A little over a month had passed since the day at Twelve Oaks when Rhett first saw the girl he later learned was Scarlett O’Hara. The day after the barbecue business had taken him to Savannah for two weeks. He returned to Atlanta once finished with his business finding himself interested in seeing this Scarlett O’Hara. He discreetly inquired about where the O’Hara’s resided and after procuring some flowers for the girl made his way to Clayton County and the plantation called Tara.
When he turned his carriage onto the roadway that led to Tara, he was taken back by the sight. It was obvious the landowners in the area cared for their property. There was nothing worse, Rhett thought, than plantation owners who didn’t care for their land and property. He made his way up the red dirt road of Tara until he arrived at the residence, an impressive white dwelling that had obviously been built with sweat and ambition. It wasn’t nearly as extravagant as the Wilkes’ Twelve Oaks, but there was something comfortable, personal and inviting about it that Twelve Oaks lacked.
Rhett secured the horse after getting out of the carriage, leaving the flowers behind. The more he thought about it after he had purchased them, the more that he realized they weren’t necessary. He wasn’t a suitor; gifts weren’t necessary and would only cloud the line of his intentions. Dressed in a black suit, a gray waistcoat and a black cravat he made his way up the steps and to the front door where he rang the bell.
A short, plump, older black woman eyed Rhett suspiciously upon opening the door. She did not seem to be taken in by his good looks, charm, or his smile; which wasn’t surprising to Rhett at all. This woman obviously had a place in the O’Hara household and she was well aware of the possibilities that a man like him presented. Rhett inquired after Miss O’Hara, and when asked which Miss O’Hara he was referring to, he had to pause a moment. He was not aware of the fact that she had a sister, nor was it something he had even taken into consideration. Rhett quickly replied, “Well, ma’am, I know her first name is Scarlett. Scarlett O’Hara.” The woman allowed Rhett entry, where he stood in the foyer while the woman slowly ascended the staircase saying she would get Scarlett. She seemed none too pleased at the concept, but she did it nonetheless.
Rhett removed his hat, unbuttoned his coat, and placed his hand in his pants pocket as he stood waiting, taking in the interior of the house. He was impressed with what he saw from where he stood. It was obvious the O’Hara’s had some financial means and while they perhaps didn’t flaunt it, the items he saw were of good quality. Rhett turned his attention to the stairs when he heard someone approach, only to be met with disappointment to see the woman coming to tell him Miss O’Hara would be down in a minute. She led Rhett into the parlor, where he sat on a love seat, wondering what exactly it was that brought him there today.
Something about her intrigued him. What a nice surprise it had been to find a woman who underneath that southern belle exterior was no lady at all. He smiled at the memory of the scene he had silently been privy to in the library at Twelve Oaks. He couldn’t help but laugh again. He still didn’t know what had upset her more, the fact that she had made the scene at all or the fact that her scene had been witnessed.
Rhett was quickly brought back to the present day as Scarlett entered the room. She was dressed in a burgundy damask frock. Perhaps she had expected it to be someone else; as a brush had recently been run through her hair.
He stood upon her entry and with a slight bow said, “Miss O’Hara, I hope you will forgive my unannounced visit, but I just returned to the Atlanta area this week and upon learning where you lived didn’t want to wait until you responded to my telegram. You do remember me, don’t you? From the barbecue at Twelve Oaks about a month ago.” He smiled, knowing full well that she did indeed remember him.
Scarlett couldn’t believe who stood before her. It was the man from Twelve Oaks who had heard her entire conversation with Ashley. And while he promised not to tell anyone the thought he was here to blackmail her crossed her mind. Why on earth else would he be calling on her?
“Yes, sir. I remember you.” She glared at him, her green eyes mimicking her displeasure upon seeing him aptly. “And if you had half a brain, you would most certainly know a visit from you is the last thing I wanted.”
He was a handsome man, she found herself thinking. He was dressed nicely; she recalled that day at Twelve Oaks he had been, too. Whoever this man was it was obvious he had money. And with the war on, there weren’t many men around to call on her. Maybe it wouldn’t be so unthinkable to be kind to him.
He laughed and said, “Surely you don’t think I’d tell anyone your little secret now, Miss O’Hara. I wouldn’t do that to a … lady. It wasn’t your fault I happened to overhear your conversation. I gave you my word as a gentleman that I would not tell anyone, and I shall honor that word. As a gentleman.” Rhett’s dark eyes glowed with mischief at the irony in his words.
Scarlett clenched her fists, “Sir, you shouldn’t speak of such things in this house.” She lowered her eyes and her voice. “Someone might hear and wonder what it is you’re speaking of.” Oh for Pa, or her mother to hear she had done something so unladylike. While they would never beat her or scold her, she knew that they would be so disappointed in her behavior that day. Suddenly, the embarrassment of the day rushed back to her in a wave of emotion and she sat on the nearby chair. How dare this man come here and throw this back in her face. A gentleman indeed. If he was a gentleman he would never have stepped foot in this house.
