this, you will be haunted," said the Ghost, "by three spirits."
Scarlett's jaw dropped. "Is that the chance and hope you mentioned Grandmother?"
"Three spirits? I think I'd rather not," said Scarlett.
"Without their visits," continued the Ghost, ignoring Scarlett protest, "you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls one."
"Couldn't I take them all at once and have it over," hinted Scarlett, looking for the most expedient solution.
"Expect the second on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that, for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!"
The apparition walked backward from her; and at every step it took, the window raised itself a little, so that when the ghost reached it, it was wide open. It beckoned Scarlett to approach, which she did. When they were within two paces of each other, Grandmother Robillard's ghost held up its hand, warning her to come no further. Scarlett stopped.
The instant the ghost drifted through the window, Scarlett lost all semblance of obedience. Rushing to the window, she searched the night for any trace of her ghostly visitor. A bright light filled the yard, growing brighter by the instant until Scarlett had to shield her eyes or risk being blinded. Then as quickly as it started, the light disappeared, plunging the yard into darkness once more.
Scarlett closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost of her grandmother had entered. It was still locked, as she had locked it with her own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed. She tried to say, "Fiddle dee dee!" but stopped at the first syllable.
Taking a deep breath, she poured herself a glass of water from the pitcher Prissy had brought while the others were searching the house. Her hand trembled and most of the water spilled down the front of her dressing gown, but she paid no heed. Setting down the glass, she blew out the last of the candles. Still wearing her dressing gown, she lay down on the bed and fell asleep upon the instant her head touched the pillow.