“You’re right. I was thinking I might be able to interest you in a walk. It’s a beautiful day, and I might say there are worse things I could imagine doing with my day then a walk with you on my arm.” I’d also like to get you out of this house and alone, he thought.
She thought a moment, obviously trying to decide between spending the time with him and turning him away because he knew something about her she wanted no one in the world to know.
She bit her lip lightly and said, “Yes, I will walk with you. But, please sir, you must tell me your name. You have me at an advantage I’m afraid.” In more than one way, she thought. She lowered her green eyes as she’d been taught when flirting with a man her hands resting politely in her lap.
“Please forgive me, Miss O’Hara. I shouldn’t have presumed you remembered.” He bowed gallantly, placing his right arm at his waist, “Rhett Butler at your service. And really, Miss O’Hara, you can save your southern belle flirtations for the other men who come to call. They will not work on me. I would love to see more of that, what was it, passion for living you have within you though.” He laughed at the surprised look on her face, “Shall we take that walk, or have I offended you already?”
She looked at him curiously and stood slowly when he did not offer her assistance. “No, you haven’t offended me, Mr. Butler. Though I don’t know what makes you think I was flirting with you.”
They walked to the hallway; Scarlett excused herself while she went upstairs to get a bonnet. She returned a moment later and looked at him curiously again when he did not offer her his arm. He held the door open for her, and held her by the elbow politely as he assisted her down the steps.
He looked up into the second floor window, “I don’t think your mammy likes me. At least, I assume that’s who she is. I’d recognize a mammy anywhere, and she definitely fits the bill.”
The curtain in the window fell as the person who had been peering at them out the window moved out of sight. Rhett laughed lightly.
“Well, she probably doesn’t like the looks of you, Mr. Butler. You aren’t a County boy, after all. She’s never even seen you before. Perhaps it’s your eyes. Or the fact that you’re quite different than the other boys who call on me.”
She bit her lip again slightly at her choice in words. Why had she assumed he was calling on her? Surely a man of his reputation had better things to do with his time then calling on her. She looked at his eyes for a moment, wondering what it was about them that had made her notice them to begin with. They were dark, somewhat sinister. Almost appearing to be endless pits of coal, but something about them drew her back whenever she tried to look away. No, he definitely wasn’t like the county boys. He was older, too. How much older she did not know, and dared not ask. After all, it was just a walk. He probably felt obligated to be kind to her after that day at Twelve Oaks and was just here as some sort of an apology. The fact that he refused to offer her his arm just proved it. Surely if he were interested in her, he would offer his arm like the other gentlemen she knew did. She glanced at him again, knowing ladies weren’t supposed to initiate conversations with gentleman. She hoped he would soon.
Rhett seemed to notice Scarlett’s want for conversation, “So, Miss O’Hara, tell me about Tara. It’s an interesting name. I assume it must have some meaning.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye with a slight smile.
Scarlett told him what she knew of Tara. That it was named after the area where her father’s family was from in Ireland. She told him about the cotton, the slaves, and the horses. She stopped suddenly, realizing she had said too much. Mother had always taught her she was to listen to men talk, not to make the man listen to her. Men liked to believe that women had no brain, but somehow Scarlett felt that this man was different. After all, he had asked the question. Surely he wouldn’t have asked her a question if he didn’t want a response.
“Well, your father really has turned this plantation into something beautiful. Though, I’m sure the presence of your mother has something to do with that as well. You have sisters, I understand. How many, and are they older or younger than you?”
Rhett wondered what he was doing. Not only did he not know why he had come today, but now he was asking her questions he really had no interest in receiving answers to. Yet, he found himself oddly interested in hearing her talk.
“I have two sisters, Suellen and Carreen. Both are younger. Suellen is fifteen, Carreen is thirteen. Carreen is all right. She means well, and I can tolerate her. At least she’s not bratty. Suellen on the other hand has always been jealous of me. Jealous of the relationship I have with our Pa. Mother and Pa had three boys, all of whom died within their first year. I think Pa has taken to treating me like a son sometimes.”
Scarlett blushed. Surely she had said too much. She stopped talking and turned toward Rhett, “So, tell me Mr. Butler, what is it you wanted with me today?” A further blush crept to her cheeks as she realized what it was she said. To Brent or Stuart that wouldn’t have been an inappropriate question to ask, but she wasn’t as familiar with Rhett.
“Well, Miss O’Hara, I don’t rightly know.”
Rhett tried to remain a respectable distance from Scarlett as they walked. He was not a suitor, nor was he a familiar presence here at Tara. He was walking on somewhat unfamiliar grounds. He was thirty-four, and it had been close to fifteen years since he’d been in the presence of a girl like Scarlett O’Hara. While he knew how to play the role of a gentleman, he somehow didn’t feel he needed to pretend to be something he wasn’t around this girl.
“After that day at Twelve Oaks, I had some business take me away from Atlanta. That same business has brought me back to Atlanta, and I found myself wondering what you were like away from the formalities of barbecues and rules. So, here I am, hoping to find out that you’re less of a lady than even I give you credit for.”
He smiled wickedly; not hiding his eyes, which were looking her over suggestively stopping at her breasts and her tiny waist before returning to her smooth face and eyes.
She slapped his face and said, “You are a skunk, Mr. Butler. I’ve heard rumors about you, yet I chose to give you the benefit of the doubt and accompany you for a walk since you obviously went to some effort to find me. But, then you insult me and suggest … I don’t know what exactly it is you were suggesting, but I know it’s not polite. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back inside.”
She began to walk toward the house, Rhett allowing her to get a good head start on him. He followed her, calling to her as he got to his carriage.
“Miss O’Hara, I forgot to give something to you.” He walked toward her as she turned to look at him and presented her with the flowers. “I bought these for you, and quite honestly didn’t know whether it was appropriate to give them to you. I certainly don’t want to give you or your parents the wrong idea about my intentions so I elected not to. I, however, can’t go away knowing you think I have no gentleman-like qualities. Besides I don’t know any other ladies here in Atlanta to give them to. I’d hate to let such a nice bouquet of flowers go to waste.”
She looked at the flowers he offered her, thinking briefly of the consequences of accepting them. She didn't believe one word of his knowing no other ladies in Atlanta to give them to. That was hogwash if she had ever heard any in her life. Realizing they were just flowers, she faltered. Their hands met briefly when she took them, though she quickly removed her hand she had felt a strange sensation.
Surely, Mother couldn’t get mad at her for accepting flowers. Why, he hadn’t even kissed her. Had really made no hint he might attempt to kiss her. She’d heard that he was from Charleston, that should impress Mother if she were to ask whom the flowers were from. Though, she had also heard many other things about him and hoped her mother wouldn't inquire into his reputation as well.
“I appreciate the flowers, Mr. Butler, but that still doesn’t excuse your comments or your behavior. If you plan on coming to see me again, you might want to bear that in mind.”
Her green eyes looked into his dark ones, wondering what emotion he hid in them. She tried to read them, but couldn’t. She wasn’t sure if there was amusement or contempt in them. This was no county boy, she thought once again. If she had doubted that before, she was now certain of it. It would take some effort on her part, but she was sure she could get him to fall in love with her just as all the other boys did when she saw fit to let them notice her.
“I will most certainly keep that in mind, Miss O’Hara.” He bowed slightly, as he kissed her hand properly above the wrist his lips barely meeting with her creamy white skin. “Does that mean I have your permission to call again?”
He looked at her, laughter in his eyes. He knew girls like her. He may have made an ungentlemanly comment, but he was giving her attention. Women like Scarlett O’Hara loved attention, and with few other men available to call on her he knew she would welcome the attention. That much he was certain of. He knew women well, and this one was no different. It would take some effort, but he knew he could bring the real Scarlett O’Hara out into the open.
Scarlett looked at him, her eyes revealing her torment. If she said yes, she was encouraging him to be a suitor. If she said no, then there would be no more flowers.
“Well, Mr. Butler, if you feel you must, I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t. Though, it might do you well to give me more notice next time. I certainly can’t have people talking about me. What if someone else had been here? That would have been a most unpleasant happening.”
She couldn’t let him think he was the only gentleman who called on her.
“Of course we wouldn’t that, Miss O’Hara. I shall try and give you more notice before my next visit. Enjoy the flowers and thank you for the walk. However brief it was, it was most enjoyable.”
He placed his hat on his head, and after unsecuring the horse he boarded the carriage, with a slight tip of his hat he departed Tara with Scarlett still standing on the lawn in front of Tara watching as he drove away.
Now that was most peculiar, Scarlett thought. He obviously must be interested for him to come all the way out here from Atlanta, and to bring flowers. Yet he hadn’t even tried to kiss her. She instinctively touched the spot on her hand he had kissed. She rubbed it lightly. Why he barely even kissed her hand.
Then her thoughts returned to the odd sensation she had felt when their hands had met, a feeling she never experienced when touching Brent or Stu’s hand. It was almost as if he wasn’t attracted to me. Surely a man who found me desirable wouldn’t behave in such an indifferent manor. She turned on her heels and entered the house, looking at the flowers before giving them to Pork to be put in a vase.
Rhett turned off the red dirt road of Tara with the vision of Scarlett standing in the afternoon sun holding the flowers in her hand etched into his mind. She was perfect. Sure there were more beautiful girls he had come across and ones he wouldn’t have to play games with to get a simple kiss from either, but there was something about this one that fascinated him. He would return, of that much he was certain. When it would happen, he had no idea.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com